Honey is a delicious addition to any dish (or even on its own), with so many different sources of nectar based on the variety and location of the flowers and honeybees (see here for our article on honey production). There are a myriad of different honeys to try with their own unique colour, flavour and even health benefits (see our article on medicinal honey). Australia is the world’s fourth largest honey exporter and is in demand across Asia, Europe and the UK for its outstanding quality. It is easy to assume that honey can only be distinguished by its floral source, but there are numerous different types of honey depending on how the honey is collected and processed.
Raw honey (like the name suggests) is honey in its natural state. Once the beekeeper has collected the honeycomb frames from the hives, the bees wax is removed and the honey is collected, usually by centrifugation. In some instances, the honey will then be strained to remove large particles (such as pollen or residual wax) or may even be filtered. However, it may be argued that even straining renders the honey “processed” and is no longer considered raw.
The honey that most of us will purchase from the supermarket is produced by honeybees but will undergo some form of processing. In a vast majority of cases, the honey will be heated to make it easier for bottling and to sterilise the contents, neutralising microorganisms (such as yeast) within the honey and making the honey safe for long term storage. This a technique known as pasteurisation, and is more-or-less the same process that milk undergoes to make it safer for human consumption. Heating can also help reduce the rate at which honey will crystalise during storage.
Speaking of crystallisation, you may have noticed that keeping honey in the pantry for a long while causes sugar crystals to form. This is perfectly natural, although it can be an inconvenience. Honey can be processed to produce “creamed honey”, another method by which crystallisation can be controlled. There are numerous commercial and home procedures that can be used to make creamed honey, but the underlying principle is the same. Finely granulated honey (called seed crystals) is blended with liquid honey and then stored at a precise temperature, resulting in a creamy, smooth honey that has a more spreadable consistency.
It’s easy to think that liquid honey is the best and perhaps your only choice. However, there so many different types of honey that all have a unique flavour and character. Honey is truly one of nature’s most versatile ingredients.