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In an effort to offer a consistent taste, color, and viscosity, anything that might reflect a unique time of season in a specific place is melted down and processed to create a mediocre syrup everyone has grown accustomed to. This humdrum version of honey never excites the taste-buds. Generic honey left is no match for the unique tastes and flavors of local honeys straight from the hive which can express many characteristics and transport you to a unique time and place. If you were to open the hives at Lurie Garden and taste the honey it would taste differently from honey from a hive in Louisiana or even a hive on the other side of the city.
Honey expresses many characteristics including color, texture, viscosity, taste, smell, and how quickly it crystalizes. Flowers produce a sugary fluid called nectar as a means of attracting all sorts of insects for the purpose of pollination. The meeting of the flowers pollen and its stigma starts the process of pollination or fertilization, enabling the plant to make seeds for its next generation.
Honey is made mainly by insects from the species Apis mellifera — fondly known to everyone as honeybees. Honeybees make separate foraging trips to collect pollen and nectar. Nectar is carried in the abdomen in a special place call the honey stomach. During both foraging expeditions, the honeybee gets covered in pollen, helping fertilize the flower.
While out foraging, honeybees mix the collected nectar with enzymes in their mouth, then store the nectar solution in a special pouch inside their abdomen called a honey stomach. The enzymes break down the sugar into simpler forms which resist bacterial growth. The dehydration process is then continued by the house bees. This honey stays unspoiled and unfermented for years…even ancient Egyptian tombs have been found to contain unspoiled honey!
Where bees get their nectar and pollen depends on the season and the available blooming plants in the area. This all contributes to how the honey tastes, as well as to its color and texture. When the honeybee is wrestling in a flower collecting nectar and pollen, she gets covered in pollen granules which inevitably find their way into the finished capped honey.
Univarietal honeys are created by placing a hive in a spot where, within about a 3 miles 4 km radius, there is an abundance of one type of plant blooming. These honeys are harvested right after a particular flower, usually a crop, is done blooming. Even still, univarietal honey may have a different taste depending on the region and growing season. Wild blueberry univarietal honey has strong tasting notes of blueberries and even an indigo tint to the color. For example, wild blueberry honey has strong tasting notes of blueberries and even an indigo tint to the color.
But often a honey does not have an obvious correlation to the flowers it was foraged from. Buckwheat honey does not really taste of buckwheat — it is a dark-colored honey with a rich, molasses taste. Linden tree flowers produce a honey that tastes minty and has a light color. When extracting honey sometimes small amount of resin ends up in the honey. Bees forage resin from tree trunks to seal the hive from the elements.
When tree resin makes contact with a bees mouth parts, it is considered propolis. When opening a hive the propolis seal is broken. If some of the propolis gets in the honey a light pine or nutty taste may add to the flavor profile of the honey. The nectar and pollen of a flower does not always have an obvious correlation in the taste of the finished honey. This is fortunate as we have many ornamental onion flowers in the garden! It is not unlike becoming familiar with wines or cheeses.
You may find it enjoyable to play with drizzling honey on various cheeses or nuts or matching honeys in your cooking to compliment spices being used. Lurie Garden honey, shown here, is available for purchase only during our Urban Wild event in October! Tasting a few honeys in a row may help you clearly see their differences, but too many can get confusing. Be sure to take a break and eat simple foods such crackers, apple slices, or plain almonds.
Drink some water and start again. After you start to get familiar with the differences between honeys you may find it enjoyable to play with pairing honey with various foods, whether it is drizzling it on various cheeses or nuts or matching honeys in your cooking to compliment spices being used. Lurie Garden has two hives, but you cannot find them in the main garden area.
They are found in a restricted area west of the garden.
The Chicago Honey Coopwho manages our hives, harvests our honey in late summer. On average, pounds of honey is collected each year and 70 pounds of honey is left in each hive so the bees have plenty of food to last through the long Chicago winter. The beekeepers from Chicago Honey Coop take the frames from our hive that are full of capped honey to their extraction facility.
The honey slowly pours out of a spout at the bottom of the extractor into a bucket and is filtered. The honey that remains is raw, which means it is never heated. Our honey is lighter in color in spring and darker and richer in fall. The jarred honey you can buy at our Urban Wild event each October is a blend of the two seasons because we only harvest once. Every year we get questions about its availability and we sell out of the honey within the first hour of Urban Wild!
Our honey is a blend of different plant nectars and not a univarietal honey of predominantly one plant. Eastern bee balm, various ornamental onion flowers, and salvia seem to be the main attraction for bees in late spring. Calamint, blunt mountain mint, and anise hyssop are popular plants for bees in mid-summer through fall.
Honeybees will commonly travel as far away as three miles in any direction to forage for nectar, so the plants in the garden may be only a fraction of where they forage. The red dot on this map shows the location of the Lurie Garden hives relative to the garden. How do we find out what plant species were foraged for our honey? What is the secret plant mix that is giving Lurie Garden honey its remarkable flavor? Professor Vaughn M. Bryant can trace pollen grains that were found in centuries-old archeological artifacts as well as from crime scenes, even long-ago murders where the cases have gone cold!
Some of these pollen grains will end up in honey. But it is also not a simple correlation of pollen grains of a particular plant found in honey and the amount of nectar used to make the honey from the same plant. Some flowers do not produce the same ratio of pollen and nectar. The tiny forget-me-not weed flowers Myosotis sp. So honey with many forget me not pollen grains and few honey locust pollen grains will likely be getting most of its flavor from the black honey locust.
Image of a linden tree pollen grain, provided by Dr. Vaughn Bryant. Bryant came up with an algorithm to arrive at what different flower nectars comprise a particular honey by analyzing the types and amounts of the various pollen grains that are in a honey. He chemically dehydrates the honey sample and then scans the resulting pollen residue at x under a microscope.
After identifying the various pollen grains he tediously arrives at a count of the various pollen grains expressed at more than grains. Clover He analyzed our honey and came up with some surprising .
The top plant contributors to our Lurie Garden honey include several trees, notably linden, hawthorn, maple, and redbud. Clover was represented as was a rose family pollen. Bryant had trouble identifying which rose family plant the pollen was from due to the many of the pollen grains in the rose family looking very similar, though he did note how it looked very much like goatsbeard pollen, which we have in large amounts of in the garden.
We get teased for having so many clover plants invading turf areas in Lurie Garden, but now we can say we keep it for the bees! Lurie Garden visitors often notice the amount of honeybee activity around the mint family plants. Surprisingly, there was only a small amount of mint family plants represented in our honey. It seems the mint family plants are always so busy with activity, imagine how much more busy they are with the other plants, especially flowering trees, when they visit in Lurie Garden and the surrounding park!
The result of this pollen analysis explains some of the tasting notes in our honey. We have the lemony, minty element from the linden nectar and the light sweetness of black locust trees. Perhaps the hawthorn nectar, which has a somewhat unpleasant scent contributes a slightly astringent undertone that actually enhances the overall flavor by keeping the heady, floral notes from the clover and goatsbeard from becoming too cloying.
The flowers and weather of a particular place is as integral as honeybees themselves to creating artisanal, raw honey, not the homogenized product sold in squeezable plastic bears. When you care about interesting, artisanal food, you care about a particular location be it your own home or a place you love to visit. You then become not a passive consumer but a noticer of the environment and an engaged citizen.
Life becomes, like our multi-floral honey, enriching. Marina Marchese. Great resource list from the Chicago Honey Co-op. Great story, Laura. Bake until the biscuits and chicken are done.
Serve the crispy chicken with halved biscuits drizzled with honey and a green salad on the side. Oh yum! Beautiful essay about honey and beekeeping. What a pleasure it is to visit Lurie Garden and know that you are harvesting honey, perhaps the best food in the world, from your work. Fascinating post! I had no idea that there were Lurie Garden honeybee hives.
I will have to go to the next Urban Wild and get myself some. Hello Great writing idea. We know,bees are important for our environment. Your article learn more about bees. The honey lab was a blast! After tasting more than 10 different kinds of honey textures, my experience was both educational and tasty. Learning how bees make honey and how they reproduce to make both more bees and honey it must be a struggle to be a bee. Honestly the aroma of each container mostly smelled the same but there were certain ones that made my nose want to blow up.
The bases of the lab was still a fun way to learn about bees that i didnt realize the U. S makes bank off of. There are different kinds of ways that honey is used to make products for our consumption but still the root of it all is identifying the differences between each honey. A flavored honey was bought at a fair near where I live.
The seller said that the flavors came from the plants that the bees visited but at the bottom of one jar was a green fluid. Does anyone know what that is? How mysterious! Does anyone know what honey tastes like that has potato pollen? Going to get started beekeeping, and I am surrounded by potato fields. I was recently visiting New Zealand and spoke to a beekeeper who told me that her bees store honey from one group of plants, like Manuka,?
So to put it another way, the bees can segregate the honey derived from different plants.Honey needs sweetie
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Why honeys taste different and how you can learn to appreciate them