Difference between: light honey and dark honey

Kudos to my friend Jenny for suggesting this Difference Between post.

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Thank you to Honey.com, HoneyO.com, BeeWayHoney.com, Benefits-Of-Honey.com, LivingHoney.biz, and FAO.org for their information on light honey versus dark honey.

In short, light colored honey has a mild taste to it while darker honey is more intensely flavored, but let us explore the subject further.

Before honey is the sweet substance we know it to be, the process begins with flowers needing to be pollinated by bees. In exchange for pollination, flowering plants disburse nectar. Nectar is composed mostly of sugars, which bees use in conjunction with a few other minor substances to formulate into honey.

The color, flavor, and even the scent of honey can vary widely depending on the source of nectar. In addition, the weather can have an effect on the end result. As Honey.com says, “Even the same flower blooming in the same location may produce slightly different nectar from year to year.”

When bees gather nectar from only one source, it is labeled “single-flower honey,” such as clover or lavender. When the nectar is taken from a wide variety of sources, the honey is known to be “wildflower” honey. Clover honey, a light honey, is the most common.

Honey can be light colored, dark, or anywhere in between. As indicated earlier, the darker the honey is the more bold and distinctive the flavor.

Light honey, such as the aforementioned clover, is ideal for sweetening cereal or tea, while dark honey, such as buckwheat, works better on oatmeal or in breads; dark honey performs not unlike brown sugar.

Photo credit: eBeeHoney.com

In between light and dark honey there is “amber” colored honey, which can be derived from flowers such as star-thistle, sage, or alfalfa. 

Interestingly, the preference for light honey versus dark honey is dependent largely upon location; for instance, Americans prefer the subtle undertones of light honey, while Europeans are partial to the bolder flavors of dark honey.

It should mentioned that although generally lighter means milder, there are exceptions to this rule, as Benefits-Of-Honey.com points out: “Some of the most distinctively and strongly flavored honey varieties, such as blasswood, are very light, while very mild and pleasant honeys such as tulip popular can be quite dark.”

Furthermore, while the color of the honey is not typically an indicator of the quality, there is an exception to this guideline as well, as honey can become darker during storage or if it is heated.

While darker honey is more flavorful and intense than light, it also contains more nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The University of Illinois scientists compared Illinois buckwheat to California sage and found the buckwheat to contain 20 times the amount of antioxidants.

In addition to light, dark, and amber honey, there is comb honey, liquid honey, creamed honey, and chunk honey. Honey is produced in every state, and there are more than 300 varieties available in this country. Read in detail about the most common types here.

34 thoughts on “Difference between: light honey and dark honey

  1. Dear Sir,

    This is a good information about honey.

    But, i have quastion sir,

    Can we change the dark amber colour honey to light amber.

    please give the solution..

    1. No you can’t
      Because dark honey contains the natural kind of substances but most of the dark honey causes by the time that you keep it. If you want light color honey change to dark , then you can.

  2. I use honey (in my area). Does it loose antioxidants putting it in boiling water? Tea, honey & cinnamon are good for lots of health issues. Thank you for this article, it has been very helpful.

    1. Hi Judy – Yes, everything I’ve read does seem to indicate that heating honey at all makes it lose antioxidants. I wrote a bee keeper friend of mine to ask his thoughts on that – I’ll comment again/email you when I hear back from him.

    2. My bee-keeping friend said, on honey losing antioxidants or other nutrients when heated: “The antioxidants I’m not sure on, but the nutrients shouldn’t be affected unless it overheats. So, if you were to microwave crystallized honey in order to liquefy it again you would probably denature any pollen that’s in it, which would make it less helpful as far as building up a tolerance against allergies. Also it can change the smell/flavor. That’s why I suggest putting the jar in hot water instead of a microwave oven to liquefy.”

    1. In my area, honey is usually harvested at two times of year, in the Spring and Fall. Its harvested after those seasonal flowers have finished blossoming and the bees have stored the nectar as honey. The same bee hive will, (after the Spring nectar flow) yield light honey, and after the Fall nectar flow, yield dark honey. The color has some dependency on the color of the plant nectar and pollen that is collected. So if you think of all the “Spring flower colors” those tend to be lighter, and “Fall flower colors” tend to be darker. There are other saturation issues as well. Given that in the Winter, all pollen and honey in the hive is consumed, so they are effectively starting with a clean slate in the Spring, where as in the Fall, the hive has had a Summer’s worth of drying out, and other nutrients accumulate (like antibacterial plant resins, propolis, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propolis). This ‘drying out and saturation affect’ is also why fall honey tends to be thicker.

      I’m a beekeeper from the northeastern part of the U.S., and I’m sure there are a wide variety of seasonal, climate, and monocrop differences, depending on where you keep your bees, etc. For example, in some parts of Italy, they harvest honey after each type of herb blossoms and sell it as “Rosemary honey, etc” in the USA, we’re not as surgical about our honey harvests.

      1. Thanks for sharing, Don! It’s great to have a beekeeper weigh in. This is probably my most popular Difference Between post, and I’ve had to consult a beekeeper a couple of times to help answer questions.

      2. Don, thanks for the information. I’m new to beekeeping and harvested a little honey this fall. It was a lot darker and thicker than I thought it was going to be. The taste was a strong natural flavor, that seems to take a little of getting used to. My Dad likes it. You’r evaluation of why it gets darker and thicker seems to make a lot of since to me. Thanks again for the info.

  3. I just bought some dark Honey. Is is bold and much more flavorful. I really like it over the lighter. On another note I’ve found that leaving it out in the Sun really helps to liquefy it when it starts getting hard.

  4. My husband bought some dark honey for our Christmas ham glaze. I never even saw it before. Excited to use it tomorrow. Your site was most informative!

  5. I drink hot, fresh ginger tea with lime and dark honey every morning.
    Is adding the honey to the hot tea making it lose the health benefits?

      1. Maybe I will just drink ginger and lime tea and eat 2 Tbs dark honey…lol!
        I drink this for indigestion and allergy symptoms and it works! And it is good!!
        My husband is now putting sliced ginger and honey in his iced tea.

        1. Yes.. thats what I do…eat 2 spoons of Honey before the tea…( T recipe, tea bag, Turmeric, ginger and cinnamin) that way you dont lose anything…

  6. Hi, I bought a 3 litre pot of honey for $ 10 at a farmers market here in NZ. It tastes like molasses, there is no honey taste at all it is very very dark and runny. Could this be molasses mixed with honey and sold as honey? Does one get very dark honey same colour as molasses?

    1. Hi Anita, sorry for the late response – I’ve never heard of molasses being mixed with honey and sold as honey. Maybe you could ask around and see if that particular farmer has a reputation for not selling what he says he’s selling? Very dark honey can certainly taste like molasses so it’s hard to say.

      1. I bought a big jar of honey last weekend from an Amish store. It is very dark. I could not wait to taste it. It was like wine. First you get the sweetness, then a little herby taste, then a little molasses taste. I asked them if it had molasses in it. They said it was their fall honey with no molasses mixed in. I have never heard of a difference in light and dark honey until last weekend. I have always bought honey from a store that carries the same apiary honey and it was always the light golden color. I do like the dark honey too.

  7. I do not think that as long as the tea is hot that it will hurt the honey 100 to 125 for there is places that get that hot in the sun. I have put it in coffee for years.

  8. I am no expert in honey. My understanding as for the lighter and darker honey is:
    honey harvested in the hotter season is lighter and darker in the colder season.
    The lighter honey in Summer is not as “powerful” as the Winter honey as the human body does not require the extra strength as in Winter?
    Any comments?

  9. Will honey last forever, i have heard that it is the only food that will not go bad.
    i Understand that it will need to be decrystallized.

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