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Discover Honey's Many Flavors

Fine Cooking Issue 22
Photos: Scott Phillips.
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Until honey became a passion of mine, I never really gave it much thought. Sure, I loved its sweet taste, its golden color, and its luscious texture, but then I discovered a few things about honey that took me by surprise. I had no idea just how hard honeybees work to make it. I’d watch them flying from flower to flower, their monotonous buzz as sure a sign of summer as the heat. And though they certainly seemed driven, I didn’t know that they have to tap two million blossoms to make just one pound of honey. Nor did I realize just how many kinds of honey there are.

The flower determines flavor

You may think that honey is honey is honey. But the kind of blossom from which the bees get nectar determines a honey’s flavor as well as its color.

Some commercial blends combine a variety of honeys for consistent flavor and color. Other honeys, often called wildflower honeys, aren’t blended but are made from the nectar of several different or unidentified flowers. But the most pronounced flavors come about when beekeepers position their bees to take nectar from just one variety of blossom.

The colors of “single-flower” honeys range from practically clear acacia honey to almost black buckwheat. Generally, the darker the honey, the stronger the flavor.

Sweet, slightly floral tasting honeys, like those made from clover, alfalfa, and tupelo tree nectar, add a delicate sweetness to desserts and fruit dishes and are good all-purpose honeys. More savory honeys, such as those collected from herbs like rosemary and thyme, can add an aromatic flavor to meat, poultry, and vegetables. Avocado honey is a dark amber with a rich buttery taste, while Alaskan fireweed is water-white with a lovely smoky flavor. Orangeblossom honey has a slight citrus flavor that’s wonderful in custards and sweets.

The color of honey gives a clue to its flavor. Standing from left, buckwheat, blueberry, eucalyptus, and fireweed; in front, avocado honey.

Keep the honey jar closed and warm

You’ll most often find honey sold in jars in liquid form. Creamed or spun honey is made by finely crystallizing the honey until it’s thick and creamy; it’s wonderful spread on toast. Comb honey is housed in the beeswax comb, and cut comb is liquid honey with chunks of the edible comb suspended in it.

Store honey in an airtight container at room temperature. Honey is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts moisture. If the jar is left open, the honey can absorb water from the air, causing yeast to grow and ferment the honey’s sugars. Cold temperatures cause honey to crystallize. To get it back to liquid form, put the jar in warm (not boiling) water until the crystals dissolve.

Honey keeps cakes and breads moist

Honey absorbs and retains moisture, so breads and cakes baked with it stay moist longer. Though honey is best used in recipes that call for it, you can try using it in baking recipes that call for granulated sugar with a few adjustments.

• Use 1 part honey for every 1-1/4 parts sugar.

• Reduce the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup.

• Add 1/2 tsp. baking soda for each cup of honey to counter its acidity and weight.

• Turn the oven down by 25 degrees to prevent overbrowning.

Experiment with honey

• Glaze roasted meats with a mixture of honey and herbs, like honey and thyme for lamb.

•Spread slices of sweet potato with a little honey and then roast until golden.

• Blend a little honey with oil, vinegar, and mustard for a salad vinaigrette that’s slightly sweet and full-bodied.

• Mix honey with soy sauce, orange juice, ginger, and rice wine for a sweet-and-sour marinade for chicken or shrimp.

• Cream 2 Tbs. honey with 1/2 cup butter and a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg to make honey butter.


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