Heated Honey Taste Test

Our last batch of honey this year was cloudy probably because it went through a commercial extractor that hadn’t been cleaned for a while. (See Cloudy Honey for a further explanation.) Apparently (because I’m not certain), commercial beekeepers clarify their honey by heating it as high as 140°F / 60°C* (a process that also delays crystallization). So it doesn’t make any difference to them if their extracted honey comes out cloudy; they just heat it. I know I’m still new at this beekeeping racket, but to my thinking, heating honey is bad news no matter how you look at it. Whether the extreme heat of pasteurization that transforms honey into plastic-flavoured grocery store goo, or the lower heat used only to clarify honey, I would think both processes either completely remove or diminish the compounds in the honey that preserve the unique floral flavours and aromas. I wonder if I’m correct in that thinking.

I don’t fault commercial beekeepers who have little choice but to meet market demands. The market for some reason demands honey that always looks clear and pretty on grocery store shelves, even if it means destroying most of the natural and beneficial properties of the honey. But given the choice, I’d pick the unprocessed honey every time. Why? Because it’s about a billion times better than honey that’s had everything that was ever good in it heated and filtered out of it. Not that every beekeeper who heats their honey is ruining their honey. 40°C, if that’s typical, doesn’t seem extreme. But 60°C does.

I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who only recently became familiar with the nuances of honey. I began like most people by eating heavily heated honey from the grocery store (“pure natural pasteurized honey”). Then I tasted honey from our hives and everything changed. I didn’t know what honey was until I tasted it fresh from our hives. I haven’t tasted any heated, mixed or ultra filtered honey that’s comparable.

At any rate, I decided to heat a jar of our cloudy extracted honey to see if I could clarify it like commercial honey producers do (though I suspect I used a considerably lower heat). Then I did a blind taste test to see if I really could tell the difference between cloudy extracted honey, heated extracted honey and our beautifully delicious and naturally clear crushed and strained honey. Here’s the video with the results. (The blind taste test begins at 2:20. It’s boring. You can skip to the 5:35 mark to view the results.)

P.S., I had planned to do a blind taste test with some other honey too, but I forgot. Also note that I couldn’t find the exact temperature that’s used to clarify commercial honey, but a bottle of organic honey I saw at a local shop claimed that the honey was heated to a maximum of 40°C*. Another note: This is not a record of a scientific test. It’s just me goofing around (I wouldn’t want anyone to take anything I do seriously).

12 thoughts on “Heated Honey Taste Test

  1. No, it’s RIAA-safe Greg Brown. “Jacob’s Ladder” from Honey In The Lion’s Head. (Buy it today!) But I should ask John is he can come up with a loopable ditty or two I can use as a bedtrack for these videos.

  2. Very interesting. I was actually surprised that you could tell the difference just from that short dip in the water. I’ve left my own honey unheated and it is still beautifully clear and runny.

  3. My first attempt at heating the honey consisted of a single dip in the hot water and it only partially cleared the cloudy honey. But then I did it again and kept refilling the bowl with hot water as it quickly cooled off. The honey was mildly heated in this manner for maybe two hours. That’s what finally clarified the honey.

    The naturally clear crushed and strained honey subtly explodes with those famous floral flavours. The aromas are pleasant, mild, though distinct (perhaps complex?). The cloudy honey carried many of the same flavours but a bit earthier. (My descriptions in the video aren’t the greatest. I draw a blank when I’m on camera, even when it’s just the back of my head. I prefer to stay behind the lens.) The heated honey wasn’t bad. The floral flavours were still there, but they seemed flatter, like someone turned the volume down.

    If I had only one or two hives, I would go foundationless in the honey supers all the way and only crush and strain — but I’d probably keep most of it as raw comb honey.

  4. Phil,

    I think the temperature in question is 40°C or 104°F and still maintain enzyme activity, floral flavour, etc. Think about the brood nest in the colony. It maintains a temperature around 35°C to keep the brood warm. So considering this the 40°C should be ok.

    That being said for those that heat their honey to 60°C probably do so because it clarifies quicker and time typically means money. For you and I you can still heat to clarify but take a while longer to achieve the same results. It’s a time versus temperature thing, it will clarify quicker with more heat or you can take longer to do the same job. Assuming time is not an issue.

  5. “…the brood nest in the colony. It maintains a temperature around 35°C to keep the brood warm. So considering this the 40°C should be ok.”

    That make perfect sense. That’s probably the temperature I read on the side of the bottle. I looked for as much info online before I wrote this post, but I couldn’t find a consistent number. It seemed all over the map, from 100°F to 160°F.

    I understand the need for heating honey, and heating it quickly. Even our main beekeeping friend heats his honey before he bottles it. It’s a simple of matter of sales. The honey that crystallizes in the bottle doesn’t sell. Most people want honey that stays clear in the bottle.

    Whatever I extract next year, I’m hoping to do it with a clean extractor so the cloudiness isn’t so much of an issue.

  6. I modified the post with this info. It seems more likely than the numbers I originally posted. I also removed the wording that makes it seem like I was coming after commercial honey producers, which I’m not. I’m just saying I’ve noticed a big difference between large-scale processed honey and the honey from my hives. I’ll completely re-write the post if I ever get confirmation from a commercial beekeeper.

  7. I did another unscientific taste test and I can still tell the difference between all the honeys. The crushed and strained honey still has the most complex or subtle flavours. The cloudy extracted honey from the same floral sources has a nearly identical flavour. It feels different on the tongue, heavier. Psychologically that might make it seem earthier. Who knows. The mildly heated extracted honey isn’t bad, but, like I said before, everything seems dialled down. The floral aromas don’t bust out when the jar is opened, and the flavour isn’t as distinct. It’s close, and still very good, but there’s a noticeable difference.

    In other news, I put some cut comb on a cracker with some blue cheese yesterday and holy jumpin’ Moses was it ever good. I did not expect that combination to work, but it was crazy with flavour, like nothing I’ve tasted before. For a split second it tasted like grape soda but then took off into something else I can’t describe. I did the same thing with a cheese called Red Leicester, a cheese that’s similar to Old Cheddar but more crumbly. That was good too. I also had some chipotle smoked goat cheese and cut comb on a garlic baguette and that was incredible.

    I may need to create a new category on Mud Songs called “Eating.” I’ll take some photos if we do it again any time soon.

  8. I went to an Italian restaurant once where a pudding of mild goats cheeses drizzled with blossom honey was offered. It was great.

    For Christmas I got a beekeeping book called ‘Getting the best from your bees’ by David MacFawn & Chris Slade (2011). It has some advice on honey bottling and says “Liquify crystallized honey by placing in hot non-boiling water for 30 minutes. This high temperature will destroy some enzymes that distinguish honey, a natural living product, from a collection of ‘chemical’ sugars….To avoid destroying the valuable enzymes, don’t allow honey to be heated above 120 degrees F….Anyone who has a taste for honey, knows that there is a difference between fresh unheated honey, moderately heated honey, and the industrialized syrup fobbed off on people as honey.”


  9. Emily Heath says:

    December 29, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    I went to an Italian restaurant once where a pudding of mild goats cheeses drizzled with blossom honey was offered. It was great.

    For Christmas I got a beekeeping book called ‘Getting the best from your bees’ by David MacFawn & Chris Slade (2011). It has some advice on honey bottling and says “Liquify crystallized honey by placing in hot non-boiling water for 30 minutes. This high temperature will destroy some enzymes that distinguish honey, a natural living product, from a collection of ‘chemical’ sugars….To avoid destroying the valuable enzymes, don’t allow honey to be heated above 120 degrees F….Anyone who has a taste for honey, knows that there is a difference between fresh unheated honey, moderately heated honey, and the industrialized syrup fobbed off on people as honey.”

    Emily, I am delighted that you read our book. I lived in Argentia for a while back in the 1978 time frame. I am happy to see beekeeping alive and well in Newfoundland!

    David MacFawn

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