In Dorset, we have dark treacly heather honey, rich and distinctive in flavour from the ling that blooms across the county’s heathland from July to October. Delicate pale honey from oilseed rape fields, ablaze with yellow blooms in springtime, or slightly minty honey from lime trees that burst into flower in July. Then there’s fragrant floral honey that in late spring speaks of apple blossom and in summer of wild meadows and garden flowers.
Like wine, honey is a product that has terroir – in other words, it carries the taste of the particular landscape in which the bees forage for their pollen and nectar.
General honeys, as commonly found in supermarkets, are blends of different honeys that can come from a vast area (including China and the far East). But ‘raw’ or ‘natural’ honey produced from limited areas or particular plants (known as monoflora honeys) and minimally treated, deliver rich, deep flavour.
Raw honey is best described as honey “as it exists in the beehive”. It is made by simply spinning the honey from the frames, and passing it through a coarse strainer to remove bits of beeswax and dead bees etc.
Once strained, raw honey is bottled and ready to be enjoyed. The unprocessed nature of the honey not only preserves the differences in taste and consistency, but also its beneficial wholesome qualities, as more of the micronutrients and enzymes are preserved, as well as more pollen grains, which are good for keeping hayfever at bay.
On the other hand, the production of regular honey involves several more steps before it is bottled — such as pasteurization and filtration.
Pasteurization is a process that destroys the yeast found in honey by applying high heat. This helps extend the shelf life and makes it smoother.
Also, filtration further removes impurities like debris and air bubbles so that the honey stays as a clear liquid for longer. This is aesthetically appealing to many consumers.
Some commercial honeys are additionally processed by undergoing ultrafiltration. This process further refines it to make it more transparent and smooth, but it can also remove beneficial nutrients like pollen, enzymes and antioxidants.
Moreover, some manufacturers may add sugar or sweeteners to honey to reduce costs, as shown in the “fake honey” reports on TV and other media.
Perhaps the most important reason to buy honey from small local producers is that it encourages beekeepers and therefore more bees.
I would love to see more people buying honey from local and small-scale producers rather than supermarkets. And the truth is, honey produced this way is infinitely more delicious.