From ancient times man has enjoyed honey, as evidenced by rock paintings in Spain depicting men foraging in beehives. Egyptian and Indian texts mention honey as far back as 2,000 BC. Honey has been a part of medicine, religious observances, cosmetics, currency, building, embalming, and the arts. It has also been commonly enjoyed in daily eating and drinking as a natural alternative to sugar.
Honey is made primarily of fructose and glucose in addition to smaller amounts of minerals, vitamins, and enzymes. Honeybees gather nectar from flowers, convert the nectar into honey, and then store the honey in honeycombs inside the beehive.
Consequently, the flavor of honey is influenced by the source of the nectar, that is, the flowers from which the bees collect. In the wild, a bee will visit almost any flower and extract almost any flavor of nectar. However, some beekeepers have discovered that by limiting the flowers that a hive of bees has access to, they can control the flavor of the honey. The U.S. honey industry boasts over three hundred honey varieties, most of them named after the flowers from which the bees were allowed to collect nectar. As a general rule, honey that is lighter in color is also milder in flavor whereas darker honey has a more rich and acute flavor. Some of the most popular of these monofloral honeys include the following:
Apple Blossom Honey: This honey is light in color and mild in taste. It is produced by bees gathering nectar from white apple blossoms.
Buckwheat Honey: This honey is extremely dark and is as robust as honey can get. It nearly tastes like sorghum or molasses. The flavor smacks of mossy earth and is often less sweet than standard store-bought honey. Many describe the flavor as malty and enjoy dribbling it over goat cheese or using it to flavor plain Greek yogurt.
Chestnut Honey: Also known as “Castagno” (Italian for “Chestnut”) honey, this variety is also quite dark owing to a high content of minerals. The somewhat bitter aftertaste makes this honey a favorite for dribbling over Pecorino Toscano or Grana Padano cheeses. A high fructose concentration resists crystallization.
Eucalyptus Honey: Eucalyptus is a divergent group comprising over 500 distinct species and thriving primarily in California and Australia. Honey made by bees visiting these trees has a flavor akin to menthol. Thus this honey is often believed to be an herbal remedy to headaches and colds.
Lavender Honey: This honey tends toward a flowery aroma and taste presenting low levels of acid without the typical bitter taste. The color is lighter and quite often a soft amber or white. Feta and Ricotta Salata cheeses offer a unique and pleasing blend with lavender honey.
Rosemary Honey: This honey is pale and frequently can harden into a buttery spread. The scent of the rosemary plant remains throughout the honey-making process, yielding a sweet favorite for the dinner table.
Sulla Honey: Hailing from southern Italy, Sulla honey is typically white like wax. The Sulla flower also goes by the name of the French Honeysuckle. Its nectar yields a reviving flavor with hints of medicinal properties. This honey makes a popular sweetener for tea.
Thistle Honey: Honey from the thistle is often light in color though it can darken to an amber-like orange. It blends the flavors of daisy, chrysanthemum, and fruit into a rhapsodizing medium-sweet or almost sour tang.
Thyme Honey: The favorite of ancient Greeks, this honey takes on various amber hues. It can be crystallized to give an exceptional aroma of white pepper, dates, and magnolia.