Honeybees produce honey from gathering nectar from flowers and plants. Worker bees then prepare it for storing by adding enzymes. Honey has long been used as a medicine with its antiseptic properties used as a remedy for ailments from sore throats to burns and cuts.
You can use honey in cooking instead of sugar and as it is sweeter than sugar, you only need to use half as much. Honey attracts water so it is good for baking cakes as it keeps them moister for longer.
The distinct aroma, flavour and colour of honey is determined by the type of flower from which the bee collects the nectar. Most honey comes from bees foraging on many different flowers and are known as polyfloral. However some plants provide enough nectar during their flowering season so that a hive can yield honey from one single type of flower. This honey, known as monofloral.
In the UK honey is produced primarily for local markets. There are around 40,000 beekeepers harvesting honey from Apple Blossom, Cherry Blossom, Hawthorn, Lime Blossom, Dandelion, Borage and Heather. Beekeepers play an important role in the pollination of fruit crops as bees help pollinate plants and trees. The UK does have an unpredictable climate however in a normal year as much as 4,000 tonnes is produced, this is not enough to satisfy us though, as we consume over 25,000 tonnes per year. The extra demand is therefore met from abroad.
Honey is used as a natural, healthy sweetener but in most cases, honey bought from supermarkets today is simply sugar syrup with no nutritional value at all. To reap the benefits of honey you have to look for the raw variety. Usually perfectly clear, supermarket honey, has undergone a process of ultrafiltration and pasteurisation, which involves heating and passing it through a fine mesh, and watering down to ensure it remains runny at any temperature. This strips away many of the unique chemicals and compounds that make it a nutritious and healing health food.
The word ‘organic’ on a label does not guarantee that a honey is raw. Unless the jar specifies that it is raw, look for a cloudy honey with a white residue of pollen sitting on the top of the honey.
When you buy local honey from local beekeepers, you're almost always buying "raw honey." Unlike large-scale commercial honey which is pasteurized (heated) to kill bacteria and extend its shelf-life, raw honey contains all of its natural enzymes and flavors.
If your raw honey goes grainy, you can "liquify" it again by simply sitting the jar in a bowl of warm water until it all "melts." Note that this is a temporary solution; the honey will turn grainy again over time when it cools back down.
All honey will at some point turn to sugar crystals. Some other terms for it are sugared, granulation, solidifying and crystallizing. This is a natural process. The crystals may be large or small, a grainy, sandy type or smooth and creamy type. What makes it crystallize is due to the type of flower the honey bee visited when she gathered the blossom's nectar. The floral source determines whether the honey will turn into a solid form more quickly or not. Some honeys while raw will stay in a liquid form for quite a while. Other honeys will turn to a solid form with in a few weeks or days. Honey from Oil Seed Rape will go hard within days due to how stable the sugar crystal is in the nectar.
Many things crystallize, did you know salt and sugar are both crystals.
When you stir salt into water, it looks like it disappears but in reality, it’s still there; it’s just dissolved into the water. Let that water dry out, and salt crystals will be left behind. Like salty water, honey is a solution, which means that bits of sugar are spread throughout a liquid. When honey crystallizes, the honey molecules that are spread throughout the liquid come together to form solid crystals, and the more dissolved bits of a solute there are in a solution, the faster that solution will crystallize as it cools down. Mixing more water into a solution makes it crystallize more slowly. (Please dont add water to your honey)
Crystallization also depends on the proportion of fructose to glucose in the honey (each honey blend has its own proportion); the higher the fructose, the less likely to crystallize. This is not honey turned bad, or anything that is affecting the taste or quality of the honey.
Please be aware that Honey doesn't need to be stored in the refrigerator as this speeds up the crystal formation.
Bees need warmth: even when overwintering they need to maintain temperatures of around 22 to 25 degrees Celsius, increasing to 34 to 35 degrees Celsius for the brood chamber, and going up to as much as 40 degrees Celsius for honey maturation. So the honey would typically be kept between 22 - 40 degrees hence it would remain liquid for longer. When you buy it and put the jar in your cold larder it will naturally crystalise as it cools over time.
If you do an experiment and compare raw honey with raw honey mixed with water you will notice that the Honey without water will crystallize first.
As with wine, the flavor and color of honey can differ every year, even from the same location and beekeeper. As with grapes, a difference in the weather and “blossoming season” will make a difference in the honey.
Finally, it’s important to note that a honey does not necessarily taste like the fruit of the plant. Blueberry honey does not necessarily taste like blueberries, nor raspberry honey like raspberries. Honeys are based on the nectar of the flower, not on the infusion of the fruit of the plant. Some fruit honeys you buy in the shops maybe enhanced with extra flavor; read the labels carefully. Raw honey means that nothing has been added.
I get asked if my honey is Organic. Well I try to do everything I can to be environmentally friendly and to treat the bees well and with the utmost respect. However; to be truly Organic there are some impossible requirements for us who live on the South Coast. Pollen sources must be “essentially” either organic or wild / uncultivated. The area around your hives must not be subject to significant sources of pollution from eg: motorways, urban centres or industry. It will be impossible to meet these standards between Portsmouth and Southampton. In reality beekeepers would have to establish that a 4 mile radius around the apiary is organic (around 50 square miles). This is probably only be true within National Parks . Any honey with an “organic” label should be carefully reviewed.