At Christmas, my daughter gave us a ceramic skep-shaped honey dish with a wooden honey dipper. Oddly enough, this was my first experience with a honey dipper. Although I never paid much attention to them, I thought they were weird. After all, what can a dipper do that a spoon can’t? And now that I’ve used one for a month, I’m even more mystified by this strange utensil.
You must remember that I’m a fan of comb honey, something which requires cutting and spreading, so a regular kitchen knife has always been my weapon of choice. Honey extracted from the comb is even more perplexing than a honey dipper, but that is a subject I’ve already covered in excruciating detail.
My husband never used a honey dipper either because he grew up with creamed honey, something which also requires a knife. Together, the two of us knew zilch about the art of dippering.
The physics of dippers
Upon examining the Christmas dipper, my husband began to speculate, and that’s when I began to take notes. He said, “Wooden dippers were probably turned on a lathe beginning whenever lathes were commonly used. The lathes could be hand-turned or, later, motorized. The design probably arose in India, China, Germany, or Mesopotamia.” Mesopotamia? I have no idea where this came from. Never in my life has he mentioned Mesopotamia.
He twisted the dipper into the honey and ruminated. “The dipper is easy and natural to use. Honey is viscous. On a dipper, honey separates into a glob due to gravity. When the force of gravity exceeds the force of cohesion, the glob separates from the dipper and plops into your oatmeal.” Oatmeal? This is another subject he’s never mentioned, at least not to me. I’m transfixed.
“The adhesion between the honey and wood is increased due to the parallel grooves around the circumference of the dipper.” He compared it to the way high voltage insulators impede the path of a spark. Really? And this is relevant?
“If you hold the dipper horizontally and rotate, the glob never accumulates because Fg<Fc. As long as you keep spinning it, there is no issue of the honey falling off the dipper. This is unlike a knife, where it slides off, or a spoon, where it drips from the bottom. Compared to most utensils, you can deliver the honey with precision. For example, with an English muffin, you can fill all the little holes individually.”
He concluded by saying, “The honey dipper was an advanced device first made by people who hadn’t studied flow dynamics and physics.”
A honey dipper for everyone
A bit dazed, I decided I should do an Internet search. First I learned that dippers are also called honey wands, sticks, spoons, and drizzlers. Next, I learned that honey dippers are, indeed, a favorite project of woodworkers who don’t know what else to do with their lathes. You can find websites and YouTubes with precise instructions for dipper manufacture. Popular species of wood for dipper workers include olive, maple, walnut, beech, and bamboo.
But wooden dippers are just the tip of the iceberg. You can also find dippers made of stainless steel, silver-plated brass, plastic, silicone, ceramic, and glass. Even so, wooden dippers are considered superior because they won’t chip your teacup. Good to know. You don’t want to be a dipper chipper.
Others claim that wood absorbs the flavor of honey, while metals or plastic impart a flavor to honey. In addition, wood has antibacterial properties that will protect the honey even after multiple dips. Apparently, wood is king in the dipper department.
Controlling the goo
Experienced dippers get high on controlled drizzling. You hold them vertically to avoid drips and horizontally to encourage drips. The angle you choose—somewhere between vertical and horizontal—displays your artistry. The controlled descent of your honey onto the substrate reveals a lot (I’m told) about your personality. Some say it’s all in the wrist.
The shape of the dipping part is variable, and the shape together with the size determines how much honey is delivered and how fast. Popular shapes are cylinders, spheres, skeps, tear drops, pears, and points. Each shape presents its own control variables, so different shapes require different skills. The problem is so complex that those who wish to apportion an exact measurement into their tea—say a teaspoon—are better off leaving dippers to the pros.
Apparently, there is much dissension among dippers about protocol. For example, when having tea, do you dribble and simply replace the dipper in the bowl? Or do your swirl the dipper in the tea before replacing it in the bowl? Or do you drizzle, lick, and wash? I suppose there’s even a fourth choice. Much to my amazement, I even found a survey on dipping protocol. The overwhelming majority swirl the honey-laden dipper into their tea and then stick it back in the jar. Eew.
It appears that the honey dipper is a one-trick pony that essentially disappeared after the plastic squeeze bear made its way into modern kitchens. But aficionados of dipping say it’s the experience rather than the utility that makes it special. The dipper makes honey an event rather than just a condiment. A dipper is romantic, an artifact of times gone by, a conversation piece, and an art form.
The last stop
But even art has its downside. When our honey was about half gone, the remainder crystallized into something akin to concrete. The honey dipper itself became affixed to the bottom of the jar and I feared breaking it as I chipped away. This event solidified our discussion of the physics of dipping, and the dipper is now in the kitchen drawer that corrals orphaned utensils. I get the feeling that most dippers, regardless of material and design, end up in the very same place.
Honey Bee Suite