When we drizzle honey on our oatmeal (or our Greek yogurt and granola, or in our salad dressings) — we think we’re making a smart, healthy decision. How many of us have raced through a grocery store, grabbing a honey bear, believing the label when it says “honey” that the contents inside are actually honey?
With so much buzz on bees lately, I wanted to learn more firsthand. In early September, I traveled to Portland, Oregon right in time for their annual honey harvest. (For AFAR I wrote: What I Learned During the Honey Harvest in Portland. In this story: “Bee Local Beekeepers share why you should avoid honey bears, some unusual uses for honey, and what Portland chefs are whipping up with their single-origin honeys.”)
One thing I didn’t mention to the beekeepers before arrival: bees are actually a bit of a hidden phobia of mine. I don’t freak out at a picnic when a few bees are buzzing around, but the idea of hanging around hives home to millions of bees isn’t exactly my idea of an ideal afternoon. Yet, I did want to know more about why single-origin honeys are of interest to chefs, bartenders, and home cooks, and I wanted to learn about a beekeeper’s take on the deceit that is currently on shelves in regards to honey.
On arrival at the first hive sight, on scenic Sauvie Island outside of Portland, I kept my cool. I pulled on long sleeves and the beekeepers provided a head mask with netting across the face. Only my hands were exposed, but somehow the bubble-like feel of the head mask calmed my fears, and the bees swarmed around paying no attention to me at all.
For the complete story, click on the AFAR link above, but here’s the gist of what I learned: much of what we think of as honey, is actually a small amount of honey with a long list of additives including high fructose corn syrup, chemicals, and pesticides. When you spend five more minutes in the store reading labels, you can find honey that is raw (retaining its nutritional qualities and aromatics) and maybe even single-origin (from a single place, not blended with other honeys). In the case of Bee Local, they are not only bringing out real, untampered with products with better health benefits and taste, but they are also creating a fascinating inventory of tastes, as each of their honeys is unique and reflects the place where the hive is located. In the case of Sauvie Island, next to fields of blueberry farms, the honey takes on noticeable berry notes, for example.
After sticking my finger into honeycomb and tasting honey straight from the hive that day on Sauvie Island, my daily oatmeal has since been elevated to a whole new level.