ALTOONA, Iowa — For many consumers, honey is honey. But producers like Chris Gorman know that is not the case. The flavor varies dramatically, depending on the plants where the bees are collecting pollen.
“That’s something I didn’t know when I started out,” says Gorman, who operates Upstream Gardens and Orchard. “For example, we have a lot of berries here at our farm, so we get a lot of berry pollen in our honey.”
Other honey producers may see more wildflower influence, or perhaps more clover. All of those influence the taste of the honey.
Timing also plays a role. Honey harvested early in the year will be a bit different than honey gathered later in the year simply because there are different plants pollinating at different times.
Gorman says that is the reason some honey at his store will appear darker than other honey. Some honey producers will mix light and dark honey. Others may sell items such as whipped honey, which is made by taking honey that has crystallized and putting it in a blender.
Either way, the honey market is buzzing these days, according to Roy Kraft, president of the Iowa Honey Producers Association. The state organization has about 1,200 members and sponsors a booth in the agriculture building at the Iowa State Fair, where they sell items such as honey lemonade.
For Gorman, honey production is part of a farm business that includes all types of berries, fruits and vegetables. That gives his bees a wide variety of plants to use, he says. But he also keeps some of his more than 30 hives on other farms to take advantage of the pollen in those areas. And many fruit or vegetable producers want to have hives on their land to promote good pollination.
Gorman checks his hives often and harvests the honey twice a year. The early harvest generally comes before the goldenrod blooms, and the second harvest comes late in the year and produces a darker honey due to the plants in bloom during that season.
Some honey consumers think honey can help them deal with allergies, but Gorman makes no claims on that issue, other than to say if that is a reason for buying, get honey that is produced close to where you live.
Other users are more interested in how best to substitute honey for sugar in recipes. According to the association, it is best to substitute a half to three quarters of a cup of honey for one cup of sugar, and to add a half teaspoon of baking soda for every cup of honey used when cooking. Also, reduce the amount of liquid by about a quarter cup for every cup of honey used and reduce the oven temperature by about 25 degrees to prevent over-browning of baked goods.
Honey should be stored at room temperature, Gorman says. Refrigeration speeds up the process of crystallization.
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