Blended is out, single-origin is in. That's the message throughout the food world these days. Single-malt Scotch, single-barrel bourbon, and single-plantation chocolate and coffee all play to the notion that distinct sources can yield distinct flavors. The latest foodstuff to reflect this thinking is honey.
Supermarket honey, like Golden Blossom or Sue Bee, is a blend of many different honeys. But gourmet shops and better supermarkets are giving more and more shelf space these days to monofloral honeys honey made by bees that have had access to only one kind of nectar. The idea is that honey from a hive positioned in the middle of, say, an almond grove will taste like well, not necessarily almonds but certainly different from honey made by bees in an orange grove. The result is a wide range of flavors, aromas, and colors, from light and sweet to rich and robust.
The National Honey Board, a trade group, has been tracking the monofloral trend. "The most interesting thing is how remarkably different they taste, which means a chef can pair them with other dishes," the group's marketing director, Bruce Wolk, said. "No other sweetener offers this variety of flavors."
That flavor range can vary even within a single brand. "Honey is more similar to wine than any other food product," Mr. Wolk explained. "You can get a specific variety of honey that, depending on rainfall or soil condition, will change from year to year, even in the same location." It all makes for a wonderfully wide range of possibilities.
For now, monoflorals are just drop in the honey ocean. According to Mr. Wolk, supermarket blends constitute about 70% of the market, with clover honey technically a monofloral, though its flavor is rather mild, much like Golden Blossom's representing between an additional 23% and 25%. From there it's a big drop down to orange blossom honey at 2%, and then other monoflorals appearing as very small blips on the radar.
But with people becoming more interested in local, sustainable foods, and the single-origin trend showing no signs of abating, monofloral honey may be ready for its star turn.
In an attempt to get a feel for what's out there, I recently procured 14 jars of monofloral honey (there are literally hundreds of varieties available) from various New York City shops, along with a wide range of honey delivery devices scones, almonds, granola, biscuits, pretzels, apples, bananas, cheese, and so on. Then I recruited a tasting panel for a blind taste test. Our findings follow:
|HONEY||FLOWER SOURCE||COLOR||AROMA||FLAVOR||TASTERS' COMMENTS|
|Bee Raw Buckwheat Varietal Honey||Buckwheat plants||Rich, dark brown||Very strong and complex, with notes of musk, fruit, and chocolate||A shotgun blast of molasses||Musky. Leathery. I'm getting tobacco. A little buttery.|
|Bee Raw Orange Blossom Varietal Honey||Orange trees||A light, translucent orange, as if you melted an orange marble||Gentle, bright, pleasant||Light, fruity||Tangy. This would be great with something like baked goat cheese, because it's complementary, not dominating.|
|Fior di Miele Chestnut||Italian chestnut trees||Dark copper||Strangely medicinal woody, like pine, with absolutely no sense of sweetness||Initially sweet, then bitter||Are you trying to kill us? This is by far the worst one. Bitter. Tastes like cough drops.|
|Fior di Miele Lime||Italian lime trees||A beautiful translucent gold||Light, breezy, and pleasant||Very sweet, like if you melted down a bunch of green LifeSavers||Flowery. Ew, tastes like soap. Yeah, but soap tastes bad, but this tastes good! Very floral.|
|McLure's Blueberry Honey||Blueberry plants||The very definition of golden amber||Robustly fruity||Very similar to Golden Blossom||Your basic honey. Classic. Pleasant but unremarkable.|
|McLure's Buckwheat Honey||Buckwheat plants||Deep, dark brown||A raw, assertive funk that's very pungent, almost to the point of being gamy||A mix of molasses and dark chocolate||Smoky, like Maker's Mark. Reminds me of sorghum. I bet this is buckwheat, right?|
|McLure's Raspberry Honey||Raspberry plants||Clear and light, like apple juice||Gentle, floral, understatedly fruity||Tangy, with a strong berry character||Very distinct. Fruity. Yeah, Fruity Pebbles. Is this a berry honey?|
|Mountainhoney Blue Borage||New Zealand borage plants (an herb with a lovely blue flower)||A pale, cloudy amber, like Aunt Jemima's syrup||Strong maple notes||A combination of citrus and butterscotch||Kind of sour. Definite lemon notes.|
|Savannah Bee Co. Raw Tupelo Honey||Tupelo trees in Georgia||Pale, cloudy amber||Gently earthy with a hint of apples||Strong sarsaparilla character with a fruity aftertaste||Buttery. Root beer aftertaste. Very birch-y. A little bit turpentine-ish.|
|Sunny Acres Pure Clover Honey||Clover||A light, transparent amber||Exactly what you expect honey to smell like, with a slight citrus afternote||Very sweet||A little too sweet. Kind of like corn syrup. Too many high notes, not enough complexity.|
|Tasmanian Honey Co. Christmas Bush Honey||The bursaria bush, known in Tasmania as the Christmas bush, because of its star-shaped white flowers||Rich, crystalline gold||Strong hints of maple and caramel||Slightly spicy||Ginger-y. Marzipan-ish. I'm getting lots of licorice, or anise.|
|Tree of Life Avocado Honey||Avocado trees||A midrange copper, like maple syrup||Standard honey aroma backed by slight vegetal character||Very smooth, toasted flavor.||Buttery. Mellow. I'm getting lots of caramel. Doesn't linger nice flavor, and then it's gone.|
|Volcano Island Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey||A single grove of kiawe trees (a type of mesquite tree) in Hawaii||Milky off-white, sort of like hair conditioner||Very faint sweetness, nearly odor free||Very light, sugary, and sweet, with strong vanilla notes, not unlike white cake frosting||It's like the glaze on a cinnamon bun. Lots of coconut notes. Are you sure this is really honey?|
|Zapatista Raw Unfiltered Coffee Flower Honey||Mexican coffee plants||A lovely medium amber||Spicy, almost peppery||Dark but unassertive neither sweet nor rich||Starts good but has no finish. Not bad, but not distinctive. Very subtle. A honey in search of an identity.|