Types of Honey Vary Greatly in Taste
Honey is not honey is not honey. Depending on the flowers visited by the bees, honey varies greatly in taste (from mild to strong) and corresponding color (from light to dark). Here, in order, is a list of honey from mildest (thistle) to strongest (buckwheat):
Thistle, locust, tupelo, alfalfa, clover, sage, sourwood, palmetto, blueberry, blackberry, gallberry, goldenrod, aster, tulip poplar, Yucatan, buckwheat.
Many of these flavors -- alone or in combination with others -- are available at supermarkets, health-food stores and specialty shops. Two other honeys -- orange blossom and basswood (from the linden tree) -- have such distinct flavors that they are hard to include in any listing.
Orange blossom has an extremely floral aroma and taste, just like walking through an orange grove, says honey expert Ann Harman. Basswood, on the other hand, “has a real snap to it; either you like it or you don’t,” Harman adds. “I do not recommend it for salad dressings” or in most recipes unless “you are a true devotee of basswood honey.”
Harman also doesn’t recommend using sourwood honey for cooking -- but for a different reason. “It is considered one of America’s finest honeys; it is very difficult to get. You are better off cooking with alfalfa or clover honey and saving sourwood as a table honey.”
The light honeys such as clover are very versatile and can be used in almost any recipe calling for honey. But they will not contribute a distinct taste, such as orange blossom honey, which is recommended for fruits and desserts.
The heavier-flavored honeys, such as basswood and buckwheat, are good for barbecue sauces or chutneys -- even granolas. But they are not necessarily the best choice for delicate pastries.
Many honey enthusiasts like eating honey straight from the honeycomb. The flavor is at its best then, says Russell “Pete” Roberson, former president of Roberson Honey Co.
“The air hasn’t hit the honey yet,” he says. “It’s just like eating a ripe peach off a tree or an ear of corn just pulled off the stalk. You get the true, full flavor.”