Honey Tasting Elevated to a Science

December 2, 2014

As a child I thought honey was ‘just honey’ and it came in a squeezable honey bear bottle from the grocery store. As a beekeeper, I have learned that ‘honey’ encompasses a diverse collection of flavors and aromas. This diversity is due to the floral source(s) that the bees visit, the area’s climatic conditions, its geographical location and other variable factors. For example, varietal honeys like Bee America’s Orange Blossom or Tupelo have characteristic flavors that are fairly consistent over time. However, how these honeys taste from year to year actually varies according to the intensity of the bloom and how frequently the bees were able to visit the flowers.

Until now, it has been difficult to describe all the nuanced flavors of honey as there was not a standard vocabulary in place. Thanks to researchers at the Honey and Pollination Center at the University of California-Davis, such a tool now exists. It is called the Honey Flavor Wheel and it contains almost 100 unique descriptors that were identified by trained tasters, beekeepers, food enthusiasts, and a sensory scientist. Aside from the more ubiquitous floral and fruity flavors like ‘honeysuckle’ and ‘orange’, there are some delightful descriptions like a confectionary ‘crème brûlée’ and ‘cotton candy’.

There are also some more savory flavors like a nutty ‘chestnut’ or a yeasty ‘baked bread’. And showing their sense of humor, there are some flavors that seem more like kitchen accidents: a microbiological ‘moldy’ and a woody ‘burnt toast’ as well as unsavory places you wouldn’t want to eat any food, much less honey: an animal-smelling ‘barnyard’ or ‘locker room’. According to the Honey and Pollination Center’s website, “Our goal is to help consumers come to understand what makes each honey unique”.

Looking for a gift for someone who enjoys honey, loves gourmet food, appreciates a scientific take on life, or just has everything? Consider giving them the Honey Flavor Wheel, which will help him or her describe any type of honey and have fun doing so. The Center claims that “The Wheel will help them understand what they prefer and to help them give words to that experience.”

The front of the Honey Flavor Wheel displays all the descriptors grouped by color for ease of identification. When tasting honey, it is now no longer acceptable to say it is “sweet” when you can opine with great authority using the wheel, “It has hints of caramel with a underlying mild vanilla confectionary taste with a smooth finish.” Or, “I can taste a herbaceous top note of fresh eucalyptus with a strong undercurrent of spicy black pepper, which is complimented by an astringent texture with a lingering finish.” The back of the Honey Flavor Wheel explains how to properly taste and enjoy honey. It also features four honey profiles as examples of how to use the wheel along with terms to describe honey’s different textures and finishes.

The Honey Flavor Wheel, measuring 8.25 inches, sells for $10 each with all proceeds supporting bee health research at UCD.