Several years ago I tasted some lavender honey and wrote, “The sample I tried was from Portugal. It was a beautiful medium amber color with almost no flavor other than sweet. It may have had a very slight citrus undertone. Overall, I was pretty disappointed in this famous variety.”
Recently, Dawn Tarin of San Diego read that passage and was mortified. She wrote to me:
I was very sad that you didn’t love the lavender honey that you tasted. I am currently in southern France (Provence) famous for its honey. I have bought some honey from 2015, and to me it tastes fabulous. . . . I would love to mail you a small sample (my gift, of course). It has to be my all-time favorite honey, and would be part of my last meal, if I ever get to make that choice!
When you buy lavender honey, beware of confusing terminology.
The type of honey I have described in this post is honey made from the nectar of lavender flowers. The nectar is collected by the bees, taken back to the hive, and processed into honey.
Many times what is labeled “lavender honey” is really some other type of honey infused with lavender flowers. The flowers are often allowed to steep in the honey for some period of time and then may be filtered out or not.
The labels may say “infused,” “lavender flavored,” “essence of lavender,” or just “lavender honey.” Be suspicious if you see plant parts floating around in the jar.
The taste test
Just as promised, a sample arrived shortly thereafter. The honey was a gorgeous extra light amber and looked like sunshine in a bottle. And the taste? Amazing. I would say (and I’m not good at this) that it had a bright flavor, medium sweetness, and both woodsy and citrusy notes. Faintly in the background, I detected a flavor reminiscent of the scent of lavender, but just a hint, nothing heavy. If this is typical of lavender honey, I can certainly understand why it is a classic favorite.
The beekeeper who produced Dawn’s honey is based in Mougins, in the heart of Provence, an area famous for high-quality lavender honey. Below you can see his label and some notes and translations provided by Dawn, who spoke to him in French (I’m impressed).
Cultivars and terroir
Many variables can make one honey taste different from another. The nectar may have been collected from different species or different cultivars of lavender, which could certainly make a huge difference. More subtle is the difference in geography.
French wine makers refer to the terroir of a region, or how a region’s climate, soils, and geomorphology affect the taste of their grapes. Of late, the term has been used to describe the same phenomenon in coffee, chocolate, cheese, and honey. So even if the bees collected nectar from identical plants, the difference in local growing conditions would make the nectar taste unique.
Toss in the unpredictable
Beyond that, beekeepers have less control over their bees than winemakers have over their grapes. Even if honey is collected from a single crop in a single location, other nectars may get mixed in—maybe some weeds at the side of the road, flowers from a neighboring farm, or a taste of someone’s hummingbird feeder. The idea behind varietals is that the beekeeper believes that the honey was substantially produced from a particular crop at a particular time. Beyond that, we don’t really know.
With that in mind, a second taste—or more—is always a good idea, and Dawn has certainly changed my mind about lavender honey.
So glad you enjoyed it, Rusty. Real lavender honey is a treasure that only our bees can make for us!
Thank you so much for sending it!
I wonder if the the Portugal lavender was Spanish Grosso? I believe some varieties have more camphor which might not taste very good. I think the predominant variety in France is Provence.
I’ve been invited to set up a hive at a nearby lavender farm in Central Texas this spring. The farm owners and I are both looking forward to tasting lavender honey. I’ve started my own lavender field. I have 30 young plants and plan to add 20 each fall until the field is full.
Thanks for writing about lavender honey!
Sounds like a fun (and tasty) project.
What did the honey taste like?
Thanks for all of the great info that you provide.
Everything is looking good for a nice maple honey year. The bees are doing great, the weather forecasts are favorable, these are some hardy bees that don’t mind going out in the bad weather and the big leaf maples look like they will be in bloom early so if it all works out I’ll be sending you some Dabob Bay maple honey which is my favorite.
I’m hearing reports that the weather may hold. We’ll have to see.
Here in Portugal we have some amazing lavender honeys. I’m sorry to read you tried one that you didn’t appreciate. It is normally such an aromatic honey that your description of the one you did try makes me wonder about its quality.
I wish I still had the bottle, but I certainly don’t hold it against Portugal! It was just one of those unlucky things.
Thanks, I know, sorry if I got a bit sensitive.
I know you have lots of readers of your website in the UK, so I would like to point out to them that the situation as regards labelling is quite different here from what you describe for the US. We have new (2015) honey regulations which tightly control what can and cannot be sold as Honey. It is not permitted to use additives or other ingredients on a product labelled as Honey, and if a honey is labelled as, for example, lavender honey “the product [must come] wholly or mainly from the indicated source and possesses the organoleptic, physico-chemical and microscopic characteristics of the source”.
The full Honey (England) Regulations 2015 are here.
I personally feel the new regs are helpful in protecting both the consumer and the honest small scale beekeeper from those trying to pass off an inferior product as something that it is not.
Thanks for mentioning this MerryBee. I’m also glad that we have strict definitions about what can be sold as honey here. Honey should be honey!
I have tasted lavendar honey from bees in the Arizona high country at a farm near the town of Concho. I thought it was very tasty and had, as you said, just a hint of lavender flavor; nothing overpowering. Unfortunately, Concho is 30 miles from our mountain home so our girls don’t get to graze in lavender.
Good post. I have waited to respond because my comments are not directly on post with your post. First, thank you for your blog. I have learned more here than in the books I have read.
The different qualities of honey is an amazing journey. We have taken to pulling a single frame out of a super, crush and set in strainer, replace the “wet” frame in the super, and bottle a quart or so. We have the most amazing collection of honey. Some are all sugared up. Some are half liquid and half sugared up. Some are dark. Some semi dark, some light as air. We just (finally) finished a bottle that was dark as sin and sticky. By sticky, I meant it literally stuck to your teeth. Other than being honey, it was rather nasty. If we didn’t think it was as sin, we would have thrown it out. I “think” it was late summer from mostly onion. Who knows, they tend to wander.
Reading your experience with lavender honey, reminded me of the year we had peach honey. A friend kept a couple of hives in our backyard, where we have a couple of peach trees. The honey that summer had a delicate taste of fresh peaches. It was the most amazing honey I have ever had! Unfortunately, my beekeeping friend nearly died from a bee sting a year later. That, along with the challenge of overwintering our hives, meant the end of our peach honey. My friend fully recovered. That she survived was nothing short of a miracle. And she carries her epi-pen on her person!
I’ve never had peach honey. It sounds delicious.
Hello! I stumbled upon your website while searching for lavender honey. I can’t seem to find any that’s from the nectar of lavender flowers visited by bees and not the infused kind. (I can only remember one small lavender farm I visited in Washington State that sold organic honey made from their small bee farm in the back of their property but for the life of me can’t remember their name to look them up.) Anyway, can you recommend any brands or websites that sell honey from the nectar of lavender flowers and not just infused with flowers or oil? Thank you!!!
I don’t know a source. I have found it a few times in weird places, like Ross Dress-for-Less and Marshall’s back in the discounted housewares. It might be worth a try.
I had a Wild Lavender Honey by Apisland Honey, Portugal. I believe it’s a corporate brand and don’t believe the jar stated that it was raw. I don’t buy processed honey but it crossed my path for 5$ and wanted just to taste it to get some idea. It was purchased at Home Goods, a warehouse store that has a quite good gourmet section where I’ve also purchased a lot of terrific, unusual, raw honey at reasonable prices. I seriously disliked this lavender honey. It was heavily flavored with musky potpourriish lavender, to the point of seeming infused but according to their site, it isn’t. I put it out at a recent honey tasting to see what others thought and it was generally disliked. Would love to taste a beautiful example of lavender honey. Perhaps I’ll make that a priority. Great to learn that the UK is taking labeling seriously. I just learned that a friend with failing health has been downing “natural” store brand honey, the type they blend with garbage sent to the US from China. Much of that stuff is not only not honey, its often synthesized and sometimes contains dangerous things, but the label says “honey”.