Robin shares her tastings of Florida honey
Traveling through Florida’s back roads is one of the most delightful pleasures of living in the state. Whether it’s the stillness of pine flatwoods, an oak-shaded scrub, a less discovered beach, an aqua blue spring, a scenic river or remote wetlands – all offer a range of discovery that connect us to our natural and authentic surroundings.
Florida’s honey hives
While meandering through the state, especially on the back roads, you may notice stacks of boxes in open fields and pastures, sitting amongst swaths of wildflowers, between rows of citrus, along a river’s edge or scattered throughout Florida’s pine forests. The boxes, similar to a chest of drawers, are beehives. The drawers are trays for bees to create their honeycomb. Beekeepers place the hives wherever there are flower blossoms, berry bushes and fruit tree flowers because where there are flowers, there are bees. And where there are bees, there is honey.
Florida’s bees make many varieties of honey
Honey, that sweet and mysterious elixir of the gods, the end result of a bees’ laborious work, invites us to find Florida in a special way – through nature and agriculture. Local honey is sold at farms, roadside stands and even farmer’s markets throughout the state. Tasting pure, raw honey is one of the many benefits of touring Florida’s rural countryside.
Florida’s Amazing Bees
The amazing bee creates the sweet and golden liquid while serving as nature’s essential pollinator. But how do bees make honey? Honey begins with bees collecting nectar and pollen from various flowers, berries and fruit blossoms. A bee will fly from flower to flower, land on the blossoms, and use its tube-like tongue to suck out the nectar. It then places the nectar in its “honey” stomach, one of two stomach pouches within its tiny body. After transporting the nectar back to the hive, it then passes the substance it has gathered onto the worker bee. The worker bee adds important enzymes to the nectar, storing it in honeycombs and sealing it in with wax. The bees fan their wings to hasten the process before the watery nectar begins to evaporate. When one part of the honeycomb is complete the bees move to an adjacent area. In the case of commercial hives they move on to another tray ready for their handiwork. Beekeepers collect the trays containing the honeycomb from the hives, scrape the golden liquid from the wax seal, and replace the trays into the hive.
Honey sold at a Florida orange grove
As you might expect, there are many different honey varieties found throughout the state depending upon what grows in the region and what is in bloom at the time. Naturally, Florida is famous for the orange blossom varietal, but there are so many others – wildflower, gallberry, saw (and sabal) palmetto and what many consider the “Cadillac” of honeys, Tupelo. Other popular honey varieties include blackberry, blueberry, avocado, mangrove, sea grape, mango and even brazilian pepper.
The flavor and color of honey depends on the bees’ nectar source. Generally speaking, lighter colored honeys are milder in flavor, while darker more amber honeys pack a more robust taste. Even within specific varietals the color can vary.
Taste Florida honeys to find your favorites
During some recent Florida travels, I began tasting and collecting “regional” and varietal honeys from artisan beekeepers. For fun, I invited friends and family over for an Authentic Florida “honey tasting.” There was a lot of sampling and discussion. The most surprising revelation, besides satisfying our sweet tooth, became a new awareness of honey varieties and the range of distinct flavors. Before the tasting most tasters thought Florida was limited to orange blossom or a generic type of standard honey. After tasting the varietals our conversations turned to the new favorites we had discovered.
Honey, like anything, is a matter of taste. Here were the top favorites of our tasters:
Orange Blossom Honey
Florida Orange Blossom honey
Orange Blossom is Florida’s “sunshine soaked” signature honey and is famous for it’s light, fruity, floral and distinct citrus flavor. The sweet fragrance of orange blossoms fill the grove while bees are collecting its nectar. Orange Blossom honey can be found as far north as Ocala, continuing south, particularly in counties with large citrus production.
Tupelo honey is a specialty from the Florida panhandle. The Tupelo gum tree grows along the Apalachicola and Chipola river basins, blooming on average, three weeks per year. Beehives are placed on elevated platforms along the rivers edge. Its light golden color laced with a sweet yet distinctive flavor is often a choice of diabetics, due to the low glycemic index. It’s slow to granulate, if at all.
Wildflower honey is found throughout the state. Where there are flowers with nectar that bees crave, there is wildflower honey. The taste is less sweet but has a “tangy taste”. Reported to have medicinal value (if grown within 50 miles of the hive) and to suppress allergies, especially the bothersome hay fever. It’s a complex honey because it comes from a wide variety of flowers and the color can range from golden to dark amber.
Saw Palmetto Honey
Saw Palmetto is the oldest known honey in Florida and used by native Indians. The saw palmetto plant grows throughout Florida and is distinguished by white flower and brown berries. This honey often has a sweet, fruity caramel taste with a rich and robust flavor. Also, it’s thought to helpful in addressing men’s prostate health.
Gallberry honey is derived from the six-foot tall evergreen holly bush (called inkberry) that blossoms with white flowers and black berries, often found in pine flatwoods and wetlands. Gallberry flavor is fruity and thick with an amber color and greenish hue, and does not usually granulate. Gallberry is similar to the Tupelo that grows in wet conditions, and can be found all over Florida, but is more predominant in north Florida.
Our tasters seem to like the classic varietals the best, particularly the Saw Palmetto honey. However, the avocado honey possessed a distinct full-bodied buttery taste, and blackberry honey was to no surprise, distinct with a blackberry flavor.
Blueberry honey had a similar fruity taste, but with a distinct, yet mild blueberry flavor. This varietal has become extremely popular with consumers and can be found on most grocery shelves. But if you want honey from Florida blueberries check the label or find it at your local farmers market. Because of its popularity, beekeepers report they find it hard to keep blueberry honey in stock.
And what about Brazilian pepper honey? This tree is an invasive species that Florida horticulturalists detest. It has red peppercorn-like berries and grows in the coastal areas. Bees are attracted to its small clusters of white flowers and the honey is slightly peppery but sweet, with a light consistency and a mild flavorful taste.
One more mention: Pine Island, near Fort Myers, specializes in mango honey. As you would imagine, it is fruity, bold and rich. Just another fabulous Florida honey!
Two tips for buying honey: Buy local and raw, not processed
A few tips for your Florida honey: Store honey at room temperature and buy it locally. Why local honey? There’s a difference between local “raw” honey and processed honey. Raw honey comes “fresh from the hive” and contains bee pollen and essential enzymes – the way nature intended it to be. Natural honey is rich in antioxidants, amino acids and digestive enzymes. However, most commercial honey is often blended, pasteurized or cooked therefore eliminating its beneficial enzymes, nutrients and pollens.
Struthers Honey, Lake Wales
Honey is a natural ingredient for replacing sugar in recipes and has been used for generations. Many believe it cures everything from the common cold to arthritis. It is also reported to be excellent first aid for dressing wounds and burns.
We can thank our Florida bees for this gift. Nature never lets us down especially when we tend to it the way the bees care for Florida.
Places to buy Florida local, raw honey
Many beekeepers sell at local farmers’ markets, at their farms, on roadside stands or in small retail outlets. Authentic Florida readers have shared their favorite places to buy local, raw honey, listed below (send me your favorite place to buy local honey and I will add to the list Robin@AuthenticFlorida.com):
Curtis Honey Company, LaBelle, Florida
The Florida Panhandle is one of the richest sources for buying Florida’s honey, particularly Tupelo honey. Driving along the roads in the counties of Wakulla, Franklin, Liberty, Gulf and Calhoun will no doubt yield a jar of prized tupelo honey. Here are some more places to purchase the delicious nectar: Full Moon Farms, Monticello; Karma Acres, Callahan; Bundrich Honey Farms, Crestview; Thomas Honey, Lake City; Dixie Woods, Chiefland; Barker’s Bees Chipola Country Honey, Altha; Tupelo Honey 3, Wewahitchika; Duggars Apiaries, Bristol; New Leaf Market, Tallahassee; Skipper’s Honey, Live Oak; Jasper’s Marketplace (Mimi’s); Mermaid Maggie’s Honey (@Chompa Shop), Destin; East Hill Honey Co., Pensacola
For Central Florida’s raw honey try Struthers Honey, Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales; Eichar Apiary (480 East Stuart St.) Bartow; Pasco Honey & Queen Kathleen, Dade City; The Honey Nut, Winter Haven; Winter Park Honey, Winter Park; Allison’s Apiaries, Ocoee; Three Beez Honey Farm, St. Cloud; Mrs. Mangos & Company, The Flavored Honey Store, Rockledge; Pat’s Apiaries, Auburndale; Riverview Apiaries, Lake Panasoffkee; Bee Happy Aviary, Crystal River; Lambert’s Farm (south Tampa); Taste of Freedom Farm, Largo; S & S Apiaries, New Smyrna Beach; My Sweet Bees; Seffner (east of Tampa); Bigger’s Apiaries; San Mateo, Curtis Honey Company, LaBelle; ; Buzz on In (Gruwell Apiary), Ft. Pierce; Nelsons Family Farms, Ft. Pierce; Loveland Groves, Edgewater; Harold’s Feed & Pet Supply, Dover
For local honey try Robert is Here, Homestead; Marando Farms, Ft. Lauderdale; Flamingo Road Nursery, Davie; Sunshine Animal Hospital, Clearwater (veterinarian is a beekeeper); Turner Family Honey and Bees, 4 Bees Herb Farm, My Sweetest Honey (Detweiler’s) Sarasota; Walker Farms Honey, Ft. Myers; Shoppes at Vanderbilt Farmers’ Market, Naples; Pine Island (near Ft.Myers) is known for its Mango honey; McCoy’s Sunny South Apiaries, Loxahatchee
Authentic Florida makes several recipes using Florida honey:
Note about Bees
All is not well in the bee universe. Colonies are disappearing and scientists are not sure why. Termed Colony Collapse Disorder, this most recent threat to the honeybee is a huge problem. We often think of bees as the source for honey, but they also serve a critical and necessary role as pollinators for our food crops. Without pollinators such as bees our citrus, berry, melon and vegetable crops would not yield fruit. Researchers have identified several factors that contribute to the disorder and continue working on both the cause and solution to this potentially catastrophic problem.
Florida Honey Movie
You might want to check out a 1997 movie called Ulee’s Gold starring Peter Fonda as a Florida tupelo honey beekeeper shot in Apalachicola and Port St. Joe. Van Morrison’s song, Tupelo Honey is featured.
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