varietal honey

Tantalizing purple honey is not a weight-loss miracle

Purple honey inside a beehive in North Caroline. Photo by Flying Pig Apiary

Rare purple honey, known for its distinctive color and flavor, is gaining attention as a potential weight loss miracle. However, it has essentially the same ingredients as regular honey, including high amounts of fructose.

Inside: Purple honey is pretty, tastes like grape Kool-Aid, and is rarely found in beehives. But since all honey is nearly pure sugar, it probably will not induce weight loss.

Note: This post refers to natural purple honey made by honey bees with no help from humans. I wrote it after several people asked whether eating purple honey would induce weight loss. It has nothing to do with a commercial product with a similar name.

Purple honey is rare and attractive

“Is it true that purple honey can cause weight loss? If so, how do I order some?”

This question arrived a few days ago, and I’ve received many similar queries. Unfortunately, purple honey is extremely rare, and I have no clue where you can find it.

However, purple honey doesn’t differ from other honey except for its color and flavor. The color and flavor of any honey come from the flowers that produce the nectar. While honey is magical in many ways, purple honey gets lots of press just because it’s rare.

Purple honey is so rare that people will pay almost anything for it. Each year I fear someone will begin lacing cheap honey with purple food coloring. It could happen, and based on some photos I’ve seen, it probably already has. In any case, be sure to ask lots of questions before you buy. It’s best if you know the beekeeper.

What is honey made of?

In general, honey is made of sugar. Each type of honey varies a bit, but it usually contains about 40% fructose, 30% glucose, and 17% water. The rest is other sugars (including maltose and sucrose), some pollen grains, and a spattering of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

The unique color and flavor of honey come from the phytochemicals. These chemicals are unique to different species of plants. They are the reason buckwheat honey tastes (and looks) different from sourwood honey or clover honey or acacia honey. Still, they make up only a tiny fraction of the total ingredients.

What are the health benefits of honey?

Over the millennia, we have touted honey as a miracle cure for just about everything, including weight gain. Most of these claims are iffy, at best. The proven curative properties mostly align with honey’s ability to suppress microbial growth. As most people realize, properly stored honey can last for decades, and that property has proven useful for several medical conditions, including burns and hard-to-treat infections.

Although there are some studies that show honey can be useful for weight loss, most of the studies are not conclusive. In fact, some recent research points to fructose consumption as a cause of obesity, and honey overflows with fructose.

We know little about purple honey

In truth, we know almost nothing about purple honey, including its origin. Beekeepers still argue about what plants produce it. If beekeepers knew the source, they could produce more of it.

Some of us suspect one plant or another, but none of us (so far as I’ve heard) know for sure where it comes from. We know that it rarely shows up in beekeepers’ honey supers. We also know that it’s most likely to show up in southeastern states (like North Carolina) in especially dry years.

Although many people call purple honey “elderberry honey,” according to Honey Plants of North America, elderberries do not produce nectar, nor do they have nectaries.

Why purple honey is so hard to find

Because purple honey appears only in dry years, some of us suspect honey bees are not eager to collect the nectar. But they will when better sources of nectar are unavailable.

Most beekeepers who find the purple stuff in their honey supers extract it separately so they can sell it for a premium or save it for family and friends. It is so rare that you will rarely find it for sale. And if an unknowing beekeeper has some purple honey but extracts it along with the rest, it will disappear into the mix.

Purple honey is a rare treat, not medicine

Even if purple honey contains some unknown phytochemical that aids weight loss (which I doubt), finding enough for your weight loss experiment would be unlikely. (However, if you ate nothing but purple honey, you would starve to death looking for it.)

I always recommend that people enjoy honey for what it is rather than what it might do. Instead of equating honey with medicine, enjoy honey as a delicious and charming food.

Bottom line: If you want a treat, see your local beekeeper. If you need medicine or healthcare, see a doctor.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

About Me

I backed my love of bee science with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Crops and a master’s in Environmental Studies. I write extensively about bees, including a current column in American Bee Journal and past columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. I’ve endured multiple courses in melittology and made extensive identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist and other organizations. My master beekeeper certificate issued from U Montana. I’m also an English nerd. More here.

23 Comments

    • Marilyn,

      You are right about lacy phacelia: it has lovely purple pollen. As for the nectar, I have no idea. But lacey phacelia grows all over the country and purple honey only show up in the southeast. Still, I’d like to know what the nectar looks like.

  • 1) I’m quite certain that the rarest and most expensive chocolates are exactly what I need for MY weight-loss regimen.

    2) I was under the impression that the purple honey was kudzu? I suppose bees could collect elderberry juice and make a delicious honey-like treat from it. Whatever it is, I’ve never had any, which is a tragedy.

    • Roberta,

      1. I agree here. No doubt.

      2. Yes, kudzu is my first choice and best guess. The elderberry thing bugs me because I’ve never seen bees on either the flowers or the berries. However, I sure like elderberry pie and elderberry ice cream and elderberry jam. And don’t forget dark-chocolate-covered elderberry truffles.

      • 2) I learn something new every day! I didn’t know that elder plants don’t have nectaries. I have seen small numbers of honey bees at my elder flowers, so I guess they were after the pollen.

  • From Georgia to North Carolina, you will find Kudzu. It produces a wonderful grapey purple honey that is prized but rare. The flowers are usually hidden behind the large Kudzu leaves. I have yet to find it in my honey even though I am less than a quarter mile from Kudzu.

  • Oh, please, oh please, won’t somebody just come here and offer rare purple kudzu honey for sale from a reliable website.
    Or possibly even elderberry?

  • I’ve written this before and still think it’s a real possibility. I just tried to paste a photo of my oriole grape jelly feeder covered in honey bees, but the site won’t accept it. Grape jelly has polyphenols and is high in fructose, and tastes like grapes. It is a possibility, depending on what time of year this purple jelly shows up. Is during oriole season?

      • Hi Rusty,

        Did you receive the picture? I first sent one of just a closeup, and in a separate email, a photo of what the feeder and bird it feeds look like. I’m curious to hear what you think.

        • Ruth,

          Yes, I did get the photos. Thank you. As I mentioned previously, whether the bees are eating the honey for energy or planning on storing it for honey depends a lot on the season. Honey bees prefer nectar but they are often forced to eat other sweet things during the seasons when flowers are not plentiful. I hesitate to believe grape jelly is the source of purple honey because purple honey is limited to a few areas in the southeastern US, especially North Carolina, but people all over the continent feed grape jelly to hummingbirds and honey bees gladly take it. So why doesn’t purple honey show up in other places?

          I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying it’s not a tight case.

          • I’ve also seen bees eat fruit when necessary. Perhaps there are wild grapes, or even vineyards in those areas? Needs differ in different places at different times. Perhaps the circumstances are just right for them to be getting grape essence somehow, if the honey looks and tastes grape-like. Again, it would explain absence of pollen. I was just pointing out that the bees in my yard (those pics were taken 8/2 on Long Island) made honey from my jelly, but they’re wild bees. Who would know.

            • Ruth,

              It’s difficult to align the color of fruit juice with the color of fruit. Take blueberries. Peel away the blue skin and the berry inside is green. The color of cooked jams and jellies is purple because of the skins, not the juice. Since bees don’t eat skins, the honey they could make (if they did) would be green, not blue. And that’s another thing. You cannot be sure that the bees you saw were going to make honey from the grape jelly. They may have just been having a snack.

  • Honey is much more than a treat. It has therapeutic applications, little known in the US, unfortunately. In other parts of the world apicultural products are used extensively in healthcare. I have come across this review in Phytomedicine Plus:
    WA Weis et al., An overview about apitherapy and its clinical applications, Phytomedicine Plus,
    Volume 2, Issue 2, 2022, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phyplu.2022.100239.

  • Just wanted to add to the grapes or grape jelly potential: I did think about how this purple honey shows up in certain areas and in small batches (which in itself is curious). Kudzu also grows well beyond those areas in abundance, so it presents a similar problem. Could just be specific circumstances. Or an as of yet unknown source. I hope it gets solved. I love these kinds of mysteries.

  • Morning Rusty, The site acts weirdly for me. Before that last comment last night I’d written another that’s disappeared, that I’ve seen bees eat fruit in time of need. Perhaps there are grapes in the area that they utilize for sweet juice when there’s a lack of water or other options, and make a few frames out of it. They use honeydew for instance. It’s the fact that the reports I’ve read are of a few frames of purple honey, which leads me to imagine an unusual circumstance and not a common one.

    This topic caught my imagination. Sorry for repeated posts. That other one disappeared.

    • Speaking of grapes, they work the same way as blueberries. For example, red zinfandel and white zinfandel are both made with purple grapes. But in the white type, the skins are removed after the grapes are crushed.

      • There are a few with dark flesh, but I have no idea if they’re there, if any are wild. I partnered with a winemaker at one point to try our hand at a boutique label. But this is a stretch.

        Anyway, hope you find the culprit.

  • There actually are a few grape varieties with dark flesh, one in particular with deep color. I have no idea if they’re in those areas. Good luck finding the culprit.

    This site is glitchy.

  • Now I’m really being a pest, but I figured I’d look up whether any of these dark fleshed grapes are grown in those parts. They are. Very sorry to be a pest, but like I said, the circumstances would be odd. Just something to consider.

  • The Chambourcin is a teinturier grape and is grown in North Carolina. I hope you don’t leave the thread hanging like that. It’s misleading.

    The prior posts waiting for approval were written as I was running out to work, so wrote hastily. Again, I’m quite interested in the outcome. I got into honey from a lifelong relationship with wine and grapes, tasting and even briefly starting my own label. The Zinfandel question from decades ago preoccupied me. I simply love the mysteries of the natural world. I’d like to see this one solved.

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