Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services apiary inspector Julie McClurg of Fort Pierce demonstrates the inspection process to beekeepers during the Florida State Beekeepers Association conference in West Palm Beach on Oct. 4, 2014. (Palm Beach Post)
No such thing as plain old honey, Panhandle beekeeper says
Posted: 5:56 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014
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By Susan Salisbury- Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
WEST PALM BEACH —
If your favorite kind of honey is “regular honey,” Roy Smith wants you to know there is no such thing. But there are 130 different varieties of honey available from the popular orange blossom to the rare and sought-after Tupelo to unusual honeys — such as bamboo, cotton and peppermint — o tempt the taste buds.
Smith, the 2014 University of Florida master beekeeper, says he can talk about honey nonstop for eight hours without repeating himself. He’s also double-majoring in honey and Africanized bees at UF’s Bee College.
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“Honey is nature’s most perfect food,” Smith said. “It does not spoil or go bad for any reason.”
On Saturday at the Florida State Beekeepers Association’s annual conference in West Palm Beach, Smith — who hails from the Pensacola-area community of Cantonment — had 44 varieties for beekeepers to try. He and his wife, Joyce, own R & J Apiaries and have been keeping bees since 1985.
There’s a technique when it comes to tasting honey. Take the tasting stick — a wooden toothpick — dip it down into the jar, then up and sideways, then twirl it around.
+ Thomas Cordy
Roy Smith of Cantonment holds two of his more than 40 varieties of honey during the Florida State Beekeepers Association conference ... read more
“If you stop twirling on the way, you’ve got problems,” said Smith who wore a baseball cap peppered with medals from various honey and beekeeping events. He’s also a senior Welsh honey judge, a methodology from Ireland.
As participants started with Tupelo, which Smith calls the “Cadillac of honeys,” he told them the favored type of Tupelo tree only grows in the swamp of the Apalachicola River Basin in North Florida and South Georgia.
That’s the white variety, not to be confused with the black variety in Mississippi.
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“This is the Cadillac of honeys,” said Roy Smith of Cantonment of his Tupelo honey during the Florida State Beekeepers Association ... read more
“It’s hard to describe. The best way to do it is to taste it,” Smith said. “My palette is different from yours.”
The golden Tupelo honey has been like gold for beekeepers this year. Honey of all types has reached all-time high prices, and Tupelo is the most expensive. The only problem is that this year the timber and pulp industries have been cutting many of the trees.
Beekeepers go into the swamp by boat and place bee boxes on platforms. Then the bees collect the nectar and do their work. The final result is a 4-ounce jar of Tupelo that fetches $10, or a $20 a pint.
+ Thomas Cordy
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services apiary inspector Julie McClurg of Fort Pierce demonstrates the inspection process to beekeepers during ... read more
While Tupelo doesn’t granulate, other honeys do. Just warm them at a temperature no greater than 120 degrees, and they’ll turn back into liquid.
“We will never meet the demand. People will fight you about whether it’s the best honey in the world. Tupelo honey is made by the bees and angels. It’s heavenly ambrosia to your taste buds,” Smith said.
In general, the lighter the honey the sweeter it is. Dark honeys have a stronger flavor, some of them slightly bitter, but contain more antioxidants, minerals and vitamins.
Orange blossom is Florida’s best-selling honey, followed by Tupelo, gallberry and honey from palm trees, Smith said. Nationally, clover is the top seller.
Buckwheat is the darkest honey, Smith said, and it’s not produced in Florida. Tasting the strong-flavored buckwheat, reminiscent of molasses, is “jumping in with both feet,” into the dark side, he said.
Another unusual slightly bitter honey from the Titi tree reminded one beekeeper of grape soda.
The beekeepers wanted to know how to get their honey certified organic.
Smith said that while organic is for real because bees can forage in areas where no chemicals are used, there’s no certification that’s universally accepted. He recommends the state of Pennsylvania’s organic certification program.
“The bee in her lifetime makes one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. For one pound of honey, the bees visit over two million flowers and fly the equivalent of two-and-half-times around the world. And you think honey is expensive,” Smith said.
The man who enjoys educating people about all things honey finally concedes that yes, there are many varieties of honey, but only two kinds: “good and gooder.”
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