WHAT IS HONEY?
Honey is a common food product, but there are many things about this very useful, nutritious and precious product of nature that we do not know. From a biological point of view, honey is considered a reserve food. Bees are the only insects to produce it, and they do this because they need to accumulate food supplies for themselves, thus transforming fresh nutrients such as pollen and nectar into something highly nutritious but long-lasting.
Bees create the honey as we know it. The beekeeper does nothing but extract the honey and make it available to us. Nothing is added, so as not to alter the product, keeping its multiple properties intact. We are used to seeing honey both in liquid form (which is the form it has inside the honeycomb) and crystallized form. This latter form is not usable for bees, in fact if the honey were left in the honeycomb, it would constantly maintain the liquid state. Crystallization, on the other hand, occurs after some time (a time that varies according to the type of honey) and is not a defect of the product, but a natural evolution of it.
Another feature that makes this little treasure that nature provides us unique is that even if it is stored for a very long time and without much care, honey does not become a health hazard. The only “side effect” is that as more time passes, the more its health benefits diminish.
On a nutritional level, honey is used as a sweetener and its main nutritional function is to provide energy immediately and without the addition of artificial substances that can be harmful to the body. Obviously it should be consumed in moderation given the high amount of sugars that comprise it, but its sweetening power is so high that it takes very little to obtain the desired result.
THE HONEY AROMA
Honey is a food with a strong, unmistakable primary aroma that we often refer to as the “honey aroma”. To this is added a multitude of other aromas that help us understand its origin and make it more suitable for specific pairings and uses in the kitchen. For this reason, some researchers have created an aroma wheel that collects all the aromas of the honeys on the market and which is a valid aid during tasting. Here is an example of some of the aromatic categories of honey:
- Floral (violet rose, orange blossom, ...)
- Warm (caramel, milk, vanilla, toasted hazelnuts, ...)
- Fruity, Aromatic (resin, wood, camphor, cloves, ...)
- Chemical (soap, vinegar, smoked, ...)
- Vegetable (grass, hay, mushrooms, ...)
- Animal (cheese, egg, bouillon cube, ...)
Each type of honey has its own "identity card" which is determined by many aromatic and chromatic facets. Now let's take a look at some of the characteristics of the best known honeys.
TYPES OF HONEY
There are many types of honey on the market, which differ mainly in their botanical and geographical origin.
Let's start with perhaps the most famous one, the generic wildflower honey. To be precise, it is not a single product, but a multitude of different products as many as there are combinations of different flowers that create the composition. Yet in their being "variegated" in their substance, wildflower honeys take on precise specificities and characteristics based on their area of origin. In Italy we notice great differences in aroma, scent and color based on the areas where the beekeeper collects his honey. The honeys that are produced in the Marches region, for example, are very sweet and have a round taste, while those from the region around Salento are more pungent and almost spicy.
When the botanical origin is specific to one flower, the honey produced is referred to as a single flower honey. Its value lies in the uniqueness of the organoleptic characteristics and their composition of the specific flower.
- ACACIA HONEY (or ROBINIA): produced throughout Italy, it has a very light color and tends to crystallize little. Its scent is not very intense, it has a very sweet flavor and the aroma is reminiscent of vanilla. This very soft honey is widely used in the kitchen.
- CITRUS HONEY: produced mostly in the southern areas, it is part of a specific and mixed category at the same time. It is rarely possible to obtain honeys from a single variety of citrus fruit (such as lemon, or orange), but usually these honeys are born from a mixture of their pollens. Light in color, and with a floral scent, these honeys give a very harmonious taste that is most delicious when served cold, and is almost always an accompaniment to desserts, enhancing their characteristics.
- CHESTNUT HONEY: produced throughout Italy with particular concentration in the mountainous and foothill areas. The color tends to be darker than the other honeys mentioned above, and has a scent that seems almost chemical or artificial, like that of laundry soap. The taste is very pungent and bitter, and goes perfectly with savory preparations and tastings (for example, with cheeses, or on bread accompanied by butter).
- EUCALYPTUS HONEY: a very particular honey, its aromas recall those of warm caramel and undergrowth. It tends to crystallize a lot, and its flavor is moderately intense, not too sweet, too sour nor too bitter. This unique feature makes it suitable for savory preparations such as in sauces as an accompaniment to raw meat or vegetables.
- WILD APPLE HONEY: it is harvested in some areas of Italy towards the end of summer and it is not possible to decipher its specific origin. It has a very dark color and almost never crystallizes, it has an acidic, vegetable odor, and a flavor similar to its aroma. It can be used as a substitute for caramel in sweet preparations or alongside fresh dairy products in savory ones.
- RHODODENDRON HONEY: it is produced only in the mountains, it has a very light color and a fruity and aromatic smell which is also reflected in its taste. It is very versatile and pleasant, and expresses its maximum potential paired with nuts.
- LINDEN HONEY: produced on the slopes of the Alps, it has a scent reminiscent of resin and with notes of camphor. This woody and strong aroma is somewhat reminiscent of medicinal herbs. It has a strong personality, and is best enjoyed with herbal tea.
Nature therefore offers us a large quantity of products that originate from the same base, but then develop into a full and heterogeneous wheel of intensities, flavors, aromas and colors. All that remains is to try them all!
And, as for wine, there are tasting techniques for honey to discover its hidden bouquets and reveal all of its flavors. TASTERPLACE has developed a Honey aroma kit for the Italian courses offered by SCUOLA ITALIANA SOMMELIER. To find out more about their Honey tasting courses go to https://www.scuolaitalianasommelier.