Note: Although this piece was published in October of 2013 it was updated and slightly revised in December of 2017.
Honey is produced in every state and most countries. Over 300 different varieties are available to us in the US. And, it’s been used as a sweetener long before sugar became widely available.
Most of us probably pick honey off the grocery store shelf or farmers market booth without giving it much thought, but have you ever wondered about the difference between light honey and dark honey?
Where the Flavor Comes From
Before honey is the sweet substance we know it to be, the process begins with flowers. Flowers are pollinated by bees; in exchange, the flowers disburse nectar. Nectar is mostly made of up sugars, which bees use in conjunction with a few other minor substances to make honey.
The color, flavor, and even the scent of honey can vary widely depending on the source of nectar. In addition, the weather plays a significant role.
As Honey.com says, “Even the same flower blooming in the same location may produce slightly different nectar from year to year.”
Single-Flower Honey VS Wildflower Honey
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.
Light, Dark & In Between
Honey can be light colored, dark, or anywhere in between. Generally, 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.
In between light and dark honey there is “amber” colored honey, which can be derived from flowers such as star-thistle, sage, or alfalfa.
Dark Honey: The Healthier Choice
While darker honey is more flavorful and intense than light, it also contains more nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
As a specific example, scientists at the University of Illinois years ago compared Illinois buckwheat to California sage and found the buckwheat to contain 20 times the amount of antioxidants.
Lighter Doesn’t Always Mean Milder
It should mentioned that although typically the lighter the color of the honey the less intense the flavor, there are exceptions to this guideline, 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.
Honey Preferences by Region
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.