How to eat comb honey

The first time I saw extracted honey in a jar with no comb, I wondered why anyone would do that. Why would someone separate two things that belong together? Imagine eating a yolk without the white or a chocolate chip without the cookie. What’s the point? Where I grew up in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, honey came in a comb in a little wooden box. There was no alternative. This regional tradition apparently began in the “comb honey era.”

According to The ABC & XYZ of Bee Culture, the comb honey era lasted from 1880 to 1915, and was a time when most beekeepers in America produced comb honey. Before the enactment of the pure food and drug laws, liquid honey was frequently “extended” with corn syrup, so consumers preferred honey that came straight from the bees with no human interference. When they ate a chunk of comb honey they knew it was pure, just as the bees had intended.

As time went on, several things happened. Laws came into being that assured better food handling and labeling, honey extraction equipment improved, and beeswax by itself became popular for industrial uses. Beekeepers could make more money by selling the honey and the wax separately. In addition, if a beekeeper re-used his wax combs year after year, he could get bigger crops of honey. It takes a lot of bee-power to make the comb, so providing ready-made comb allows the bees to store more honey.

Unfortunately, we lost a real treat when comb honey disappeared. Each batch of honey retains the floral essences of the plants from which it was made, but the flavor of wax comb also differs according to what the bees ate and adds a richness to the flavor that extracted honey doesn’t have. Add to this the aroma of the basswood section box in which the comb was built, and you have a combination of flavors, textures, and aromas you can’t find anywhere else on earth.

Today comb honey is experiencing a re-birth, but it is now considered a luxury item. I’ve seen it for sale for as much as $26.95 for a 12-ounce square—and it’s usually made in a plastic box. Plastic! Take away the basswood box and you’ve lost a major component of the comb honey experience. But this product is fast disappearing. As far as I know, there is only one manufacturer of basswood section boxes left in America.

So if you have the opportunity to try comb honey in a basswood box, go for it. For novice honeycomb eaters, I always recommend the following:

  • Toast a piece of your favorite bread or an English muffin. While it is still very hot, spread it lightly with butter. With a knife, cut a chunk of comb honey and spread it over the toast. You may have to mash it a bit, but the heat will soften the comb so it flattens into the toast along with the honey. It doesn’t melt, but becomes soft and aromatic. It is also good on hot biscuits, French toast, or pancakes.
  • The upscale restaurants often serve comb honey in the center of a plate surrounded by a selection of expensive cheeses and multi-grain crackers. The idea here is to cover the cracker with a piece of cheese and top it off with a small chunk of comb. This works great with cheddar or brie, but any cheese will work.

If anyone has other favorite ways to eat comb honey, let me know and I will post them on this site. In the meantime, enjoy!

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comb honey ready to eat
Comb honey ready to eat

Comments

Tracy
Reply

Hi Ya’all — Your comments are such sweet fun, as I sit chewing my honey gum, and running to the kitchen to try goat gouda, round cracker, and honeyinthecomb!

Thanks for helping me find simple joy in sharing! Love to Laugh.

Abigail
Reply

Eating honeycomb? I thought it’s bees home… I’ve never saw those sold here in Erie, PA? Anyone know where I can buy those locally? I’d really love to try some!!!

Rusty
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Abigail,

Honey bees use wax combs for many things, including raising young, storing pollen, and storing honey. The type we eat has only had honey stored in it, and is tender and light colored. Check your local farmer’s markets or call your local bee club. Someone will know where to find it. It’s great stuff!

Wayne
Reply

Rusty

Interesting reading!

As a kid I ate lots of wooden boxed honeycomb. Recently I found some in a tourist shop and bought it. It was terrible. No wooden box and the honey was not good tasting but the worst part was the wax. It was like taking a bite off a bar of paraffin (though I have never done that) I had to spit it out though I had never done that before. This comb was not formed in the container but cut from a large piece and boxed in plastic.

My questions:

First, do beekeepers today not start the process with preformed combs from paraffin?

Second, today I extracted some honey from a natural hive in an underground irrigation valve box. it was all natural. The honey was wonderfully flavored and the wax melted in my mouth. It was barely noticeable except for the added flavor and texture. How do you account for this difference?

Please continue your column. I believe I am going to become a beekeeper.

Wayne

Rusty
Reply

Wayne,

I’m not sure I understand your first question, but beekeepers do not now, nor did they ever, start honeycombs with paraffin. The bees start and complete the combs with their own secreted wax.

I suspect the honeycomb you purchased from the tourist shop was old. Natural beeswax contains volatile oils, which is one of the reasons it burns so well. Over time, many of these oils evaporate from the wax and what is left is hard and brittle. To be really tender and tasty, comb honey should be eaten during the first year or so. I have eaten much older comb honey (my own) but I stored it carefully to limit its exposure to air.

When you took the natural honey from the hive, it was obviously new and fresh. I’m sure it was age of the comb that accounted for most of the difference in texture. Differences in taste of the honey itself is more dependent on the flowers from which the nectar was collected.

Wayne
Reply

Rusty,

Thanks for the thorough and insightful answers to my questions.

Last night I offered my daughter and grandchildren some comb. This was a great experience that was a first for them. Watching them eat comb by the spoonful and not even considering spitting anything out was a joy. I feel like it was a meaningful Christmas present for them and me.

I am serious about the beekeeping and have a book “Beekeeping for Dummies” which I am reading now! May I pose questions to you in the futures that i can not find answers to in the book?

Thanks again, Wayne

Rusty
Reply

Wayne,

Ask away. Sometimes it takes a few days for me to answer; I get swamped with questions at certain times of year.

I started beekeeping just so I would have a steady supply of comb honey. Nothing else that comes straight from nature could possibly taste so good!

Wayne

Rusty,

Yours is only the second time I have participated in a blog in my life. I connected to it buy asking a question on Google. I have since discovered it is part of a very attractive and substantial website devoted to bees. Redirect me to a more appropriate place if this “How to eat Comb” string is not the correct place for non-comb questions.

After relocating the bees from my irrigation box I have leftover comb honey that was rightfully their winter food. It is in comb form in a plastic container occupying a full shelf in my refrigerator. I would like to feed it back to them as needed. How should I do that???

Wayne

Rusty

Wayne,

You can attach your questions to any post you are reading or the most recent one. It doesn’t really matter.

Before I can answer the question on how to feed the honey back to the bees, tell me what you did with them. You said you relocated them, but into a hive or someplace else? I have to picture it to answer correctly.

Wayne
Reply

Rusty

Almost a year ago bees decided to take residence in a green plastic subsurface irrigation valve box I had topped with a piece of 2-inch thick foam insulation. There was a small hole that they used as an entrance/exit. I noticed them but did not have time to address the situation.

Weeks and then months passed. I knew I would someday have a problem which would require me to work on the valves. Therefore, I would have to move or kill the bees. The later was not a choice.

Have no experience with bees I went to the net. I learned a little about bees and saw various bee hive pictures and plans. I constructed my version of a top-bar hive. Time passed. Suddenly a valve malfunctioned and would not turn off. I shut off the water supply and promptly purchased a very cheap veil and smoker.

This week I moved the bees. I pried the foam top loose and lifted it. The brood and pollen combs and a couple honey combs came with it but most of the honey combs broke loose and stayed in the valve box. I cut the foam so that it would fit exactly in the width of the hive and placed it where the top bars would normally be. It fit nicely leaving 30% of the top open. I then move as many honey combs into the hive as would fit. I stood them upright so that most of both sides were open to the bees. I placed top bars to complete closing the top, and replaced the cover.

The balance of the honey combs, perhaps 20 pounds, are in my refrigerator, except what we ate.

We live in the Mojave Desert where climate extremes exist. January and February will have 20 degree nights and 50-60 degree days with only a few blossoms occurring.

Sorry to be so long winded, Wayne

Rusty
Reply

Moving the rest of the honeycombs into a top-bar hive is fairly easy. Take a top bar and tie a comb to it. I usually use kitchen twine; some people use rubber bands, dental floss, or whatever you have available. Tie one comb per bar and put them in the hive. Normally the bees will connect the comb to the top bar and then chew through the twine and get rid of it. In no time, the bees will have fixed it up to their liking and you will be able to inspect the hive like normal.

Rick
Reply

My friend keeps bees and does the mash and strain method for extracting honey. This leaves a honey-soaked beeswax mess which is like chewing gum but much better. It’s great to dig out handfuls and chew on for a while then spit out the wax. Definitely an outdoor eating activity. Yummy but messy. Pull a gob, chew, enjoy, spit, repeat.

Thanks for the website.

Rick
Reply

Question regarding last post. Would the bees benefit from having this honey, wax mess left over from honey extraction placed near or in their hive for reuse? I assume they would use the honey again. How about the wax?

Rusty
Reply

Rick,

If you give this crushed comb back to the bees, they will clean it up and store the remaining honey. They may re-use some of the wax, but often they just leave it it a pile—it depends on the time of the year and their current need for wax.

The beekeeper needs to be cautious when feeding crushed comb in a container because if honey pools at the bottom of the container, bees can get stuck in it and drown.

Rick
Reply

Thanks for the advice and the website.

Eric Weller
Reply

Rusty,

Does the cut comb need to be frozen to kill any eggs or larvae from wax moths or hive beetles? If not, what is the longest cut comb can be stored before it starts tasting funky?

Rusty
Reply

Eric,

I always freeze my frames of comb honey as soon as I remove them from the hive. Overnight works, or until the comb is frozen all the way through. Once this is done, it will remain fine for years as long as you keep it covered and dry and away from pests that could re-infest it.

Robert
Reply

I stopped by the local apiary to get some frames for my hives (I will make any part of the hive except the frames. The unassembled frames are too cheap to try to make some) and I saw some comb honey laying on the counter. It was just cut comb not section. None the less, I asked about it and was told it was last fall’s honey. My wife loves comb honey so I picked one up. When I got home I noticed a package of Nutter Butter Crème Patties. Not the peanut shaped ones, the wafer ones. I like them…I like honey, soooo I cut a piece of comb and placed in on a cookie. Definitely worth trying. Mmmm

Scott
Reply

I would like some more suggestions on comb honey uses. I liked the cracker and blue cheese recommendation. I sell comb honey at our farmers market and I’m looking for easy ways to provide samples for my customers. I can’t easily make toast or oatmeal but can definitely provide crackers and cheese. I’ve found most people have no idea what to do with the comb. I need to try the basswood boxes since currently I sell it in the plastic viewable containers.

Rusty
Reply

Scott,

I put a request for ideas on my front page, but so far no one has answered. Most people I know put it on biscuits, toast, or crackers and cheese. For samples, I think the cheese and cracker is the best. I also like it on rye bread. You could cut up squares of rye bread (not toasted) and try that, but some folks may not like rye. Maybe just plain whole wheat bread? Or bagel pieces? Or make a peanut butter and honey comb sandwich and cut that into pieces. This is making me hungry.

Daniel
Reply

Scott, I think we all owe a debt to Phillip’s original post about honey and bleu cheese! I just read the post and tried some comb with some crumbled gorgonzola I had on hand (just a really strong type of bleu cheese), and it was fantastic – the two tastes go wonderfully together. I’ve got to do some experimenting!

Richard Lercari
Reply

I would like to start a conversation with you about comb honey. I am a chef and beekeeper.

Richard Lercari
Reply

Message directed to Scott but open to anyone.

Rusty
Reply

Richard,

I would love to hear your thoughts. I believe comb honey is under utilized.

Richard Lercari

Randy,
Since I’ve joined this blog (just a few days ago) I have been reading the posts and following their leads.
I could not agree with you more. Including an older post where you talk about the value of drawn comb to beekeepers
As a chef, I feel that the modernist use of comb honey — beyond cheese and toast has yet to be explored.
So I set out to offer a chefy friend and others an uncut half frame of honey. This led to needing a display board to hold the comb…

Jordan
Reply

If you get some comb with crystallized honey in it I find that to be very good to eat just by itself. The crystals don’t squeeze out of the wax so easily as liquid honey, so it all chews up together, a real treat! You can just scrape the outer comb off and leave the foundation on the frame so the bees can re-use it. I don’t know about selling it that way but it sure is good to eat if you keep bees!

Gill
Reply

Have been given a wonderful Christmas present of a whole 1kg honey comb in a wooden frame. It will take me ages to eat this much honey. How should I store it, especially once I have cut into it? (The box is too big to sit easily in my cupboards or fridge.)

Rusty
Reply

Gill,

That is a great present. Just cut it out of the frame right along the edges. Then cut the pieces to fit in a covered glass dish of some sort. For me, one frame takes two or three dishes. Use the cover to keep the dust out, but do not refrigerate it. The cold and dry air will cause it to crystallize prematurely. Don’t worry about spoilage or eating quickly. Honey will last for years.

Richard Lercari
Reply

Unlike a honey vinaigrette, the great advantage to having comb honey fresh, candied or set is that you can have moments of sweetness in a dish without every mouthful being of honey.

Using the classic combination of cheese and comb try this salad:

A bitter green salad (arugula or kale) tossed with some salty cheese (semisoft pecorino or parmesan or a less salty manchego) shaved in slivers with a peeler, add a few walnuts and olive oil, and a twist of black pepper. Go easy with the salt because the cheese will add salt; mix lightly and finish with several tiny 3/8 x 3/8 cubes of comb sprinkled about each dish and wow. Every mouthful a different combination of sweet, bitter, salt.. You can add an acidity of lemon or vinegar if you like. Adding walnuts creates a chew that balances the wax of the comb. I think you will enjoy this.

Rusty
Reply

Okay, Richard, you’ve got my attention. I can’t wait to try this! What you say makes so much sense, about not having the sweetness in every bite. I will report back as soon as I try it.

This is what I need, a chef on call . . .

Richard Lercari
Reply

If you visit my web page straightfromthehive.com there is a photo of the salad on the fifth page — use of comb honey, at top left corner. You can drag it off the site and see it better on your computer.

Being a chef and beekeeper I have a keen interest in furthering this endeavor.
Including a pasta dish that I am fond of that features comb honey with roasted beets and greens. I haven’t as yet uploaded recipes but have been toying with the idea of a honeychef blog. But not as yet. Would you consider posting a photo and recipe on the other “comb honey” site you mentioned at the top of this page?

Rusty
Reply

Richard,

I don’t know what you mean by “on the other comb honey site you mentioned at the top of this page?” But I would love to post your recipes and photos, with credit of course, and a link back to your site. That would be so cool! And probably what you said above too, I’m just confused what “comb honey site” you are referring to.

Richard Lercari

Rusty,

Thank you for the collaboration; I feel like I have found home.

Sorry for the confusion. At the top of this page there is a link toward the end of the opening rap that highlights the words “comb honey” and when you go there it opens a page titled “Update on how to eat comb honey” that shows a picture of a bread crostini with cheese and honey comb followed by numerous comments.

I think this would be a great forum to post recipes and comments. Leaving a more general discussion of comb honey to this page. Just an interpretation of what I think you have already set up.

Janelle
Reply

Hey Guys,

I just finished my snack of plain greek (or any ‘regular’) yogurt sweetened with honey comb. I love using it for this because the wax gets stirred into the yogurt and I usually am less inclined to spit it out, and it sweetens the yogurt perfectly. No need for any artificial sweeteners or preservatives they need to add to store bought flavoured yogurts.

Cheers,

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