I 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.
Every 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.