How to Shop: Buying Honey

by in How-to, March 27th, 2012

types of honeyI am always seduced by the honey stand at my local green market. The beeswax candles, the pollen and the different flavors of honey — how can so much good stuff come from such small creatures?

Here are some of my guidelines for buying honey:

— When I get the chance, I buy the single variety, usually yielded from only one type of flower, from a local producer that I trust. I find color speaks louder than words. Darker honeys, like chestnut and fir varieties, are rarer and have a stronger flavor. I use those on top of pancakes or add to braised carrots or roasted squash. Lighter-colored varieties, like acacia and clover, are mellower and great in tea. They add their honey “note,” but don’t obscure the tea.

— Don’t be afraid of honeys that are jarred with a chunk of or small bits of the honeycomb, that are labeled “raw,” or have not been heated or filtered. Though their shelf life is shorter, they have complex and delicate flavors. Buy this type of honey in smaller quantities and use in more straightforward preparations, like a drizzle on toast, mixed in cereal or to glaze the top of a cake or tart in place of sugar.

— Liquid or cream-based honeys have merely been heated to easily filter out impurities or rendered “creamy” (non-opaque) to be smoother and easier to use. Because the flavors tend to be more muted, I like to use these for cooking. Heat a half a cup of honey, for example, until it bubbles and froths and turns golden brown. Remove the pan from the heat (caramelizing honey is as hot as a caramel, so be careful) and add a generous splash of sherry or red wine vinegar. Allow it to froth, gurgle and settle down. Put it back on the stove and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes until the texture thickens. Stir in your favorite mustard and pour the mixture over a pork roast or roasted vegetables just as they finish cooking in the oven. It’ll be a delicious glaze.

— Try a small jar of bee pollen. These little nuggets, loaded with vitamins, taste like the pure essence of honey. I like to add them to my homemade granola mix. Sprinkle them over banana slices caramelized in some honey or sprinkle them over a bowl of yogurt.

— Last, but not least: Don’t be ashamed of that plastic honey bear.

alex guarnaschelliEvery week, Alex Guarnaschelli, host of Alex’s Day Off, shares with readers what she’s eating — whether it’s from the farmers’ market or fresh off the boat, she’ll have you craving everything from comfort food to seasonal produce.

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Comments (5)

  1. Bill says:

    Don't be ashamed of the plastic honey bear, but by all means hesitate to buy it in the first place! Has it been ultra-pasteurized (all pollen removed)? If it has, there's a chance it originated in China and may contain antibiotics, etc that aren't so good for you. I love your primary recommendation: buy from local sources whenever possible.

  2. Bill, many of the honey bears are not made in China. In fact, they're from local farmers. Just because you see the bear everywhere, doesn't mean it's the same mass-produced honey. Anyone can buy those bottles online.

  3. Nancy says:

    But Bill is right to be concerned about where his honey originates. See this LA Times article from last November:

  4. Judi Q says:

    When buying any honey from a store (commercial sourced honey) – don't just blindly trust a label that says "product of USA". Look for the actual source countries and you may be quite surprised to see the stuff comes from a myriad of other places and is blended with honey produced in the US. As long as the final product is at least 60 percent US honey it can be labeled as "product of USA". Best option is ALWAYS to buy from a local producer whenever possible as 1) you know it's really 100 percent US honey, and 2) you get the immune system boosting benefits from consuming the local product.

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