Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Wednesday

June 18, 2014

Honey, Honey: Thrilled by depth, nuance of sticky sweet

TRAVERSE CITY — Bobbling, yellow and black sequined antennae provoke Susan Summers' favorite question — "What's the buzz?"

The unwieldy headgear causes a few bumbles, solved quickly by the outfit's other essential — a pair of handling gloves. Style meets sticky-prevention on honey tasting day. The presentation blooms near bulk foods at Oryana Natural Foods Market. Customers circle and hover, waiting to alight on honey's gooey goodness.

The tasting is winery-worthy. Tubs and jars line up neatly in order, from raw to refined. Nibbles like goat cheese and crackers beckon. Summers, a member of Oryana's marketing and educational outreach team, knows everything about the local beekeepers and the fruits of their — and the honeybees' — industrious labor.

"Know Your Honey" is a drippy demonstration that Summers calls a "delightful disaster."

Tasters swarm the table, lured by sweet intrigue. It's most everyone's first time. Wine and olive oil, sure. But honey tasting?

Honey falls victim to a grave misconception — that honey is "just honey," said Sandi McArthur, Oryana's education and outreach coordinator. It's not all the same, she says emphatically, plastic bear or otherwise.

"Honey has many nuances and flavors," McArthur said.

Honey has several sticky points, like how the honey is extracted and prepared, what it looks like and how it's spread. Each is a matter of personal preference, and there are honeys to suit every taste. Summers urges tasters to examine each honey for color, clarity, consistency and finish.

Comb honey is first in the lineup. Nature's packaging makes it a front-runner in the "raw" race.

"This represents a lot of hard work," Summers says, explaining that two years of bee sweat goes into each bite — one to make the honeycomb and another year to fill it with honey. Honey and the beeswax are both pollen products — bees gather pollen and regurgitate it as honey, their primary food source. Beeswax, the stuff of the octagonal food storage capsules, is secreted through the glands of the female worker bees.

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