What Is Good Honey?

Most of the people who approach me at the markets ask me all sorts of questions. Is the honey pure? Why is it solid? Is it raw? Which honey is actually good honey? and so forth. Being a beekeeper for many years and coming from a family with generations of experience, I’m more than happy to share some of my knowledge here with you.

Every honey is effectively produced out of different flowers, though interestingly the total sugar level in all types of honey reaches the same level of 80% sugar.  That means all honey flavours have the same sweetness level overall. However, the bees also bring in the “flowers perfume” into the mix – the stronger the perfume smell is, the more “sweet taste” we feel, whereas the weaker perfume level would give us a sense of “mild honey taste”. Interesting, isn’t it?

In the old days honey was consumed in several ways:The simplest and most natural form was the honeycomb, simply by biting into the honeycomb. Generally, the whole honeycomb is edible, though sometimes it is sticky and hard to chew on.

The second way of consuming honey was by squeezing the honey off the honeycomb by hand into a sump, then store it in clay jars, to be later on consumed as is.

The third way was to collect the hives from either caves or trees, kill all the poor bees, and boil the honeycomb and brood comb in a large pot. Once boiled and brought into an even mix, the wax was taken out and the leftovers at the bottom of the pot were essentially cooked honey mixed with everything that came out of the hive comb. It was then stored and ready to be eaten as is.

These ways of extracting honey are not in use by beekeepers nowadays, but they were widespread until the 19th century.

Today, honey gets extracted from beehives in two major ways. One way is the “Cold Extraction”, which is how honey was extracted since the honey frame was invented roughly 150 years ago. In the cold extraction system, the honey gets extracted as is, lightly sifted and packed.

The second way honey get extracted these days is by large extraction plants also called “extracting lines”. These are lines designed to extract large quantities, and operates like small factories. This method was developed in the late 19th century, during the industrial revolution, and over time it improved its capacity of extraction from 1 tonne a day up to 5 tonnes a day and even more.

So, what is good honey?

Good honey always goes solid.

The perception of honey as liquidy is well known, yet only beekeepers will see the honey in its real original colours and perfume. Honey changes as soon as we extract it, and sometimes it can change from clear to fogy in 4 days. The honey will remain as liquid only for a few weeks, sometimes even few days, depend on the type of flowers it was produced from.

Once the honey changes its texture into solid, it goes through a slow process that turns it into a butter-like form, and after some time the honey may become butter solid. Some types of honey may evolve even further and turn into sugar-like crystals. This is the self-preserve system of honey. Once it has gone solid it would last for many years. We have tested (and tasted) honey up to 35 years old, and we can report that such honey is fully edible! Its colour will go darker after 3-5 years and may become black or deep purple, while its taste could be similar to plum jam.

Our honey always turns solid. The rare ones, of a tropical nature, will solidify much slower and sometimes would stay half solid half liquid. This type of honey has variant flowers which react differently given their bees and plants enzymes.

Honey solidifies for many reasons, starting with low temperatures, but mainly for its chemical structure. Honey is a highly concentrated natural flowers sugar solution. It contains more than 80% sugars and less than 20% water. This means that the water in honey contains more sugar than it should naturally hold. The overabundance of sugar makes honey unstable. Thus, it is natural for honey to crystallize since it is an over-saturated sugar solution. The two principal sugars in honey are fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose (grape sugar). The content of fructose and glucose in honey varies from one type of honey to the other, as each flower contain different levels of sugars. Generally, the fructose ranges from 30- 44% and glucose from 25- 40%. The balance of these two major sugars causes the crystallization of honey, and the relative percentage of each determines whether it crystallizes rapidly or slowly. What crystallizes is the glucose, due to its lower solubility. Fructose is more soluble in water than glucose and will remain fluid. When glucose crystallizes, it separates from water and takes the form of tiny crystals. As the crystallization progresses and more glucose crystallizes, those crystals spread throughout the honey. The solution changes to a stable saturated form, and ultimately the honey becomes thick or crystallized.

By heating up honey you can change the chemical structure of the Fructose into Glucose. This will keep the honey liquid for a longer period, before it turns back into solid form, though it will break all the enzymes, vitamins and anti-bactrians properties, which will give you a high quality honey sourced syrup-jam.

Finally, is there bad honey at all? Yes, there are a few flower types which produce very bad honey. These honeys can not be eaten and can make you sick. So stay away from them!

Contact Dolfi for a one-on-one discussion.

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