Wachtberg-Villip (dpa/tmn) – Small foragers with big yields: bees are in flowers and trees all over the world. In Germany, for example, rapeseed, acacia and lime honey are among the best known varieties.
Marion Hoffmann of the German Beekeepers Association’s honey testing center has had these and rarer varieties in the lab and knows how they come about.
How many types of honey are there in Germany?
Marion Hoffmann: First of all, it has to be said that honey can be differentiated in different ways, for example, depending on how it is obtained. There are centrifuged honeys, but also pressed, drip or seim. Comb honey, on the other hand, is a specific type of supply. In addition, a distinction is made between flower honey and honeydew honey depending on the origin.
The latter differ again: there are general designations, such as summer flower or forest honey, where the different plants are contained in different proportions. On the other hand, there are the specific types of honey, for example rapeseed honey for flower honeys or spruce honey for molasses honeys. In Germany there are about twenty flower honeys, plus a handful of molasses honeys.
What is your personal favourite?
Marion Hoffmann: Not specific, but I prefer the light honeys from spring forage – the bees’ harvest for honey production is called forage. It can be rapeseed honey or spring flower honey, which contains maple, rapeseed and dandelion, which gives very light honey a slightly yellowish color.
What exactly gives honeys their special color and why are some honeys solid and others liquid?
Marion Hoffmann: In general, flower honeys tend to be lighter and molasses honeys tend to be darker, although there are exceptions. Several factors are involved in the color: First, the nectar pigments. Bees draw water from it, which intensifies the color. Cornflower honey, for example, is extremely yellow.
On the other hand, yellow-orange dyes are also released from the pollen. And it has to do with the composition of the sugar. Crystallized glucose appears white due to reflection of light. Because this sugar predominates in rapeseed honey, it is so light… Lastly, there is also a coloration due to ongoing conversion processes, which is especially the case with honeydew honey.
Whether honey is solid or liquid has to do with the ratio of the main sugars glucose and fructose. In general terms: with more fructose it remains liquid, with more glucose it becomes solid, with a balanced ratio it becomes flexible.
How is molasses honey obtained and why is it usually more expensive?
Marion Hoffmann: Bees do not collect nectar from flowers, but the sugary excretions of insects that suck on plants. Aphids or mealybugs, for example, prick the spruce needles and excrete the excess, the so-called honeydew. These droplets are then ingested by bees.
The greater effort is certainly reflected in the price. Because large areas of forest are necessary, the beekeeper usually has to migrate to these areas with his bees. The respective trip costs time and fuel.
How does it really work that the bees only collect the desired variety?
Marion Hoffmann: Bees are constant flower and location. This means that if a bee has identified a good source, for example a rapeseed field, it will fly there again and again. There are also so-called sniffer bees. When they have found a good source of costumes, they recruit their colleagues with a dance.
Bees have a flight radius of two to four kilometers, which corresponds to an area of at least twelve square kilometers. They cover quite a bit of distance when worth it. So if within this radius there is a field of sunflowers or an avenue of lime trees, for example, a monovarietal honey can result.
To specify a specific botanical type of honey, the legislator requires that at least 60 percent of the corresponding nectar or molasses be included. The beekeepers association, for example, checks it with a laboratory analysis.
Sometimes the honey in the jar crumbles and turns crystal clear. Where does it come from and how do you get rid of it?
Marion Hoffmann: If the honey has crystallized too thick, the beekeeper has usually not stirred it enough. It is not a lack of quality for the consumer, but a lack of enjoyment. Then gentle heating is recommended, which should not exceed 40 degrees.
You can put the glass in the warm heater for a while or heat it in a water bath. However, you should check the temperature. Excessive heat damages the valuable enzymes in honey. Once the heated honey has a smooth consistency, give it a good stir. Then the sugar crystals dissolve.
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