Honey-Glazed Pork with Apples
Honey-Mustard Glazed Carrots
Honey-Chipotle Turkey Meatballs
Honey Brown Butter Blondies with Sea Sal
When it comes to having a sticky and sweet secret weapon in the kitchen, it’s hard to beat honey. But here’s the thing: those bottles on the shelf at your grocery store aren’t created equal.
Honey is a fickle agricultural product with a flavor that will be dramatically impacted by weather, geography and what nectar each hive of bees is feeding on. And that can change throughout the year.
“Some people get very used to clover honey. It’s kind of a bland, simple, sweet honey,” said Texas Beekeepers Association board member Charlie Agar, who owns and operates Charlie Bee Co. in New Braunfels. “Hill Country honey with mesquite and wildflower has a bite. It’s not spicy, but it’s not bland.”
Understanding those differences can have a big impact on the recipes coming out of your kitchen. The abundant clover honey — this is the most common variety available — has a fairly neutral flavor. It will add sweetness and a familiar aroma, but little of the intriguing and nuanced flavors of other types of honey available in Texas.
Texas isn’t one of the nation’s premier honey destinations. Our brutal summers mean that after spring, the amount of available nectar sources diminishes significantly, and most beekeepers resort to feeding their bees sugar water, which results in a poor-quality honey, Agar explained. And unlike large agricultural states like California, there are minimal opportunities for beekeepers here to lease out their hives to farms for pollination services. Those challenges mean fewer Texas beekeepers.
Where to find Hill Country honey
Most H-E-B grocery stores in the San Antonio area stock a fairly wide range of Texas honeys, but to find truly unique varieties, you’ll have to go smaller. Most Hill County honey producers operate at the cottage industry level and sell their goods online and at area farmers markets. Try any of the following for a starting point.
CFC Holdings: Dripping Springs, 210-827-3373, Mark@insco.com
Charlie Bee Co.: New Braunfels, 830-708-8797, charliebee.com
Fallen Oak Farms: Johnson City, 830-613-0742
TMT Ranch: Lockhart, 512-758-9338, 503-784-0997, firstname.lastname@example.org
For a larger list of where to find honey producers throughout Texas, visit the Texas Beekeepers Association’s locator map at texasbeekeepers.org.
That’s not to say Texas doesn’t produce top-shelf honey. The nectar harvested here by bees in the spring produce our most prized varieties, fueled by native plants such as agarita, mesquite and a wide range of wildflowers in the Hill Country. South of San Antonio, bees will chase the blossoms of citrus trees, as well.
“For Texas honey you have to think about the weather patterns we have. In February and March agarita kicks off the season. In spring the wildflowers and mesquite bloom,” Agar said. “My product is a spring wildflower mix with mesquite and sunflowers.”
Fall brings a new and different flow of nectar. “Something in the fall foliage makes it taste like molasses,” Agar said.
And there’s little consistency from year to year. As weather patterns change, so does the flavor of honey. Agar typically harvests his honey in the summer and can rarely predict exactly what it will taste like.
“Every year it’s like Christmas on the honey harvest,” he said. “Being a beekeeper is like being a farmer, mad scientist and inventor all in one. You re always trying to figure out the bees.”
Beyond its flavor, there are plenty of other reasons to incorporate honey into your cooking. Honey is rich in antioxidants that studies have found to lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels, and it’s long been used as a cough suppressant. Honey even has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that make it an effective topical treatment for wounds including diabetic foot ulcers.
But one thing honey probably won’t do — despite popular wisdom to the contrary — is help alleviate allergies. The Mayo Clinic says despite anecdotal evidence that the pollen in honey can help ward off the sniffles and stuffiness, those results have not been consistently demonstrated in clinical studies.
- Paul Stephen | ExpressNews.com | September 30, 2020