I've been a long time fan and consumer of honey, baking with it, adding it to smoothies, soups, and dressings, and even using it on my face as an all natural moisturizer. My mom has been making and sharing her Hot Honey Lemon drink recipe for as long as I can remember and it's my favorite way to treat coughs and sore throats. Honey is incredible stuff.
While I've been a honey lover for a good long time, bees are all new to me, but they're just as fascinating as the honey. In South Dakota, I spent the day at one of Tim Hollmann's apiaries where the bees and I got to know each other.
He was completely in his element as he led us out to the fields where he introduced us to his bees and told us everything we ever wanted to know about these incredible insect workers. While the rest of us suited up from head to toe and watched nervously as the bees buzzed around our heads, Tim showed us his hives and his bees, bare handed and at home among the constant hum.
There are between 115,000 to 125,000 beekeepers in the United States. Most beekeepers are hobbyists with less than 25 hives, whereas commercial beekeepers have 300 or more hives. Whether commercial or hobbyist, all the bees and their keepers are doing the same thing.
During their lifetime, the honey bees visit millions of blossoms, pollinating crops all over the United States and collecting nectar to bring back to the hive. Inside the boxes at the apiary, frames are hung for bees to build up a wax honeycomb where they store the honey and raise more bees.
In the United States, there are more than 300 unique types of honey produced. Because the honey originates from different floral sources, the colors and flavors of the many honey varieties differ greatly.
While I was in Nebraska, the National Honey Board treated me to a varietal honey tasting. With food writer and cooking teacher Marie Simmons guiding me through the tasting, I was amazed at the distinct flavor differences between the varieties.
Clover honey, which is very common, tasted like most honey that I've purchased at the grocery store before. However, I really enjoyed the malty, spicy, molasses-like flavor of Buckwheat honey, especially when paired with chocolate. It was a lot darker in color than the honey you normally find on the shelves, but it's flavor was amazing! Likewise, Tupelo honey was buttery and bright tasting and made a piece of sharp cheddar taste gourmet.
But even though they tasted completely different, all of the honey was delicious. Those bees really know what they're doing.
It's one thing to buy a honey bear at the grocery store or a jar from a local beekeeper at the farmer's market, but it was absolutely amazing to go right to the source of the honey and see the entire story from the very beginning.
Hollmann, like most beekeepers who pass down their knowledge and hives from generation to generation, works alongside his wife and family to care for the bees and extract the honey. His son, home from college for the summer, was hard at work too.
From the fields, we headed to Hollmann's extraction facility where things get a little sticky.
Harvesting honey is an ancient artisanal craft that hasn't changed much over the years. To harvest the honey, beekeepers remove the honeycomb frames from the boxes and scrape off the wax caps that the bees created to seal in the honey. The frames are then dropped into a centrifuge and the force of spinning extracts the honey. From there, Hollmann pumps it into large drums and sends it off to be bottled.
In Iowa, I was able to visit the bottling facility, Sue Bee Honey, where Hollmann and more than 300 other beekeepers send their honey. This place was fascinating.
At a bottling facility, the honey is processed. What was most interesting to me though was just how unprocessed the honey really is. They filter it to make sure there aren't wood particles or pieces of the hives and bees in the honey, and then . . . that's it. It's just honey in those bottles. Filtering it keeps it from crystallizing as quickly as unfiltered honey, but it's just pure and simple honey with no added ingredients or preservatives.
While we were at Sue Bee Honey, we also got to see and taste some of the different forms of honey. Though you mostly think of honey in its liquid form, it is also sold as comb, liquid, creamed, whipped, and spun honey. If you can, get your hands on some whipped/spun honey! I don't think I've ever tasted anything so delicious as a spoonful of whipped honey!
I loved honey before, but now I love the bees and their keepers too. I came home resolved to use honey as often as possible. It's my favorite sweetener when I'm baking, the easy tasty emulsifier for dressings and sauces, and it's naturally antimicrobial so it never, ever goes bad - you can keep it in the pantry forever!
This Broiled Pineapple with Honey Ricotta is a great way to showcase a gorgeous drizzle of honey. Eat for dessert or breakfast or an elegant appetizer. It's so simple, just three ingredients, and the honey is really the star here. Thank you bees, and beekeepers.
Whatever honey you have will taste great with this. If you can get your hands on different varieties though, this is a great recipe to showcase their different flavors. Check out the Honey Locator to find varietal honey near you. Yield depends on size of pineapple. A large pineapple should give you about 6 slices.
Yield depends on size of pineapple. A large pineapple should give you about 6 slices.
More great honey recipes:
Cherry Peach Bruschetta with Honey Garlic Goat Cheese
Peach Tarts with Goat Cheese and Honey
Asparagus Ricotta Tarts with Honey Lemon Sauce
Honey Yogurt Butter
Cherry Chia Energy Bites
Banana Mango Millet Muffins
Honey is my favorite sweetener to cook and bake with! To you help you use it in your own kitchen, check out these helpful resources for Cooking with Honey and Storing Honey.
National Honey Board Resources:
- Main website: Honey.com
- Twitter: @NationalHoney
- Instagram: @NationalHoneyBoard,
- Facebook: Facebook.com/nationalhoneyboard,
- Youtube: www.youtube.com/user/nationalhoneyboard
This post was sponsored by the National Honey Board through The Motherhood. I received information (Bee facts and Beekeeper stats, etc.) from the National Honey Board. All opinions are entirely my own and I am proud to work with these sponsors. Thank you for supporting the sponsors that help keep Some the Wiser running.