Honey Color and Flavor
The color, flavor, and even aroma of a particular variety of honey may differ depending on the nectar source of flowers visited by the honey bee. The colors may range from nearly colorless to dark brown, the flavor may vary from delectably mild to distinctively bold, and even the odor of the honey may be mildly reminiscent of the flower.
Varietal honeys may be best compared to varietal wine in terms of annual climactic changes. Even the same flower blooming in the same location may produce slightly different nectar from year-to-year depending upon temperature and rainfall.
There are more than 300 unique types of honey available in the United States, each originating from a different floral source. Space doesn’t allow us to list all 300 varieties so we’ve listed some of the more common. As a general rule, the flavor of lighter colored honeys is milder, and the flavor of darker colored honeys is stronger.
For more details on these and more floral sources, and to locate specific varietals of honey, try visiting Honey Locator.
Alfalfa is a legume with blue flowers. It blooms throughout the summer and is ranked as the most important honey plant in Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and most of the western states. Alfalfa honey is white or extra light amber in color with a fine flavor. The honey makes a perfect table honey for everyday use.
Scientific Name: Medicago sativa
photo: Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License
Avocado honey is gathered from California avocado blossoms. Avocado honey is dark in color, with a rich, buttery taste. It is wonderful in dressings and sauces.
Scientific Name: Persea americana
photo: B.navez, Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License
This tree is distributed from Southern Canada, to Alabama, to Texas, and is the product of blossoms from the Basswood tree. Basswood honey is often characterized by its distinctive biting flavor. The honey is water-white with a strong flavor that works well in many recipes.
Scientific Name: Tilia americana
photo: Hendrik Falk, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License
Taken from the tiny white flowers of the blueberry bush, the nectar makes a honey which is typically light amber or amber in color and with a full, well-rounded flavor. Blueberry honey is produced in New England and in Michigan. Many people believe that Blueberry honey is honey to which Blueberry flavor is added; this is not so. Pure Blueberry honey is the result of bees gathering nectar from the Blueberry bush. It has wonderful applications in sauces and baked goods.
Scientific Name: Vaccinium spp.
photo: Diana Sammataro
Buckwheat plants grow best in cool, moist climates. The buckwheat plant prefers light and well-drained soils, although it can thrive in highly acid, low fertility soils as well. Buckwheat is usually planted in the spring or is found growing wild. It blooms quite early and it yields a dark brown honey of strong, distinct flavor. Buckwheat has excellent application for BBQ sauces and baked goods.
Scientific Name: Fagopyrum esculentum
photo: Diana Sammataro
Clover honey is what most people think of as being typical honey flavor and color. It is widely used “on the table.” Despite being the most common nectar producing honey plant, Clover honey is still a variety. White clover, alsike clover, and the white and yellow sweet clover plants are the most important for honey production. Depending on location and source, Clover honey varies in color from water-white to extra light amber and has a mild, delicate flavor. (There are a few different varieties of Clover - look on Honey Locator for White Dutch Clover, Sweet Clover, White Sweet Clover and Red Clover).
Scientific Name: Trifolium repens
photo: Olve Utne, Creative Commons Attribution 1.0, Wikimedia
Eucalyptus is one of the larger plant genera with over 500 distinct species and many hybrids. Eucalyptus honey varies greatly in color and flavor, but in general, it tends to be a bold-flavored honey with a slightly medicinal aftertaste. It may be used in baked goods, sauces, dressings.
Scientific Name: Eucalyptus spp.
photo: Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Fireweed honey is very light, or “water white” in color and comes from a perennial herb that affords wonderful bee pasture in the Northern and Pacific states and Canada. Fireweed grows in the open woods, reaching a height of three to five feet and spikes attractive pinkish flowers. It is delightfully sweet, and wonderful in dessert applications.
Scientific Name: Epilobium angustibolium
photo: Delphine Ménard, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 France License
Orange Blossom honey may be a single variety, but often it is a combination of citrus floral sources from Oranges and nearby Grapefruit or even Lime and Lemon trees. Orange is a leading honey source in southern Florida, Texas, Arizona and California. Orange trees bloom in March and April and produce a white to extra light amber honey with a distinctive flavor and the aroma of orange blossoms. It is savored the world over on the table for everyday use, or in cakes and cookies.
Scientific Name: Epilobium angustibolium
photo: Orange Blossom photo courtesy of George DeLange, Arizona
Sage honey can come from many different species of the sage plant. Sage shrubs usually grow along the California coast and in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Sage honey has a mild, delicate flavor. It is generally white or water-white in color. It is quite sweet in flavor, and pairs extremely well with strong cheeses. When shopping for Sage honey, note that there are several varieties of Sage - check out the Honey Locator website for Black Button Sage (shown), White Sage, Purple Sage and Mixed Sage.
Scientific Name: Salvia mellifera
photo: Michael Charters
Despite its name, the Sourwood tree, found in the Appalachian Mountains from Southern Pennsylvania to Northern Georgia, has a sweet, spicy, anise aroma and flavor. The honey has been highly valued for table use or in a myriad of cooking applications such as glazes. It is said to have a wonderful lingering aftertaste.
Scientific Name: Oxydendrum arboreum
photo: Chuck Norton, used by permission
The tulip poplar is a magnificent, breathtaking, tall tree with large greenish-yellow flowers that are unforgettable when viewed. It generally blooms in the month of May. Tulip Poplar honey is produced from southern New England to southern Michigan and south to the Gulf states east of the Mississippi. The honey is dark amber in color, however, its flavor is not as strong as one would expect from a dark honey. It has many applications in baking and cooking.
Scientific Name: Liriodendron tulipifera
photo: Pollinator, Wikipedia, GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.2
Tupelo honey is produced in the southeastern United States. Tupelo trees have clusters of greenish flowers, which later develop into soft, berrylike fruits. In southern Georgia and northwestern Florida, tupelo is a leading honey plant, producing tons of white or extra light amber honey in April and May. The honey has a mild, pleasant flavor and will not granulate. The Tupelo tree has been designated as being on the “Ark of Taste,” those plants and animals that are endangered and that must be protected.
Scientific Name: Nyssa ogeche
photo: Indiana University / Purdue University Fort Wayne