varietal honey

Beware of false varietal honey

Varietal honeys are usually more expensive than blended honeys because of the difficulty and expense of keeping them as pure as possible. Because bees do their own thing, no varietal honey is 100 percent any single variety of nectar—so be very wary of claims that they are. Producers of varietal honeys do their best to produce a reasonably pure product. The proof that they succeed is in the bottle: it doesn’t take long to learn to recognize a variety by taste, color, and fragrance. But a reputable beekeeper will never “guarantee” that his varietal honey is totally pure.

Infused honey is very popular right now, probably due to the immense success of infused cooking oils. If you are seeking to buy infused honey, that is fine. But if you are trying to buy a varietal honey, look out for those that are actually infused. For example, one site on the Internet says, “Our lavender honey tastes like lavender smells.” The problem here is the phrase “lavender honey.” If you read further, you will see they are selling generic honey that has been infused with lavender blossoms—a different thing altogether.

In the April 2010 American Bee Journal, the authors of a piece about fireweed discuss a recipe they saw in an Alaska newspaper for “fireweed honey”—a concoction of fireweed and clover blossoms boiled in sugar syrup. They don’t bother using any honey at all!

Along those same lines I found an Internet recipe for “Honey Syrup” made from sugar, corn syrup, whipped cream, and vanilla extract. Why they call this “honey” syrup is totally beyond my comprehension.

The take home lesson here is caveat emptor. Read labels carefully to be sure the product you are paying for is actually the one you want. Ask if you are still unsure. Let sellers know you do not appreciate misleading labels.


Honey for sale. Flickr photo by Augapfel.

The trouble with Canola honey

The word “Canola” was coined from the phrase “Canadian Oil, low acid”—a plant developed from rapeseed (Brassica spp.) with low levels of erucic acid that is suitable for human consumption. Rapeseed is a species closely related to vegetables such as turnips, collards, mustard, and cabbage.

Rapeseed is a good crop for honey bees, offering both nectar and pollen in the early spring. Huge acreages of it are planted in Canada (Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan) and in North Dakota and Minnesota. The nectar flows are heavy and yield huge crops of light-colored, mild-flavored honey.

However, rapeseed honey—commonly called canola honey—crystallizes so quickly that it is a problem for beekeepers. It will crystallize in the comb while still in the field. Many beekeepers go through their hives and pull out the combs of canola honey as soon as it is capped. After collecting, it should be extracted within 24 hours and marketed immediately. Extracted canola may last 3 to 4 weeks before it crystalizes in the jar.

As an alternative, many beekeepers use it to make creamed honey. But even this has to be done immediately or the honey will become nearly impossible to separate from the comb.

The other problem with canola honey is that 85-90% of the North American crop is genetically modified to resist herbicides. So if you would rather not eat plants whose DNA has been altered by huge chemical companies, you should probably avoid canola honey. This is, I believe, is sad because the farmers work hard, the beekeepers work hard, the bees work hard, and a rapeseed field in full bloom is a breathtaking sight.

However, I believe human beings should have to right to choose whether or not to eat genetically modified organisms. Until governments mandate the labeling of such products, people who want to avoid them have to avoid pretty much everything that may contain them.


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  • hmmmm … well ok, read the label. But what about going one step back.

    How do you test that the orange blossom honey really is from oranges. Well you can look at the pollen present in the honey. But that is a very troublesome process. Is there an easier way?

    Similarly, corn syrup is very cheap. Honey is much less cheap. How do you detect that corn syrup has not been accidentally added to your honey? I am told that looking at the HMF profile to identify the changed state of the fructose is the only way. I wonder if there is any other approach?

  • Only a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw great design. “The price one pays for pursuing a profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.” by James Arthur Baldwin.