honey

Stinky honey

“Help! My bees need a bath!”

“My honey stinks.”

“There’s a foul smell coming from my hive entrance.”

“I have reeky bees.”

“My bees are collecting rancid nectar.”

“My hive smells like my husband’s gym locker.”

What is that smell?

Every autumn a large number of beekeepers report stinky honey. The source of the smell is nectar, most probably from plants in the aster family, including goldenrod and small daisy-like flowers that grow in clusters.

When your bees start to dry this nectar into honey the smell can be overwhelming and somewhat startling. It’s just not the odor you expect from your sweet bees.

Although goldenrod, dandelion, and aster honeys are often not favorites, they aren’t terrible, and they taste nothing like the odor they give off. Nevertheless, many beekeepers prefer to let the bees keep the aster honey for themselves.

This actually works quite well since asters are largely fall-flowing plants. Beekeepers can harvest in early fall and then let the bees keep the fall honey for overwintering.

American foulbrood smells very different

Some beekeepers fear American foulbrood (AFB) when they smell aster nectar, but the odors are quite different. Aster nectar has been described as musty, musky, funky, rank, moldy, sour, and rancid. AFB has more of a dead animal smell . . . think rotting meat or fly-riddled carcass on the side of the road.

If you are uncertain, look at your capped brood. If your brood is healthy-looking you are probably smelling aster honey, but if you see shrunken brood caps, discoloration, holes in the caps, and the brood frames smell like death, then you need to test for AFB.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Asteraceae family plants often produce stinky honey.

Many plants in the Asteraceae family produce odoriferous honey. Flickr photo by photofarmer.

47 Comments

  • You are fabulous! I have been talking about the sweaty sock smell of dandelion forage for years and everyone thinks I’m mad! Thank you for mentioning it in your blog.

    • While Goldenrod smells awful during the gathering and drying by the bees….it is one of my MOST favorite tasting honey!!!! Very floral and a wonderful taste, though it crystallizes rather quickly. Goldenrod is wonderful for you as well. Many think “OH! ALLERGIES!!!” It’s actually the cure for them many times, it the Ragweed that is AWAYS close by. 🙂 I’m using Goldenrod honey to sweeten my fall Apple Butter ~~~ DELISH!!!!

  • What a relief to read this!!! I was so nervous with the smell next to our hives..I was pretty sure it was something sinister. Now I see it was those blue flowers around the eastern end of the house. A very different smell and quite puzzling. My wife thought it was the pollen. I am glad its not AFB. Thanks for sharing!

    Hafiz

    • Hi,

      I purchased a jar of Ethiopian pure organic honey, and it’s darker in colour and smells awful. But the taste is wonderful! The texture is like caramel and smooth taste. But I can’t even down it with water cos the smell is awful.

      Is there any way I can eradicate the smell?

      Honey consumer.

  • I encountered a different kind of stinky honey today. I think it’s from fermented honey. Longish story short, I pulled off a deep of honey that had been sitting on top of a colony all winter and I found four frames that appeared to be sweating. Fully capped, dark, liquid honey, but wet on the outside — and stinking like a cheap tequila. If I was a honey bee stuck inside a wooden box, I’d get drunk just off the fumes from it. But I figured drunk bees are better than starving bees, so I gave the honey to some other colonies that were short on honey. This is my first time feeding bees what I can only guess is fermented honey. Do you think I did the right thing?

    This sounds like a Dear Abby letter.

    • Dear Stinky,

      I can’t imagine that the honey under the caps had turned. Is it possible that the smell came from a few broken or uncapped cells? Or that mold was growing on the moisture that accumulated on the surface of the capped honey? Like slime mold? In any case, the answer is here: “One for the road: bees with a buzz.”

  • Uh, I hope it isn’t slime mold. It’s seems not unlikely now that you’ve put the thought in my head. I’ll check out the bees in a few days and see how they’re handling it. I don’t mind them getting a little light headed, but slime mold doesn’t sound good. Thanks.

    • Phillip,

      I give them fermented syrup now and then; I just make sure it’s not their only choice. Still, when you think about it, feral swarms must deal with it. Alcohol is a fact of life.

      I don’t much about slime mold, but they probably handle that as well.

  • We just pulled and extracted some of the stinkiest smelly honey we have had and it taste like it smells. My question will the smell or taste ever fade any to where it is edible? From what I have read it’s the musty, BO smell. I guess i just lost 2 gallons of honey. It is just frustrating because we lost all hives last year now back to 8 hives to have this to deal with. I guess it is always something to keep me on my toes.

    • Lisa,

      It sounds like goldenrod or something similar. I don’t think the taste changes much over time, but some people like it. You could always sell it—just let folks have a taste first so they know what they’re getting. Also, you can cook with it. Better yet, save it for your bees for winter stores. They will certainly like it. Extracted honey can be put in a feeder instead of sugar syrup and is better for the bees. If it crystallizes, you can feed it straight from the jar—you don’t even have to take it out. You certainly didn’t lose the two gallons, you just have to put it to different uses.

      • Ivy honey reeks, too, and tastes just as bad as it smells, if not worse. Easy to identify by its physical characteristics, it’s water-white for the short time it’s liquid before crystallizing, and reminds me of cat urine. Bees eat it just fine – heck, they’re the ones that put it in the combs. But it ruins a frame of honey for extraction if there’s some on there with other palatable honey.

  • Thank you. I bought some raw honey, and it tastes musty. If I knew a bee keeper, I would donate it; it tastes that bad. I am glad to know that it will not make me sick.

  • My daughter gave me a pint of honey that her husband harvested out of a wall in an old house. It smells like dirty socks, but taste fine. Is it safe to use? I have been afraid to use even though I know honey doesn’t spoil. Help!

    • Jayne,

      The “dirty socks” smell is characteristic of goldenrod honey. People say it tastes fine and the odor disappears after a time. It is most probably perfectly safe to eat.

    • If it is cured well…I’ve found the smell does dissipate and leaves a flowery almost perfumed smell, and taste great – at least to me….I must be one of the odd folks 🙂

  • Hoping you can calm my fears. I just bought raw, unfiltered honey from amazon. The taste is great. But the odor is awful. It smells like poo. There isn’t any description of the type of honey or flowers, just that it is raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized. Thanks.

    • Paul,

      Your honey is fine. Honey has natural antimicrobial properties that keeps organisms from living in it. It is complex, but there are four mechanisms that keep it safe: high osmolarity, high acidity, the presence of glucose oxidase (which produces hydrogen peroxide), and various phytochemicals. This is why honey that is hundreds or even thousands of years old (found in tombs) is still safe to eat.

      The smell is unrelated to safety. Certain plants produce nectar that smells bad, especially to some people. Plants in the Asteraceae family, for example dandelions, goldenrod, etc., are especially known for this. Some people say the smell dissipates as the honey ages, but I don’t know how long that would take. Just remember that the objectionable smell is coming from the nectar, not from a spoilage agent.

      One more thing, the antimicrobial properties remain strongest in honey that is unpasteurized. Heat can destroy some of the properties, so the safest honey is untouched.

  • Hello,

    I just received a mason jar of natural honey for Christmas from a friend that keeps bees (I don’t know how old it is). Upon opening the jar today, I noticed a sour, nasty sock smell from it. It still tasted sweet despite the smell though. I’m not sure if it was filtered or “refined,” and it’s a lovely deep amber color, it isn’t clear, but its not milky. It is also very thick as well, not syrupy.

    Is it safe to eat? I’ve never had honey, both store bought or natural, that smells so bad.

    • Brianna,

      The smell of nasty socks combined with the color makes me think it is honey from goldenrod, or perhaps dandelions. The color, flavor, and aroma of honey is due to the flowers that produced the nectar. Goldenrod is especially known for that particular odor. There is nothing wrong with the honey at all, if just carries that strange smell. Your honey is safe to eat. Even honey that’s moldy or fermenting is safe to eat.

  • I live in Phoenix Az and took two frames off a hive January 6,2018 and it smells musty and odd. The honey was not as sweet as last October’s harvest. I don’t think we have golden rod around here. We did have a purple saga bloom in November. Not a fan of the taste of this honey. How much hot water per cup of honey can I mix, to make feed for my bees. I do not want my bees to store this honey, just eat or for wax production.

    Thx Jerry

    • Jerry,

      Just estimating, one cup of honey is about 80% sugar and 20% water. That means one cup is 6.4 oz sugar and 1.6 oz water. So to get 1:1 syrup, just add 4.8 more ounces of water to every cup. (4.8 + 1.6 = 6.4) Measure by volume or weight. Either is close.

      Or use my method: Stir in water until it looks right. This is also close. In any case, the bees don’t care.

  • Hello I was given a jar of honey today from a coworker who’s a beekeeper. This is the first time I’ve had honey that I can only describe as smelling like a pig farm (wierd I know, but I know the smell pretty well) and has the same aftertaste. Would you say this is normal and possibly from goldenrod?

    • Taylor,

      Yes, to both. The worst-smelling honey I’ve ever encountered is goldenrod and “pig farm” is a fair description. It tastes fine, at least to me. But the smell is off-putting, to say the least.

  • I have been harvesting honey from my many dead-outs. I crush and strain frame-by-frame and keep the honeys separate and insist on NOT mixing them up (none of that commercial non-sense).

    Yes – the backyard did smell funny in August and yet it was fine by me.

    Goldenrod is by far our most favorite honey (kids will confirm) and hardly smells anymore. Open the jar and quickly smell and you should register the same familiar goldenrod whiff just for a second.

    Some other honeys we have (like sweat clovers and asters) as just so-so in our book (too much bland sweetness, less aroma).

  • I’d say just don’t be concerned of the “bad smell”. It will go away and be forgotten.

    When asked in August, my daughter said exactly that – “smells like sweaty socks”! She eagerly pours the goldenrod honey on her everything now and could care less how it smelt in August.

  • Over the last couple of weeks I noticed a baked bread type smell when I’m near the entrance. Reminds me of the bread they bake at Subway. Is that the “normal” smell that comes from a hive?

    Also just extracted honey and it smells wonderful and tastes even better. I do sense some smokey undertones. Is that my smoke? I don’t mind it, just curious.

    • John,

      The baked bread smell is most likely yeast. Yeast will grow on uncapped honey, causing it to ferment. It’s a fairly common odor around bee hives. It’s basically the same yeast used to bake bread.

      Some people blame the smokey undertones on the smoker fuel, and some say it is natural for certain honey to taste/smell that way. Who knows?

  • Is fermenting honey a normal thing? Meaning is there always some honey that starts to ferment before being uncapped? Is fermented honey bad honey in terms of safety and/or taste?

    • You know, a lot of people prefer fermented honey over any other kind. It’s not my favorite, but each to his own. Or you can let it go further and make mead. Lots of people do.

  • I’m glad I came across this website. I have a very strong sour-smelling hive and had assumed the worst. I never heard that goldenrods honey stinks. I thought for sure my hive was infected with American foul brood and I was getting ready to torch it. I’m glad I read this first.

  • Very beneficial informative site for me. Thank you. I look forward to learning more about honeys and their benefits. ☺

  • I really dislike the odor of goldenrod honey. However, the few times I’ve harvested honey has not been until the fall since I didn’t feel they had enough earlier in the season. I’ve bottled it up and given it away. Lots of people like it and some really like it.

    I’m wondering if some people have more of an ability to smell the distinctive odor than others? Maybe a genetic thing like the odor in one’s pee after eating asparagus? (Pardon me for being a bit gross.) It’s a different smell, but I really dislike that as well.

    Has anyone heard of a genetic tendency to smell goldenrod honey odor?

    • Sharon,

      I’ve never heard about a genetic relationship, but many people say the odor of goldenrod honey dissipates after a few weeks. Have you tried it after waiting that long?

      • The odor does not dissipate for me. Perhaps it does for others though. My husband says he got used to it, but it continues to be unpleasant to me.

        I’m glad that I have people around who seem to love it so I can give it away!
        It’s funny, I’m both proud of my bees and apologetic that the honey has a strong odor and taste. My house painter raves about it.

        Hopefully my bees make it through the winter and are productive enough that I can take a few frames at the end of spring. I’m extremely curious to taste spring honey.

        • Sharon,

          If you have any frames left, you can swap it with the spring honey. They way, you will be sure to get a taste!

  • The goldenrod around here must be different around here, I always look forward to the fragrance of curing goldenrod honey around the bee yard in the fall.

  • Hi Rusty,

    I found some raw honey that has the distinctive tang of fermentation and used it to make mead thinking the tang would add a nice edge to the final product. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stick around past fermentation, and instead, the classic honey flavour returns. Now I have a new challenge: I got some dark clear raw honey in small batches. Some of it tastes like vanilla and caramel and no honey characteristic flavour at all. It’s wonderful. Some harvested at the same time (Autumn) of the same batch/location smells like bad breath, and mixed into water or eaten from the spoon it’s even more pronounced. The first type ferments with no adverse smells or flavours. I’m about to use the stinky batch, and I’m guessing fermentation will bubble off the problem. I never knew you bee farmers had these kinds of problems till I tried making mead. Mead hardly ever turns out bad, but I can imagine waiting all year for a harvest that is almost unsellable would be heartbreaking. Thanks for your post, it cleared a lot up for me. Best Wishes.

  • So I have found myself with what sounds like Goldenrod honey. I see some people saying the smell went away or that it “mellows out”. Did you bottle it right away or did you leave it in a bucket for a while then bottle it? If you left it, for how long? I am very new to all of this, so any responses are greatly appreciated!

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