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Posts Tagged: Honey

Honey: Nothing short of miraculous

A taste of honey: dipping fingers into the honeycomb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
“Honey, please pass the honey!”

That simple request, prefaced with a term of endearment for good measure, means there's honey on the table.

And well there should be. As the daughter, granddaughter and great-great granddaughter (and beyond) of beekeepers, I grew up with honey on the table. (And on my fingers, face and clothes.)

My favorite then was clover honey from the lush meadows and fields of our 300-acre farm in southwest Washington. My favorite now is Northern California yellow starthistle honey, derived from the blossoms of that highly invasive weed, Centaurea solstitialis, which farmers hate (and rightfully so) and beekeepers love.

“Almost every honey has its own unique flavor-- even when it is the same varietal,” says Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center. “There are characteristics we learn to look for, but even within that variety, the honey will differ from each area collected. For instance: avocado honey is known for being very dark amber with a flavor reminiscent of molasses, licorice or anise. However, once you start tasting a selection, some will taste like blackstrap molasses and very black licorice. Others will have almost a fruity flavor like dried figs or prunes. Most folks can't tell the difference – and then there are the honey nerds, like me!”

A beekeeper at UC Davis holds a frame of honey. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

“My favorite all-around honey is one I keep returning to. I love sweet clover from the High Plains with its cinnamon hit —the spicy characteristic is just something I love,” Harris said. “My favorite ‘shock honey' is coriander. Collected near Yuba City, this seed crop gives us a honey that is like walking through a spice bazaar with hints of cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, coriander and — chocolate.”

The UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, located in the Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science on Old Davis Road, periodically offers courses on the sensory evaluation of honey, as well as honey tastings. Next up: the center will host free honey tastings at its home base during the 105th Annual Campuswide Picnic Day on April 13, and at the California Honey Festival in downtown Woodland on May 4. Another popular honey tasting: California Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, hosts a honey tasting at Briggs Hall during the annual Picnic Day.

There's more to honey than meets the eye — or the palate. The Honey and Pollination Center recently hosted a three-day Sensory Evaluation of Honey Certificate Course last October, using “sensory evaluation tools and methods to educate participants in the nuances of varietal honey,” Harris said. Northern California public radio station KQED spotlighted the course on its “Taste This” program.

And we owe it all to honey bees.

Pollination ecologist Stephen Buchmann of the University of Arizona (who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, studying with native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp), writes in his book, Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive, that each worker bee “may make four to ten or so flights from the nest each day, visiting hundreds or many thousands of flowers to collect nectar and pollen. During her lifetime, a worker bee may flown 35,000 to 55,000 miles collecting food for her and her nest mates. One pound of honey stored in the comb can represent 200,000 miles of combined bee flights and nectar from as many as five million flowers.”

Take a 16-ounce jar of honey at the supermarket. That represents “the efforts of tens of thousands of bees flying a total of 112,000 miles to forage nectar from about 4.5 million flowers,” writes Buchmann.

Of course, we primarily appreciate honey bees for their pollination services (one-third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees) but honey is more than just an after thought.

It's been described as “liquid gold,” “the nectar of the gods” and “the soul of a field of flowers.” Frankly, it's nothing short of miraculous.

And well it should be.

A honey bee sips honey from honeycomb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee sips honey from honeycomb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sips honey from honeycomb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sips nectar from a lavender blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee sips nectar from a lavender blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee sips nectar from a lavender blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee health key to wellbeing of important species

Our friends the honey bees make it possible for us to devour an abundance of almond products. In 2016 the California almond crop totaled 2.15 billion pounds valued at $5.2 billion. Growing 80 percent of the world's almonds in California takes a lot of honey bees for pollination, roughly two hives for every acre of almond trees. It's estimated that California has 1.3 million acres of almonds, stretching 400 miles between Bakersfield and Red Bluff.

California is rated in the top five honey producing states in the nation. The U.S. per capita consumption of honey is around 1.3 pounds per year. Our buzzing friends visit millions of blossoms, making pollination of plants possible and collecting nectar to bring back to the hive. Lucky for us bees make more honey than their colony needs allowing beekeepers the opportunity to remove the excess honey and bottle it for us to enjoy.

Bees are animals too

Bees are one of our planet's most important animals. They produce honey and they are the primary managed pollinators for a majority of high value specialty crops grown in the contiguous states of California and Oregon, such as nuts, stone fruits, vegetables, and berries. A problem looms for our animal friends, the bees. Colony losses are high due to a variety of environmental and biological causes including bacterial diseases. Historically, beekeepers have self-prescribed antibiotics to control these diseases.

Enter UC Davis and Oregon State University to aid beekeepers in addressing the problem of antibiotic resistance and antimicrobial use in the feed or water of food-producing animals, namely, protecting the health and safety of bees. The overall strategy leads to a safer food supply because the potential for antibiotic resistance is reduced.

The Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS), UC Cooperative Extension, and UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine are partnering with Oregon State University in a USDA funded multi-state specialty crop project to develop CE training for veterinarians on bee health and antibiotic use — a practice that is now regulated under the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD). The project will offer a comprehensive bee biology online course and train-the-trainer practical training for veterinarians and apiculture educators. The ultimate goals are to protect the specialty crop — honey — from becoming contaminated with antibiotic residues; to protect the health and safety of bees, which are essential to California agriculture; and, finally, to support veterinary oversight in the use of antibiotics, which will lead to an overall reduction of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment.   

The $483,278 award will address the unique needs of the beekeeping industry that have been experiencing high colony losses since 2006. It will also focus on new rules established by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration on the use of antibiotics which are used to control certain diseases affecting bee colonies.

The principal investigator is Elina L. Niño, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. Project leader is Bennie Osburn, director of outreach and training at WIFSS. Collaborating in the project is Jonathan Dear, from the Department of Medicine and Epidemiology at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and the partner state collaborator is Ramesh Sagili from the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University. A team of graphic and instructional designers from WIFSS will work with Drs. Niño, Dear, and Sagili, to translate the science into user friendly information for veterinarians and beekeepers.

Educating about honey bee health

Jonathan Dear, a small animal internal medicine veterinarian and hobbyist beekeeper, holds a frame after inspecting a hive.

Dear who is collaborating with WIFSS to produce an online and hands-on module to train veterinarians about beekeeping and honey bee health, points out that, “Honey bees are such an important part of our economy and, like any food producing animal, they can be affected by preventable and treatable diseases.”

He is enthusiastic about the project and says, “Our hope is that by educating veterinarians about honey bee health, they can play a key role in maintaining the health and wellbeing of this important species.”

With the efforts of extension specialists, veterinarians, and graphic and instructional designers, beekeepers and veterinarians will work together to navigate the VFD regulations, and consumers will continue to enjoy nature's sugar.


Posted on Thursday, October 18, 2018 at 7:47 AM
Tags: Honey (7), honey bees (7)
Focus Area Tags: Food

How to make something sweet even sweeter

There's still time to enter your honey in the Good Foods competition. Beekeepers across the country are invited to do so. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey, they say, is the "soul of a field of flowers."

It's more than that if you're a beekeeper. It's your pride and joy.

Whether beekeeping is your livelihood, your leisure activity, or something you do to help the declining bee population, that byproduct of your bees--honey--can also be an opportunity for bragging rights.

Entries are now being accepted for the nationwide honey competition sponsored by Good Food Awards.

If you're one of the nation's beekeepers, there's still time to enter your honey, says contest coordinator Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.

The deadline to do so is Sunday, July 31. The four subcategories are Liquid and Naturally Crystallized, Creamed, Comb, and Infused Honey.  

The contest is divided into five regions--East, South, North, Central and West--with seven or more states assigned to one region, Harris says.

  • West: California, New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Hawaii and Alaska.
  • North: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota and Minnesota
  • Central: Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky
  • East:  Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia
  • South: Virginia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas

"Finalists from each region are selected on a tasting day in September," Harris explains.  "They are vetted according to criteria on this page. Winners are selected during the fall months and announced at the end of the year. The awards will be presented in mid-January."

Harris says there are more than 300 unique types of honey in the United States. The Good Food Awards will showcase honeys most distinctive in clarity and depth of flavor, produced by beekeepers practicing good animal husbandry and social responsibility. The honey can come from hives located in numerous places, from rooftops to fields to backyards.

Last year's top awards went to:

To enter the competition, access this page:

The Honey and Pollination Center is affiliated with the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. For more information, email Harris at

Honey bees in the process of making honey. This photo was taken through a bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees in the process of making honey. This photo was taken through a bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bees in the process of making honey. This photo was taken through a bee observation hive. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 10:15 AM

Mid-winter feast to celebrate bees and honey

Bee on honeycomb (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It may be the heart of winter now, but in Central California, spring is just around the corner, bringing with it clouds of pink and white blossoms on thousands of almond trees.

And with the blossoms come the bees on which so many California crops depend for pollination.

In celebration of this vibrant time of year and the bees and beekeepers who help bring it to life, a special five-course gourmet dinner will be held Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC Davis.

The Mid-Winter Beekeeper’s Feast: A Taste of Mead and Honey is coordinated by the Mondavi Institute’s Honey and Pollination Center as a showcase for local, seasonal foods and a fundraiser for the center.

The dinner, which will be from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in the Sensory Building of the Robert Mondavi Institute, has been designed by UC Davis alumna Ann Evans using her “Davis Farmer’s Market Cookbook” and by Mani Niall, author of numerous cookbooks including “Covered in Honey” and his latest venture, “Sweet!”

Each of the five courses will feature seasonally available foods that are enhanced with varietal honeys, wines and mead. The meal will conclude with a cheese course with fresh honeycomb and a selection of mead. The mead tasting will be guided by Darrell Corti, an international wine judge.

The event will be accompanied by a musical trio and include a silent auction of gift baskets and unique food-, wine- and honey-focused opportunities.

Proceeds from the evening will benefit the Honey and Pollination Center, which coordinates educational and research efforts in support of all aspects of the beekeeping industry.

If you’re interested in joining in this celebration of the bounty of the beehive and beekeepers, visit the events section of the Robert Mondavi Institute website and look for the Mid-Winter Beekeeper’s Feast flyer and registration information, including details for purchasing either single tickets or sponsoring an entire table.

Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 7:29 AM
  • Author: Pat Bailey

Honey, I hardly know you!

Eric Mussen
“My jar of honey went bad so I threw it away.”

How many times have you heard that?

It did not go “bad” but it did granulate, as honeys do. Granulation is the formation of sugar (glucose) crystals. Reheat the honey and it’s good to go — and eat.

 “Most honeys granulate during storage after extended periods of time in containers,” says honey bee specialist/bee wrangler/six-decade beekeeper Norman Gary, emeritus professor in the Department of Entomology at UC Davis and author of the best-selling beginning beekeeping book, Honey Bee Hobbyist: The Care and Keeping of Bees.

“Sometimes honey granulates while still sealed in the comb,” Gary says. ”The basic reason honey granulates is that the bees have dissolved more sugar in the solution — a process called super saturation — than it can hold during storage. The tendency to granulate is determined primarily by the concentration of glucose. Excess glucose forms crystals of glucose hydrate that aggregate in a lattice in the honey."

Eric Mussen, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in Department of Entomology at UC Davis, says that nearly every variety of honey granulates over time, “since it is a supersaturated sugar solution. Hazy, crystallized, or solidified honey is not spoiled. Loosen the cap and place the container in hot water – the honey will return to its liquid state with stirring.  When the sugar crystals release free water in honey, it can ferment. At that point it cannot be salvaged.”

Short-bursts in the microwave are also a good way to liquefy honey, Gary says. He advocates heating the glass jars in 30-second intervals, stopping and stirring.

“Monitor the temperature so you don’t have to heat more than necessary to achieve liquefaction.” High temperatures can "cause chemical changes that some purists consider to be heat damage.” It can also change the delicate flavors and darken the honey.

Some honeys do not crystallize or crystallize so readily. Tupelo honey, produced from the nectar of tupelo trees, does not granulate, Gary says.

As for the taste of honey, Mussen points out that honey tastes sweeter than sucrose “since it contains free fructose, which tastes sweeter to us than does sucrose. There also is free glucose in honey, but that does not taste exceptionally sweet to us.”

Norm Gary
Meanwhile, misconceptions about honey continue to persist. Bees make honey from nectar secreted from flowers. Uninformed children may think brown cows give chocolate milk and that different colors of bees account for the different colors of honey. (Even a business professional told me last week that she thought that a specific honey bee makes orange blossom honey, and another bee makes clover honey.)

“The colors and flavors of honey are properties of the nectar collected by the bees, not of the bees producing the honey,” Mussen says. “Climate impacts the nectar.  Honey produced from alfalfa bloom can be transparent or 'water white;' golden, as in 'clover' honey, or significantly darker, approaching amber, when it is produced in northern Canada, mid-western U.S., or southern U.S., respectively. If you wish to find specific varieties of honey to compare, many varieties and sources can be found at, overseen by the National Honey Board.”

Mead is another term that puzzles folks. It's an alcoholic beverage made with honey.

“Honey is the basic source of sugar for the fermentation of mead," Mussen explains. "Meads can be dry or sweet, depending upon the desire of the mead maker. With the addition of spices or fruit juices, meads are called various names: metheglin, hippocras, cyser or pymet.”

And, if you cook with honey, be aware of the properties.

“In baking and beverages honey often can be substituted directly for sugar,” Mussen says. “Lighter colored honeys usually are milder tasting, while the darker honeys are more robust.  That is not always the case. Honey has around 17 percent water content, so for baking, it sometimes is good to reduce the volume of other liquids in the recipe. Also, honey tends to turn brown when baking, so reduce the heat by 25 degrees or so if less browning is desired. The finished baked product is apt to remain 'fresh' (moist) longer than sugar-based recipes, due to the presence of free fructose that attracts water moisture. Lining the measuring cup with a very thin film of cooking oil will let the honey slip right out, instead of sticking in the cup."

If you’re anxious to sample different honey varietals, head over Briggs Hall during UC Davis Picnic Day on April 20. Mussen will be offering his traditional free honey tasting. Last year he provided six kinds of honey: California buckwheat, avocado, eucalyptus, sage, orange, and cactus. In the past, visitors also tasted cotton honey, blackberry honey and starthistle honey and others.

Starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis), native to Eurasia is an exotic invasive weed hated by just about everybody but the beekeepers and the lovers of starthistle honey.

“Starthistle honey is the champagne of honey,” said Yolo County beekeeper Dennis Price of Good Bee Apiary. “It’s the best there is. However, this year’s starthistle may not be so good due to the lack of rain."

Like to cook with honey? Try the time-tested recipes on the National Honey Board website.

Beekeeper Kim Flottum, editor of Bee Culture magazine and author of the book, The Backyard Beekeeper, offers a number of recipes in his book, including these two toppings--just in time for spring!

Orange honey butter for cornbread

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperate
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon orange zest, finely grated (1 medium to large orange)
1 tablespoon honey
Prepared corn bread

Put the softened butter into a bowl with the salt and whisk until creamy. Whisk in the orange zest and then the honey. Whisk until smooth. Warm cornbread at 250 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush with a little orange honey butter. Col about 15 minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve with the remaining butter.

Orange cream spread

1 package (8-ounce) cream cheese
1/4 cup honey, mild
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon orange peel or zest

Combine softened cream cheese, honey, orange juice, and orange peel. Blend well. Refrigerate at least one hour—overnight is better. Spread on rolls, muffins or croissants.

Honey bee foraging on pomegranate blossom. Pomegranate honey is the result.(Photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on pomegranate blossom. Pomegranate honey is the result.(Photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging on pomegranate blossom. Pomegranate honey is the result. (Photos by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Starthistle honey: granulated or crystalized on the left; liquid honey on the right.
Starthistle honey: granulated or crystalized on the left; liquid honey on the right.

Starthistle honey: granulated or crystalized on the left; liquid honey on the right.

Posted on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 8:21 AM

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