Updated: Sep 6, 2021
SEPTEMBER 21, 2015 By Annie Lawless
In the U.S., there are over 300 different types of honey, so it’s no wonder it can be a bit confusing when selecting which varietal is best for your needs (1)! In a conventional supermarket, there are usually only one or two options, but at natural food stores or farmers markets there can be 20+! How do you know what’s what? Let’s break it down, honey:
How Honey is Produced and Processed
Honey is produced by bees in two main types –
blossom/nectar and honeydew. Blossom or nectar honey is made from the nectar of flowers. Honeydew honey is made from the sweet secretions of insects, like aphids (2). Usually, the majority of honeys you will see at a market are blossom or nectar honey because they are lighter and sweeter. In general, there are two basic varieties of blossom/nectar honey – monofloral and polyfloral. Monofloral honey is made by bees that collect pollen from the same type of flower. The resulting honey takes on the scent and flavor of that flower (3).
When you see a variety like “lavender honey” or “clover honey”, you know the bees that made it collected pollen from lavender or clover predominately. Polyfloral honeys (also known as wildflower) are made by bees that collect pollen from a variety of flowers present near their hives. These do not have a distinct flavor based on any particular flower or area because the sources are so blended (4).
Now that we know the difference between the types (blossom or honeydew) and varieties (monofloral and polyfloral), let’s learn about the different ways honey is processed. My favorite type of honey is raw honey, which is honey in its most original state. Raw honey has not been heated to protect the minerals and enzymes, and still contains some pollen or small wax particles.
If you prefer a smoother honey, strained honey is a great option because it has been passed through a mesh strainer to remove any particles, like wax, without removing the pollen, minerals, or enzymes.
A higher level of strained honey is filtered honey, in which the honey undergoes a fine filtration under high pressure to remove any remaining solids and pollen grains. Pasteurized honey (the most common supermarket type) is heated to 161 degrees or higher to kill any yeast cells or germs and liquefy any microcrystals in the honey to prevent crystallization on the shelf. The heat also darkens the color and intensifies the flavor and smell (5).
Most Common Types of Honey
So what are the most common types of honey you will encounter at the market and how do you know which flavor is right for your purposes? Like I said, there are 300+ different varietals, but we will touch on the most popular here:
Alfalfa – This is a very light honey with a mild flavor. It’s great for baking and cooking when you don’t want the honey flavor to overpower your dish and as an everyday option with the versatility for a number of uses
.Avocado – This is a dark amber honey with a rich flavor of caramelized molasses. This honey stands up well to rich desserts like dark chocolate and can be a nice sauce for more neutral dishes like pancakes or waffles that could use some depth and complexity (
6).Blueberry – This is a light to medium colored honey with a fresh flavor of lemon, fruit, and green leaves. It works great on lighter foods like melons, apples, yogurt, and walnuts.
Buckwheat – This is a dark and flavorful honey with noticeable molasses flavors and a strong presence. It goes well with smokier dishes like barbecue sauces or anywhere maple syrup would be used. I personally love this honey drizzled over a grapefruit with cinnamon in the morning to add a deep, sweet punch.
Clover – This is the most popular honey in the U.S. for its sweet, flowery scent and mild, delicate taste. This is truly an all purpose honey for many cooking situations (6)
.Eucalyptus – This is a medium/dark amber honey with a mild sweetness and herbal flavor. I love this in any herbal tea because it blends very nicely without bringing too much fruitiness (7).
Mesquite – This honey has a varying color from very light to amber. Similar to buckwheat, mesquite honey has an earthy, strong flavor and is ideal for use in rich, deeper dishes like hearty whole grain breads or glazes for meats. You can use mesquite anywhere you would use brown sugar (6).
Orange Blossom – This is an extra light amber honey with a distinct scent of orange blossoms. It has a flowery, sweet, fruity flavor that works great in with fruits and in salad dressings or marinades for lighter proteins like fish or chicken. It also goes great with light lemon and vanilla desserts like puddings or custards (6).
Sage – This is a light amber honey with a sweet, clover flavor that is floral and delicate. I love adding this to my iced drinks like teas or lemon water for the perfect amount of sweetness.
Wildflower – Wildflower honey is the way polyfloral honeys are described because their source and flavor is undefined. They range in color with a mild floral flavor and are very versatile because they aren’t strong in any particular plant note. They make a great everyday table honey and work well in sauces and baked goods for their neutrality (6).