September 14, 2006
How sweet it is: behind the buzz at two of California’s hives
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At a commercial farm like Bennett's, they import queen bees from special breeders, so as not to lose any bees or honey. Private beekeepers often wait for the colony to create their own new queen. Drones, or male bees, mate with the queen. They die after mating. The queen bee can live five years.
Most of the bees in a hive are worker bees -- females who live 30 to 45 days. They spend the first half of their lives taking care of the hive. They spend the second half gathering pollen and nectar from flowers. The pollen travels from plant to plant, and the nectar is what is made into honey. The bees carry the nectar back to the hive, transferring it by tongue to other bees, who transfer it again to other bees. Their digestive enzymes thicken the nectar and break it down from a diglyceride to a monoglyceride. Other bees fan the nectar, dehydrating it; honey has a moisture content of less than 18 percent.
"We don't use water on the equipment throughout the season," Bennett says, because honey contains its own antioxidants.
Bees in nature gather nectar from a variety of flowers, creating what we eat today, the generic wildflower honey. But if you place your hive near one flower, you can create what is known as a honey "varietal." These varietals have different textures, colors, tastes and aftertastes. Here at Bennett's, the honey varietals are made according to season. Oranges come first, then sage. Bennett's also produces avocado honey, cactus honey, buckwheat honey, eucalyptus and wildflower.
Niall divides honey into four categories: fruity and floral, herbal, spice, and deep and earthy honeys.
- Fruity and Floral Honeys like orange, wildflower, raspberry, sunflower and wildflower, offer "a fresh, sometimes tropical fruity component in dressings, marinades, sauces, candy and cold drinks such as smoothies, iced tea or lemonade," she writes. They are best in baking and in tea.
- Herbal Honeys like avocado, eucalyptus, sage, rosemary and thyme, are smoother and less assertive, she says, making them better for chicken and fish dishes and for use in simple glazes for meats, especially in uncooked sauces.
- Spice honeys, like leatherwood, linden, manuka and pumpkin blossom, can taste like they are infused with spices, and are good paired with cheese and fruit, or for marinade or basting sauces requiring strong spices.
- Deep and earthy honeys like buckwheat, blueberry, pine and wild oak, are not good for teas, but are the most aromatic, and can be used to complement strong cheeses, or to top pancakes and ice cream. In sauces "they hold up well with red wine," she says, and can also be used for baking deep, rich desserts.
So this Rosh Hashanah, even if you can't make your own honey, go to your local health food store and buy a different varietal to use in recipes, on challah and with apples.
No matter which honey you use, though, it's all the same blessing: "Yehi Ratzon melifanecha shetichadesh aleinu shana tova u metuka." May it Be Your Will that we should have a sweet new year.
On Sept. 19 from 5-8 p.m., Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard will be hosting a honey tasting event, with honey from Bennett's Honey Farm.