When Matt and I became beekeepers, one of the first things we learned was that honey is not just honey. Its flavour is complex, bright, and varied. The flavour of honey varies across the season and from season to season. Like wine, it has terroir - also called 'taste of place.' Why? In the same way that the flavour of wine is influenced by the grapes and their growing conditions, the flavour of honey depends on the flowers that the bees visit to make it.
When certain flowers bloom in abundance, bees can produce monofloral honeys - honey that comes mainly from a single flower source. Some examples of Canadian monofloral honey include linden honey from basswood trees, raspberry blossom honey, blueberry blossom honey, and buckwheat honey. Each of these honeys comes from a different flower and each has a different colour and flavour. Below you can see water-white Acacia honey (from the black locust tree), golden wildflower honey, and raspberry blossom honey.
Another example is our buckwheat honey, which is nearly black, with earthy flavour with notes of malt and black cherry. Plus, buckwheat honey is as beneficial as its New-Zealand cousin Manuka, as backed by scientific evidence. Researchers have shown that in addition to being higher in antioxidants than other honey, buckwheat honey also has powerful bacteria killing properties. Its flavour and benefits come from the nectar the bees use to make it - nectar from buckwheat flowers, an ancient grain grown by farmers to enrich the soil. Its delicate white flowers (shown below) are very high in fragrant nectar, and their fields dance with bees and butterflies!
Raspberry blossom honey is produced by bees visiting the flowers of raspberry canes in Nova Scotia; likewise, blueberry blossom honey comes from blueberry flowers in Quebec. The berry flowers give each one its own flavour - you can read more about the flavour of raspberry blossom honey here and blueberry blossom honey here. The pictures below show the raspberry flower on the left and blueberry flower on the right.
Single varietals like blueberry and buckwheat honey are unique to Canada, because these plants grow well in our climate. Similarly, Orange blossom honey is unique to southern climates like Florida and Rosemary honey is unique to the Mediterranean. All over the world, beekeepers produce honey with its own terroir because of the flowers that grow in their region.
In addition to these types of honey, most local raw honey is multifloral honey - like our wildflower honey. Instead of coming from a single bloom of flowers, wildflower honey is a mix of the flowers within 5 km of the beehives. In Ontario, these wildflowers include clover, fruit blossoms, Crown vetch, birdsfoot trefoil. Later in the summer, as shown below, our region of Eastern Ontario will bloom with yellow goldenrod and purple aster. Some years are dry, and some years of wet - each year the bloom is a little different, affecting which wildflowers bloom and how the honey will taste from season to season. Allergy sufferers often use wildflower honey to help combat pollen allergies, the theory being that small doses of pollen in the honey help the body get used to it, which over time helps reduce the person's allergic response, sneezing and itchy eyes.
Great honey depends on great flowers - each nectar gives each honey is own unique flavour, colour, texture, and even health benefits! What is the science behind this? Part of it comes down to the types of sugars in the nectar - flowers produce nectars with different ratios of fructose and glucose. More fructose gives a fruitier flavour, whereas honey with more glucose tends to be a bit sweeter and may crystallize a bit faster. Different types of honey also have different minerals and amino acids, which change the flavour. Buckwheat honey, for example, has more antioxidants, more minerals like iron and magnesium and a number of different amino acids. All these characteristics of the nectar influence the flavour. And because flowers differ from region to region, honey is said to have terroir - or taste of place!.