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Varietal honeys vary in hue from deep brown buckwheat  honey to pale gold raspberry honey, cinnamon-colored saw palmetto honey, and amber-hued blueberry honey. Photo courtesy of



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February 2005
Updated September 2008

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Honeys, Sugars & Syrups

Pairing Varietal Honey

With Food & Beverages


The color and flavor of honeys differ depending on the nectar source visited by the honey bees. There are more than 300 unique types of honey made by bees in the United States, each originating from a different floral source.

As you can see in the sampler of varietal honeys at the left* and the photo of varietal honeys on the Honey main page, honey color ranges from the nearly colorless (basswood) to dark brown (buckwheat). Its flavor varies from subtly sweet to rigorously bold, depending on the blossoms from which the honey bees drew their nectar. Honey takes its flavor from its flower: buckwheat honey does taste of buckwheat, orange blossom honey does have a subtle taste of orange blossom.

The chart below discusses some of the most distinctly different yet generally available U.S. varietals, along with suggestions of how to pair them with everyday foods.*  You’ll want to try them all. They’re available online from honey specialists: if you can’t find a specific varietal from a specialty foods purveyor, go to, a service of the National Honey Board that matches consumers with beekeepers who sell particular varieties.

Clover honey, the kind most seen on grocery shelves, is the most mild and least distinctive of honeys. It’s the granulated sugar of honeydom. Wildflower honey, the other most commonly-found variety, can vary widely in flavor by region, depending on the varieties of wildflowers. Large producers tend to blend the honeys they buy to create a uniform taste. For the best varietal honeys, visit your specialty store or e-tailer.


*Food and beverage pairings courtesy of BeeRaw.

Honey / Primary

About The Tree Or Shrub

About The Honey

Food/Beverage Pairings

Basswood Honey


Upstate New York


Cranberry Bush
The blossoming basswood tree.

Clusters of cream-colored flowers are attached to a leafy bract and the nectar collects in the sepals. The honey is water-white with a good flavor. The basswood will usually grow quite well as an ornamental tree and is known for its shade and its nectar.

Very light in color, basswood honey is delicate and crisp, with a bit of a bite,  warm herbal notes and a distinctive, clean finish.

Basswood honey has a fresh taste often characterized as similar to green ripening fruit, both on the palate and in its lingering aftertaste.

Green apples

Fromage blanc
Vanilla ice cream
Mint tea

Blueberry Honey


Sourwood Tree
Photo courtesy of National Honey

Blueberries are prevalent in many areas of North America, primarily in the northern and eastern United States and Canada. Maine, Oregon, Michigan and New Jersey are some of the important blueberry-growing regions. Blueberries are self-sterile and must be cross-pollinated by bees. There are more than 20 species of low shrubs with bell-shaped white or pinkish flowers. All are much visited by bees. The honey is white with an excellent flavor.

Amber hued, blueberry honey is rich and dense and can have an aroma reminiscent of green leaves with a touch of lemon. It has a moderate fruity flavor with a delicate aftertaste. To best experience the taste, let the honey sit in your mouth for a short time. Many people can experience the actual taste of blueberries in the honey.

Blueberry honey also has a tendency to crystallize, although this has no impact on the flavor or quality. Crystals can be dissolved by putting the jar in warm water or for a few seconds in the microwave.

Hot cereal

Pancakes and waffles

On muffins and nut breads
Cafe con leche

Buckwheat Honey


Upstate New York

Photo courtesy of Diana Sammataro, Penn State University.

Buckwheat blooms quite early and the bees work it intensely in the mornings, becoming very cross in the afternoons when the nectar flow ceases. The honey is dark amber or purple, usually referred to as black. To many consumers the color resembles molasses —but the flavor is unforgettable.

Rich and dark brown in color, the strongly-flavored buckwheat honey is a favorite of many connoisseurs. It carries the distinct flavor of buckwheat: not a very sweet honey but one with a pungent, earthy and hay aroma, layers of malty and molasses flavors, and a long, pronounced finish.

With any strong cheese, especially blue cheeses

Paired with grapefruit is an excellent palate cleanser
Drizzled over spicy chili
Mixed with butter over cornbread, oatmeal, or anything that maple syrup would complement
When baking hearty breads or traditional honey cake
In barbecue sauce
Hot milk or soy milk
Elderflower tea
Chicory coffee

Cranberry Honey




Cranberry Honey
Photo courtesy of Blessed Bee Apiaries.

These low evergreen shrubs are an important cultivated crop in the Northeast. They also grow wild in some areas. Individual bogs do not bloom more than two weeks. Little or no honey is obtained when bees are placed for pollination, a requirement if cranberries are to be produced commercially.

Medium amber in color, cranberry honey truly reflects its floral source, with a delicate cranberry aroma. it is mildly tart yet smooth, with a pungent and lingering fruit finish. A favorite with chefs.

With dark chocolate in any form

In cranberry sauce
In fruit preserves in place of sugar
Cranberry and chamomile teas

Desert Wildflower Honey


Arizona Desert


Photo courtesy of Blessed Bee Apiaries.

Light to medium amber in color, desert wildflower is a complex honey with lily notes and a sharp sweet finish. Sources for this honey include mesquite and cat’s claw.

Straight off the spoon

In balsamic vinaigrette
On slices of crusty bread
Herbal and green teas

Orange Blossom Honey



Photo courtesy of

A leading honey plant in southern Florida, Texas, Arizona and California, Orange trees bloom in March and April and produce a white to extra-light amber honey with a distinctive flavor and the aroma of orange blossoms.

Orange blossom honey has a sweet and fruity taste, reminiscent of citrus blossoms.

Medium amber in color, orange blossom is a classic american honey. It is thick and full bodied with a strong floral aroma smooth citrus finish.

A versatile honey that can be used in a variety of culinary

• Great for baking
• Mix into salad dressings
• To glaze ham or brie
• Over ice cream, fruit salad, crumpets

English Breakfast, Assam or Ceylon teas
Lemonade (mix the lemon juice and honey together first, then add water)

Raspberry Honey




orange blossom
Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The raspberry plant is a thorny shrub that produces just one crop of fruit per year. Clusters of white, 5-petaled, rose-like flowers in spring give way to red raspberries which mature in summer.

Pale yellow in color, raspberry honey is light and floral with an aroma of cocoa butter and perfume. It is mellow and smooth on the palate. It is dessert honey.

Raspberry walnut vinaigrette

With pastry
Raspberry and Earl Grey teas

Sage Honey



Sage honey comes from the sage bush of Western lore.

Shrubs 3 to 8 feet tall bearing two-lipped white flowers bloom from April to July along the coastal area of southern California from Santa Barbara to Mexico, in canyons and on mountain slopes to 2500 feet.

Translucent yellow in color, sage honey is mild with a slightly warm essence, a bit of pepper and a smooth clean finish. Sage honey is rich and light with a predominant sweet, clover-like flavor and an elegant floral aftertaste. Won't overpower other ingredients in recipes.

Chicken marinades and glazes

Manchego cheese

Milder herbal teas, green tea


Saw Palmetto



Saw Palmetto
Photo courtesy of Fairchild Garden,
© C. Cairns.

Tall trees of up to 60 feet, palmetto tree trunks usually have persistent leaf bases and a single cluster of palmate leaves at the top. The whitish flowers occur in great compound clusters. Distributed from North Carolina south to Florida, palmetto is especially abundant along the coast and widely planted for ornamental reasons beyond its range.

Medium amber in color, saw palmetto honey is full-bodied, citrusy and herbal with woody overtones and a strong finish.



Ham and other meats

Hard Italian cheeses such as Asiago


Strong black tea

Lemonade (mix lemon juice with honey first, then add water)


Sourwood Honey


North Carolina

Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech
Department of Entomology.

In summer the sourwood
tree has long, drooping clusters of  fragrant white flowers which resemble lily-of-the-valley. Sourwood tree leaves turn bright scarlet, orange or crimson in the fall, and are sour to the taste— but the blossom nectar yields a prized, spicy honey.

Sourwood honey has a sweet, spicy, anise aroma and flavor. It has a definite sour-tart quality, with hints of maple and a warm finish.

Medium amber in color, sourwood honey does not crystallize. It is a rare honey with a big local following, found only in the southern United States.

Asian foods

Barbecue sauce
Iced tea (add to tea before ice)
Try sparingly with stronger green teas


Sources:, National Honey Board:,

Favorite Honey Books

Find out what makes honey buzz.

Letters from the Hive Robbing the Bees Honey: From Flower to Table
Letters from the Hive: Explore the love/hate relationship between the bees and their keepers. Click here for more information. Robbing the Bees: A biography of the liquid gold that changed the world. Click here for more information. Honey - From Flower to Table: Trace the amazing process that turns flower nectar into honey. Click here for more information.



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