Difference between: light honey and dark honey

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?

Kudos to my friend Jenny for suggesting this Difference Between post.honey-5732_1280

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.

Find out the difference between corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup >>


43 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. Thanks for the information. My customers wanted to know the difference and I do refer them to this page. Thanks again.

  3. 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.”

  4. How can I know whether honey is heated and dark or just dark from nature? Thank you

    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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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…

  8. 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.

    2. It sounds like honey from the Buckwheat flower. This is very dark and even tastes like molasses

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

  12. Pure Clover Honey; is it a better alternative for sweeting coffee or is there a better honey out there?

  13. I’m looking for the lightest honey there is. I’ve seen honey so light in color it’s almost clear, but I can’t find or identify the source of it. Can you help?

    1. My honey is really light, but I’ve feed sugar syrup 1st year going have my family test it. I’m going to check it with a glucose test kit

    2. Hi again Dolores – I reached out to the American Honey Producers Association and they said: “In industry terms we call it “water white” and it is almost clear. It has a lighter taste and usually comes from clover. Different floral sources have different colors and taste. Honey is graded from light to dark, darker being a heavier flavor. It is purely a taste preference for a person – some like light, some like dark and some like the mid-range – but the lighter the honey usually has a higher price.” Hope that helps!

  14. Hi Erin I came across your site by looking into using honey. I enjoyed your site very much. Your information is very helpful to me since I am a novice on honey. Hope to keep reading your site for help with questions I might have on using honey. Thanks

  15. This year in Western Virginia was very dry. When we harvested after the spring flow our honey was very dark and concentrated. It looked like black strap molasses. Very rich and flavorful. Our customers at the local farmers market were hesitant to buy such dark honey. After some research, I found that darker honey has a higher antioxidant content and less water. When I explained this to them, sales rose to normal levels.

    We never feed our bees during the nectar flows because we want floral nectar honey…not granulated processed white sugar honey. That’s how many other countries increase their honey production, unfortunately this reduces the medicinal properties as well as the pollen content of the honey.

  16. I live in central British Columbia. It was a long, hot , very smoky summer. We provided our bees with a constant source of fresh water and fed them approximately 5 cups of 2:1 syrup about once a week. We have two hives (one started out queenless) and the yield was approximately 90 lbs this year. The honey is a few shades darker than Nutella and very thick. A local bee keeper (120 hives , 40+ years experience) suggested this may be because our bees were taking primarily from birch trees. Thoughts?

Comments are closed.