Phillip over at Mudsongs.org wrote a post titled, “What Makes Honey Taste Bland?” after he purchased a container of local honey that was labeled “Pure liquid Canadian honey — Canada No. 1 White.” He questions why the honey tasted like “a bottle of Elmer’s Glue.” For now I will sidestep the obvious question—how he knows it tastes like glue—and get back to the honey.
I know nothing about Canadian food laws, but here in the states you can make all kinds of statements on your label. Certain words are practically meaningless, including “pure” and “natural” and “healthy”–which is some kind of perverted synonym for “healthful.” As far as I know, we have no numbers, as in “No. 1” but you can claim it on your label. We do have grades A, B, C but they are seldom used.
The word “local” is probably the same, after all, what is local? Who defines it? Who monitors it? Remember that you can buy boxes and boxes of labels from your handy bee supply catalog that claim all these things and more, and then you just stick them anywhere you want.
Again referring to the states, “white” is a color description that is defined by the USDA and refers to honey that is virtually clear. North Americans like light-colored foods and actually pay more for white honey than darker honeys. In my opinion, that is the chief source of the bland problem.
Light-colored foods generally have fewer “optional extras” in them—and this is especially true of honey. A dark honey is packed with vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, phytochemicals, minerals, and random particles that cause it to explode with flavor. As the honeys get lighter they become sweeter and less flavorful. The same can be said for maple syrup: the darker Grade B stuff is definitely more flavorful than the more expensive Grade A. Brown sugar is more flavorful that white sugar. Dark bread is tastier than white bread.
In his post Phillip doesn’t say what the honey container was made from, but most things stored in plastic eventually taste like plastic. Plastic is made from petroleum and a bunch of chemicals, many of which eventually leave the product and end up in your food or water or air. Things that are warm or highly acidic seem to accelerate this problem, so if you put warm honey in a plastic container, it’s eventually going to taste like plastic. No contest.
Warming honey drives off some of the flavor compounds and destroys others. Filtering removes the bits and pieces of stuff—including wax and pollen—that gives honey its nuanced flavors. And then there’s mixing. The most prized honeys in the world are varietals, and even though they contain more than one type of nectar, they taste like the predominant nectar. Once you start mixing everything together, those unique tastes are lost or disguised. Even if you are not producing varietal honey from your own hives, your honey has a signature taste based on the available forage. Mix that with twenty other sources of honey and the magic is lost.
McDonald’s and many of the other fast food giants made it big by producing flavors that were 100% re-producible. They want people to feel secure that wherever they buy their next Big Mac it will taste just like the last one. The big honey packers do this as well. The average consumer wants his honey to taste just like the last honey—bland and sweet–and by heating, filtering, mixing, and plasticizing, the packers can make it happen. And from what I learned yesterday, you can even throw in some diatomaceous earth and remove all the pollen. Somehow, I can’t imagine the process does much to enhance the flavor.
So that’s my answer to the first question. Now, Phillip, about the glue . . .