Honey – its tastes, textures, and colours

This is my third missive about honeybees. The notes were originally prompted by the Covid 19 lockdown and my concern that residents of Hankerton may be concerned should they see or worse have a swarm of bees alight on their property.

So, this item is about honey and why the variations in its taste, texture and colour.

Honey, for millennia honey has been considered a sweetener, whereas today it is known to contain other substances that are beneficial to people. It is an excellent nutrient and calmative. Owing to its antibacterial and antioxidant properties it is widely used in folk medicine.

Throughout the year bees will gather nectar from many sources of plant when they are in flower. These sources include trees, ivy, cultivated garden plants, wildflower and nettles, hedge rows and commercially grown plants such as rape and borage. The bees do not discriminate when gathering nectar although if a crop is in abundance (oil seed rape) being a prolific nectar producing plant, bees will pass over many other sources for the easy pickings offered by rape flowers. Contrast that with Linseed Oil plants that produce little or no nectar and the honey has a bitter nasty taste and Red Clover where the flower is too deep for the bee to reach with its extended tongue. White, crimson and yellow clover are however good nectar producers and provide a sweet smooth tasting honey.

This large seasonal variety of nectar options results in widely varying taste and texture in honeys and the rate at which the mature honey will crystallise. All honey will eventually crystallise but can be gently warmed to return it to a ‘runny state’. Set honey can be made spreadable by vigorous agitation with a regular fork from the cutlery drawer.

Two nectar sources stand out for me one being rape which can be a blessing or a curse for many beekeepers. It produced prolific amount of nectar, however the flowers disappear pretty much overnight and if the honey is not extracted within a day or two it sets in the comb. To get the honey out one must cut the wax containing the honey from the hive and heat causing the wax to melt and separate from the honey. This is a messy process requiring special heating equipment and in my opinion the excess heat spoils the honey. As a side effect the bees lose all the comb they had built and will need to rebuild more comb for storage. I do not extract honey using this method.

The other standout nectar source for me is borage. Like oil seed rape it produces prolific amount of nectar but unlike the rape it very rarely crystallises or sets and remains super runny with a distinctive taste. I have not seen borage planted commercially near Hankerton for many years.

When asked what my honey is like I generally respond with simple easy to understand terms. These being: Raw honey, Dark run honey, Light run honey, Creamed honey, Soft set honey, Section honey  (this is the full honey comb cut out from the hive and not extracted) and finally bend the spoon set honey. They will all vary in taste and the deciding factor for me is whether you want to spread it on toast and have it run off up your arm or spread it and have it stay on the toast. All types can be added to beverages or eaten off a spoon.

Raw honey differentiates itself by not being strained or filtered which leaves the honey containing pieces of wax, propolis, pollen not that appealing to look at but is the closest you will get to simply eating the honey from the hive. This year I have available 3 different types for you to enjoy.

If you have read and found these notes interesting and would like to know more about any aspect of beekeeping let Simon know and I will do my best to respond.

I am pleased to say I believe I have retained my health and sanity during lockdown although Christine and others in the family speculate on the latter.

Brian Betts

Brian’s previous articles can be seen in the “News” section or click on the links below :-

Honey Bees
Lockdown Beekeeping

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