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Why Is Some Honey Darker Than Others

by Lyndon Langley
Why Is Some Honey Darker Than Others

Why Is Some Honey Darker Than Others

Honey is a sweet liquid produced by bees from the nectar that they extract from various flowers during their daily activities. It’s one of nature’s most perfect foods, but like all natural products, there are differences in quality from batch to batch. One of these differences is color — honey may be clear or opaque, depending on the type of flower from which it was collected. But why does this happen?
There are two main factors affecting the color of honey, according to John Roulstone-Koke, director of bee research for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). First, the amount of water contained within the honey varies based on the type of flower from which it came. Second, the mineral content also affects the color. To learn more about how these factors affect the final product, read the next page.
Water Content
As you’ve probably guessed, the amount of water contained within honey varies greatly depending on what kind of flower the bees were collecting nectar from. For instance, the average water content of clover honey is 16 percent, while buckwheat honey has just 8 percent. Clover honey tends to have a slightly darker color than buckwheat because it contains less water. When water evaporates from honey, it leaves behind a brown residue known as lees. This residue gives clover honey an earthy flavor. On the other hand, buckwheat honey doesn’t contain any significant amounts of water; therefore, its color isn’t affected much by evaporation. Most bakers prefer buckwheat honey because of its lightness.
Another important factor regarding water content is how long honey stays inside the comb. According to Roulstone-Koke, “the longer the honey sits in the wax cells, the greater the loss of water.” In fact, if honey is exposed to excessive sunlight, it will lose up to 6 percent of its original weight per day. So even though clover honey is lighter than buckwheat honey, the latter is better because it retains more moisture.
Color Change With Time and Heat
Now we know that the amount of water present in honey controls its color, but what happens when honey gets old? After all, no matter where it comes from, honey won’t stay fresh forever. Once a jar of honey reaches its expiration date, it must be refrigerated and consumed within six months. But how do changes to the honey itself cause its color to fade?
When honey ages, proteins called tannins break down into smaller pieces. These proteins are responsible for giving honey its characteristic golden hue. As the proteins degrade, however, the honey takes on a different color. Eventually, the honey becomes translucent and loses its vibrant shine. Tannin degradation occurs faster when honey is kept in warm climates, such as the southern states. Another reason for a honey’s color changing over time is oxidation. Oxidation is caused by the presence of iron in the honey. Normally, iron bonds with oxygen molecules to form ferric hydroxide. During storage, however, bacteria can take advantage of the available iron and produce hydrogen peroxide. Over time, hydrogen peroxide breaks down sugars and releases free radicals that lead to oxidation.
If your honey seems to be turning brownish, don’t fret! Not all is lost. There are ways to preserve the honey without making drastic changes to its appearance. Read the next page to find out how to keep your home honey supply looking bright.
Brightening Honeys
To prevent your honeys’ colors from fading away, you’re going to need to make sure they get enough sun. And since sunlight is essential for honey production, you’ll want to store them somewhere cool. If you buy your honey in small jars, consider taking them outside in the summertime and keeping them on a windowsill. You should also avoid storing your honey near sources of heat, including radiators, fireplaces and stoves. Finally, try not to shake or stir your honey before opening it. Doing so could encourage oxidation, resulting in a duller look.
If your honey still looks too dark, give it a boost with a few simple ingredients. Pure lemon juice can help restore the honey’s luster. Simply add 1 teaspoon of pure lemon juice to each cup of honey. Store the mixture in a tightly closed container and use it within three weeks. You can also add a pinch of salt to improve the taste of cloudy honey. Just mix 2 tablespoons of white vinegar with 1 quart of honey and let sit overnight. Afterward, strain out the vinegar through cheesecloth and use the honey immediately. Or you can add 3 teaspoons of cream of tartar to every gallon of honey. Let the mixture stand for several days until all the sediment settles, then strain it again. Refrigerate the honey once it’s filtered and enjoy!

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