Honey’s scrumptious flavour comes from the honey bee’s honey factory. From Nature.
Ingredients of nectar, honey dew, pollen and water are mixed and processed by Honeybees to produce honey. Honeybees have been shown to prioritise collection of nectar and honey dew over pollen.
Most of honey is sugar which comes from the carbohydrates contained in floral nectar and honey due.
As Honeybees process the ingredients, sugars from nectar and honey dew are broken down into organic chemicals that product taste and aroma.
Season, temperature and humidity also affect the flavour of honey. Honeybees have been shown to travel further depending on time of year and the weather. Bees fly from the hive due to necessity and only travel as far as required to get the resources they need to keep the hive alive.
Other factors affecting flavour include;
Harvesting technologies, conditions, and, storage. Some producers of honey have long supply chains where temperature or exposure to sunlight may affect taste. Retailers may unwittingly affect the taste and degree of cyrstallization due to exposure to heat and sun light.
Another way to imagine where honey flavour comes from is to compare it to making a cake. Differing quantities of ingredients and the way it’s cooked or processed affects flavour. Honey production is no different.
Honey flavour circle
Floral nectar and honey dew are the biggest ingredients of honey flavour. Making flora growing in the honey circle the biggest contributors to honey flavour.
Studies show Honeybees normally travel up to 7 km from the hive. Most of the time preferring to go no farther than 1.4 km for nectar and honey dew, and 1.1 km for pollen.
A balance is formed between foraging for nectar and pollen which is dynamic. Changing from month to month depending on the needs of the hive.
Honeybees tend to travel further and focus mainly on getting nectar in summer, because less pollen is required. Rearing of younger bees requires pollen to make Royal Jelly, which happens earlier in the year.
Seasonality affects flavour
Harvesting of bee hives occurs after the nectar flow has been good, allowing the bees to leave surplus honey production in the honey comb. When the comb is full the bees cap them off with wax. If enough comb has been capped a bee keeper will harvest.
In the United Kingdom nectar flows tend to happen in Mid April – May. Examples of flora include oil seed rape, fruit trees, bushes, sycamore, and hawthorn.
The main nectar flow happens mid June to early August with the flowing of plants like lime, clover, blackberry, and willow herb.
August and September produces a small nectar flow at a time when heather is flowering.
Like wine, honey flavour can change season to season and year to year depending on how all the factors play out.
Buying honey based on flavour
Local honey farmers often market their product based on the plants that are thought to have added the most flavour to the honey. Generally speaking this would be from the outer yellow circle shown above in the honey flavour circle. British beekeepers advice states that producers can label honey with the main floral source of nectar if they think that at least 75% of the nectar or honey dew has come from this source. Due to the complexities of ensuring compliance and due to the complex nature of how bee hives work this remains guidance and has not been converted to regulation by UK trading standards.