Good, Better, Best - A Quick Guide To Choosing Honey
There’s honey and then there’s honey. Even if you already choose honey that is produced in the UK, it’s not all the same, and if you want to get the nutritional benefits of this natural product you should choose your jar with a few points in mind. Most of the honey in the supermarket is heated and filtered repeatedly to prolong its shelf life, so many of the natural properties are lost in these processes. Beekeepers' honey is more likely to be unheated or raw. So look at the jar label for descriptions like ‘raw’, ‘unpasteurised’ and ‘minimally filtered’ to be sure you're choosing honey with health benefits like tiny grains of pollen and propolis included.
Secondly, a lot of honey in the shops is blended and not of single origin. Some local beekeepers mix all their honey together in a huge tank before opening the tap and filling their jars. There are two things to work out from the label if you can: time of year and where the honey comes from, so information like 'early summer honey', or 'borage honey’ or the address of the beekeeper are reasonably good indicators that the honey comes from hives in a particular place rather than from all over.
Lastly you just need to look at the honey through the glass jar. It should be clear not cloudy and it should move like a thick syrup. Heather honey is different, this one is more like a jelly so it won’t move much. If you have not tried it before you may not like the woody, slightly bitter taste to start with, but it will grow on you. In general, don’t worry about the colour too much; it varies according to the flowers the bees have visited, for example wildflower honey can have earthy orange tones whilst borage honey is the colour of cucumber water. Usually light coloured honey is mild and floral whilst dark honey has a more pronounced flavour. Try one of each and find out which you prefer.
Autumn is a great time to buy honey as the main harvest has just been collected. Most small scale beekeepers like myself sell out by Christmas. If you use quite a bit of honey or want to buy jars for gifting, it is worth searching out a local beekeeper by contacting the British Beekeepers Association for the contact details of your local branch and you will get information about honey shows and the outlets beekeepers use in your area. If you’re shopping at a farmers’ market, farm shop or deli, study the label and hold the jar up to the light. And if you come across cut comb honey, it’s a real prize, a guaranteed natural product. It comes in little blocks roughly 4 by 2 inches cut by the beekeeper straight from the hive.
Hope you enjoy your pot of honey.
Next time, I’ll share one to two of my favourite raw honey recipes with you.