In a store the size and scope of Jungle Jim’s, it’s easy to forget about some of the basic, almost run-of-the-mill items available. But since this is Jungle Jim’s, even those “basic” items can, and do, take on a life of their own. With more than 100 varieties available year round, honey isn’t just a way to add sweetness and flavor to meats, salads, or barbeque sauces during the summer, or to give your tea that glowing warmth that only honey can provide on chilly winter nights. It’s an item found around the world, and in some surprising forms (which is a whole other post – but we’ll say this much: it gets weird).
As both a major and minor component of countless dishes and drinks, honey may seem to some as an easily used, yet just as easily ignored ingredient. We’re of the mind that it shouldn’t be so readily taken for granted.
From candy to baked goods, tea to cheese trays, honey is one of the most versatile natural sweeteners available. It has myriad medicinal purposes, as well, maybe best known as a sore throat remedy, and even can be used as a natural energy booster since it’s sugars are easily broken down by the human body.
While it’s simplicity is one of its most alluring qualities, the varieties of this rich, earthy item found at Jungle Jim’s offers complex variations on a theme, ranging from light amber in color and mild in flavor, to a deep brown with a bold taste. We wanted to explore some of the lesser known honeys available not just in our grocery and Natural Foods sections, but the international offerings found throughout the store, as well. More than anything, we wanted to take some time to learn about where they come from and what makes them so unique.
First, some fun facts about the surprisingly epic world of honey:
Honey varieties, much like wine, can vary in color and flavor from year to year. Depending on when the flowers blossom and the location of the crop itself, honey can change in color and flavor each year. While many of its qualities will be the same, variations in weather, blossoming season, and region can imbue the same types of honey with subtly different characteristics.
Did you ever wonder why some honey is quick to “crystallize,” while others seem to stay “fresh” for much longer? Simply put, it’s chemistry! Obviously, honey is sweet, and that sweetness is because of the presence of sugars – fructose and glucose, specifically. The higher the amount of fructose compared to glucose, the faster your honey will crystallize, or start to solidify. Common household honey, like Clover, crystallizes quickly, while some more exotic or lesser known varieties like Tupelo take their time. Still others, like Acacia, don’t crystallize at all!
Yes, there are honeys that come from berry bushes, but alas, they won’t taste like those berries. Okay, maybe they will a little bit. Varieties like Blueberry and Raspberry will have hints of their namesake, but don’t expect them to taste exactly like blueberries or raspberries. They’ll maintain the essence of their origin, though. So remember, if you’re purchasing honey that claims a strong berry or fruit flavor, you’re likely picking up a honey that’s getting some additional help in the flavor department. Be sure to check the label if you’re unsure of whether or not flavor has been added. In most cases, it’s clearly indicated.
Despite popular belief, eating locally harvested honey probably won’t help you deal with allergies. While it would be wonderful if this weren’t the case – because it’s widely agreed upon that seasonal allergies are among the most frustrating things to deal with – using locally harvested and produced honey, even in it’s raw form, likely won’t help with preventing or alleviating allergies (unless you have a sore throat). There’s just no strong scientific data to prove it. That being said, anecdotal evidence suggests that some do see a lessening of symptoms when they utilize locally harvested honey (and pollen). The idea is that you help to train your body to recognize that particular variety as “friendly,” instead of “invading.” It’s a homeopathic remedy, to be sure, that’s meant to help lessen the body’s response by giving it small doses it can control. Whether or not it works, though, is something we can’t say for certain.
As we’ve already mentioned, honey comes in a surprisingly wide variety of flavor profiles, colors, and forms. From common Clover honey to more challenging varieties like Buckwheat, to honey-based mixed drinks and honey candy, there’s something for every palette and every occasion, from all over the world.
Buckwheat and Star Thistle honeys demonstrate an incredible range of color and flavor.
The Exploration Begins…
With so many types of honey available, it was hard not to go a little overboard as we scoured the aisles of the International department. From Germany, to Greece, to Turkey, we were thrilled to find so many variations of the pure honey experience ready and waiting to be checked out.
First, though, we made our way to the, shall we say, large table of honeys located near the Natural Food department, as well as Natural Food department itself, and we admit that it was almost overwhelming (though in the best way possible). To start, we decided to take a look at a few different American varieties:
Laney Honey, Star Thistle
“The Bitter Honey” – we chose this one due to it’s light color – it certainly was shades lighter than some of the typical clover and orange blossom honeys around – and it’s interesting provenance. Star Thistle, it turns out, is a particularly unfriendly weed, yet bees are able to produce a highly prized honey from it’s flower. Laney Honey is a semi-local apiary, found in North Liberty, Indiana.
Our experience: This honey is sweet, obviously, but there’s an underlying tanginess that only this particular honey exhibited. It was surprising, to the say the least, but made this a much more unique variety than we anticipated. It’s not something you notice right away, but after a few seconds, the sweetness gives way to a flavor that is unexpected and a little challenging. It’s a honey that lets you know exactly where it comes from – the fields – and is great if you want an uncommon, but natural astringency to cut through some of the sweetness.
Carriage House Farm, Wildflower
“The Everyday Honey” – this is a hyper-local variety found in the Jungle Jim’s Natural Foods department. The farm, located in North Bend, Ohio, produces 100% pure honey – in this case, we chose Wildflower. We considered this our baseline for the experience. Established in 1855, Carriage House Farm has been a well-respected local establishment for centuries where they harvest their honey in the North Bend/Cleves area, and have a small variety of honeys and pollen available. It has a rich golden color, not especially dark, though not particularly light. As honeys go, it seems to be a great middle-of-the-road, all-purpose honey.
Our experience: Wildflower is an easy honey to enjoy, and this particular brand and variety is no different. It’s a little stronger than some of the more run of the mill clover and orange blossom honeys available, with just enough personality to make it worth finding and using regularly. Smooth, sweet, with just enough richness, it’s a great honey for anything you might need to use honey for.
Drapers Super Bee Apiaries Inc, Buckwheat
“The Big Personality Honey” – in the world of honey, buckwheat stands out as one of the most powerfully flavorful varieties available, and also happens to be one of those most beneficial to your health. High in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, this honey has the color of rich molasses, and is a much lauded natural alternative to cough syrup for children under 6. This one, produced in Millerton, Pennsylvania, tends to be less sweet than other honeys, but packs a flavorful punch (because of the type of honey, not because of where it comes from). Fun fact – despite its name, buckwheat is not a cereal grain! It’s a fruit seed, actually, related to rhubarb. Who knew?
Our experience: Some of us have tried buckwheat honey, so knew what to expect. The ones that had no experience with it realized quickly just how potent – and endearing – this variety can be. It’s rich, complex, sweet but not overly so, and just a little bit on the “wow, that’s weird” side of things. It has a deep flavor with a malty finish. One of our team said it reminded them of certain aspects of homebrewing, something that was near and dear to their heart. So, like we said, this is a surprisingly endearing honey.
After giving our palettes a bit of a rest, we had some truly tantalizing international honeys to test out. One of the common themes of many of the honeys found throughout the various countries whose products were available was its use as a savory component. Sure, a large portion of the honeys available share many of the same floral origins as their American counterparts, but there were a few that stood out from the many, many different kinds we looked at:
Breitsamer Honig, Rapsflower, Germany
“The Mysterious Honey” – on first glance, this one appears to be a variety that crystallizes quickly, as the honey inside the small jar was much cloudier and creamier in appearance than many of the others on the shelf. Since we didn’t see any indication that this honey was whipped or creamed, we were immediately interested. We came to find out, though, that this is simply the honey in it’s natural state. Notably, it’s considered hearty and savory – we weren’t quite sure what that meant, though, so digging into this one was sure to be an enlightening encounter.
Our experience: The short version: we loved this one. The longer version: This is a truly unique honey. Creamy, rich, and savory, this is a variety that immediately let us know it was very much it’s own thing. What it lacked in overall sweetness, it more than made up for in all-around flavor. Since it was thicker than the others we tried – it has a paste-like consistency, but wasn’t overly sticky – the flavor actually didn’t linger. Which, we admit, was disappointing. It really was that tasty. We were simply enamored of this one.
Attiki Honey, Wild Flora and Thyme, Greece
“The Honey of the Gods” – it was the element of thyme that caught our attention with this traditional, though mixed provenance honey. Made from multiple types of wildflower and thyme, it has a color closer to clover honey in the states, and is considered a literal “Food of the Gods” in Greek mythology. This particular brand has won several prestigious awards, which we hope bodes well for our experience.
Our experience: There is a lot happening with this honey – it’s flavor is sweet and aromatic, with the thyme coming through at the end. Oddly enough, after trying what we think of as “single origin” honeys (or, honeys that come from only one type of flower or source), this one is recognizably different – the distinctive taste was quite difficult to pin down, which we’re sure is just the nature of this particular variety. It’s definitely one of more mysterious honeys we tried.
Buram, Pure Bee Pine Honey, Turkey
“The Bug Honey” – this was one that seemed to be one thing, but after a little research, turned out to be something else entirely. At first blush we thought, how can bees make honey from pine trees? Perhaps, it seems, we were being a tad too literal (though we weren’t that far off). This variety, similar in color to common orange blossom honey, is a bee made honey. But instead of using pollen from flowers, the bees actually pick up the sugary… well, excretions of a certain kind of aphid that feeds on the sap of pine trees. Known as “honeydew,” these excretions end up giving the honey a pine-y quality. Interest: piqued.
Our experience: After getting over the admittedly tiny hurdle of trying honey made from bug excretions, we found this one to be just as enjoyable as most of the honeys we’ve tried before. The only noticeable difference – aside from the flavor, which did have a pine essence – was that it was a little on the thin side. It didn’t have the deep, ongoing flavor that most honeys exhibit. There was a hefty dose of flavor to start, but it faded quickly. We’re not sure if that’s a byproduct of how it’s made, but it was an interesting aspect of a relatively unknown variety of honey.