People often tell me all sorts of extraordinary things about my honey, and honey in general. Some customers buy it because it’s delicious, or they want to support local producers; others have, shall we say, a diverse range of theories on the benefits of honey consumption. It’s one of those odd situations where the seller doesn’t have to do much selling at all. I get told a few things that I suspect fall into the ‘wishful thinking’ category, but who am I to try to dissuade people of their reasons for parting with their hard-earned cash? You won’t find many beekeepers arguing with any of the multitude of health benefits listed for eating local honey, many of which might even be true.
Horses for courses
Another thing; many people genuinely claim that their honey really is the best that they have ever tasted. That may be because the only other honey they have tasted comes from a supermarket aisle, having arrived from some far-off place where the understanding of what constitutes honey is different to mine. The debate surrounding correct labelling of honey continues, as do complaints about cheap imports, adulteration and so forth. I haven’t had the cheap stuff since I started keeping bees, but I respect a person’s right to buy and enjoy it. Horses for courses, as they say. Not everyone is a honey connoisseur, nor rolling in money.
The reason that I have honey on my mind is that my friend Paul recently sent some photographs (bees, of course) to me. Along with the USB memory stick on which they were stored, came three jars of unusual honey. My bees make some lovely stuff, but I’m not averse to trying different things, so the honey was most welcome. Well, two of the three jars were, anyway. I’m no sommelier, but this is what I made of them:
Bell Heather (Apidae Honey)
Wow! I am very partial to heather honey; it’s a crop that I don’t take my bees to because I have anxieties about the extraction process, so I sometimes actually buy it. Bell heather is something that I had heard about but never tasted. My curiosity was heightened after tasting some ling heather comb honey at Murray McGregor’s place, which was stunning. I remember he said that bell heather was his favourite, but he didn’t have any at the time. Anyway, the bell heather honey that Paul sent to me is truly delicious – one of the best I’ve had. It’s a runny honey which has a rich, lingering, smoky flavour and comes from the North Yorkshire Moors.
Meadowfoam (Apidae Honey)
I have only recently become aware of the existence of meadowfoam, which is a crop grown for the oil from its seeds, which, I think, is then turned into a wax. I have never seen a field of meadowfoam, as far as I know. Paul produces lots of weird and wonderful mono-floral honeys because he migrates hives onto crops and removes supers before moving on. This stuff tastes a bit like some sweets from childhood; perhaps milk bottle sweets with a touch of vanilla. It should be fantastic poured over ice cream.
Buckwheat (Apidae Honey)
I know that Richard Noel in Brittany has had a go at buckwheat honey, but I had not tasted it before. Richard’s summer crop contains a lot of sweet chestnut honey, which many people enjoy, but I’m not keen. I was expecting something a bit like that from buckwheat. Let’s just say that buckwheat honey makes sweet chestnut seem delicate, mild, and gentle on the palate! It smells like a farmyard and tastes, to me at least, like chocolate cow dung. Strangely, after nearly choking on the initial ‘straight from a cow’s arse’ assault to my senses, I found a lingering aftertaste that was almost pleasant. Some people will love this stuff, and it’s great that such artisan flavours are available. I will save it for when somebody I don’t like visits!
The chairperson of my local beekeepers’ association branch is a very nice chap who, upon hearing of my undying love for heather honey, gave me a jar in December. He refused my offer of payment, even though I know how hard he toiled, for many weeks, to extract the thixotropic goop, and get it into jars. He did not think it was pure ling heather honey, but judging from the consistency, I’d say it’s pretty close. Needless to say, this nectar of the Gods from the hills near Glossop is very special indeed. I will not be sharing it with anybody. It so happens that this very jar won first prize at our recent honey show!
Crystallised In Jars
My summer honey is normally slow to crystallise; I suspect that much of it comes from brambles. In 2022, we had some very hot weather, which seems to have resulted in a big nectar flow from clover. This tends to crystallise quite rapidly. It doesn’t set rock hard, and you can still scoop out spoonfuls without difficulty, but it does not have the smooth texture of creamed honey. I was a bit concerned that customers would not want to buy honey that is beginning to crystallise in jars on shop shelves, so I contacted one of the shops that I supply. I was told that customers prefer runny to set (or soft set) honey, but that mine sells so quickly that it never has a chance to crystallise on the shelf. That put a spring in my step!
I usually store honey in plastic barrels, then heat it in a warming cabinet before putting into jars for sale. However, I always have jars about the place, tucked away in various corners of my house. Some of these are crystallising, so I will probably have to warm them again before they go for sale. My understanding is that warming honey will change it, albeit in a small way. Customers could buy the crystallising honey then warm it up at home themselves, if they really want it runny, but many apparently get put off. Some people even think that, if honey crystallises, it contains added sugar! This is not the case at all – the real thing will naturally crystallise, depending upon the ratio of fructose to glucose it contains, and the temperature at which it’s stored.
The big problem for honey sellers is that, once their honey crystallises on the retailer’s shelf, customers won’t buy it, so the shop won’t order any more. It will sit for ages, then maybe get discarded, with, perhaps, a black mark going against the supplier of that particular honey. I always tell people that they can pop the honey in the microwave on low power to return it to runny honey, and most are fine with that. For those beekeepers with oilseed rape or clover honey, this crystallisation issue can be a concern. Would customers rather have honey that has been heated to high temperatures and filtered and blended so that most flavour is lost, just to keep it runny? Possibly. Seems a shame.