Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







Honey connoisseurs know proper etiquette

Honey is a remarkable food. A number of different bees produce honey, but most of the honey consumed by humans is produced by the aptly-named honey bee. The honey bee takes plant nectar and ripens it in the hive into a liquid that is a highly concentrated water solution of primarily two sugars, dextrose and levulose. Honey also contains small amounts of at least 22 other complex sugars.

The sugar makeup of most types of honey is similar. However, honey types vary according to flavoring materials, pigments, acids and minerals. These constituents that make types of honey different are specific to the flower source of the nectar. The honey display at a grocery store will very likely include several types of honey named after their flower sources. Basswood, buckwheat, orange, white clover, alfalfa, tupelo and even mesquite are honey types that could show up in any food store.

Honey also varies in color from almost-clear to pale yellows and ambers to nearly black. The flavor and aroma of honey vary even more than the color. Although there is a fairly characteristic honey flavor, the aroma is more variable and is definitely suggestive of the floral source. For example, orange honey smells like — well — oranges.

In general, light-colored honey is mild flavored, while darker honey has a more distinct flavor. For instance, the honey produced from goldenrod during the fall is very dark and resembles sorghum in flavor.

Much of the honey available in stores is generally a mixture of nectar sources. Sometimes it's even labeled as “wild flower” or “mixed blossom.” Today, though, the real honey connoisseur is able to purchase any number of specific honey types. Sometimes these honeys are even available in designer containers.

The mention of connoisseur brings to mind the notion of another plant product, wine. Indeed there are a number of similarities between honey and wine — the color, the taste, and the bouquet. Just think what might happen if all of those folks who eat honey with a meal begin to apply the etiquette associated with wine consumption to honey consumption. First it would be necessary to sniff the lid of the honey jar for the bouquet. Then we'd have to decide if a light honey goes better with white toast than whole wheat toast. What about eating honey with meat? Would the mild taste of clover honey be better with red meat than the more robust flavor of tupelo honey?

For me, I think I'll continue to have a heaping spoonful of mixed-blossom honey on my toast and not worry about the etiquette of the situation. After all, I really don't really want to waste time at breakfast sniffing the lid of the honey jar.


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann