Clover honey is honey produced by bees that feed primarily on the nectar of clover plants. The United States, New Zealand, and Canada are some of the world's highest producers, with varying levels of quality. It's usually easy to find this type of honey in stores because consumers like its mild, slightly floral flavor, and it is typically one of the least expensive varieties available.
All honey — clover included — is made by honeybees. Bees feed on the nectar and pollen of various plants, then turn their collections into honey through a series of secretions. The honey takes on the flavor of whatever flowers the bees feed on, so if they primarily visit clover plants, they produce clover-flavored honey.
Clover is a creeping plant in the pea family which produces large amounts of nectar. In many regions of the world, people use clover to control erosion on banks and hillsides, as it roots well, holding back the soil. This plant is also used for animal fodder. It can grow in most terrains, is not expensive to maintain, and naturally attracts honeybees.
Purity and Flavor Consistency
Beekeepers who want to make clover honey typically place their hives in an area with a lot of clover. They may also plant clover around their hives to encourage the bees' diets. Unless the bees are in an enclosed space, however, there is no way to guarantee that they will visit only these specific plants.
Most honeybees have an extensive flight capacity, and can cover a great distance before returning home to their hives. Beekeepers have little control over the flowers the bees choose to visit during the day. In an area with a high concentration of clover, bees often feed primarily on this plant, but they can also introduce other flavors from other flowers. If the bees feed on flowers with a pronounced flavor — eucalyptus, for example — their secretions can markedly alter the taste of the honey.
It is often difficult to find entirely pure clover honey. Honey from bees that eat exclusively clover is pale amber to almost white in color, with a grassy floral scent and a subtle flavor. Most of the honey that is sold commercially under the "clover" description is actually a blend of light colored honeys. Unless the label says "pure clover," it is usually the case that clover is the chief nectar, but not necessarily the only flavor included. For this reason, not all bottles of clover honey — even those from the same manufacturer or farm — are likely to taste the same.
Honey quality is dependent on several factors. The first is the time of year in which it is collected, because late spring and summer honey tends to carry the strongest and richest flavor. Clover flowers are in full bloom at this point, and the nectar the bees gather is fragrant and robust.
The processes beekeepers use for extracting, filtering, and storing honey can all play into its end marketability. Most honey is strained or filtered to remove air bubbles, debris, and bits of wax. This makes it look clearer and stay liquid longer because there are fewer particles to encourage the honey to crystalize. Ultrafiltration, however, combines the honey with water and extracts all pollen and other solids from it; the resulting product is not considered honey under the definition of US Department of Agriculture, although it may be sold under this name. Many smaller honey producers promote the fact that their honey is unfiltered.
Many people also suggest buying honey that is produced locally. Clover honey from local sources is less likely to be blended with other batches, and is unlikely to be ultrafiltered. It may also be slightly cloudy due to the minerals and pollen suspended in it.
Honey and Health
Many companies pasteurize their honey before delivering it to the point of sale to reduce the risk of potentially harmful bacteria. It may also be subjected to a heat-based filtering process. If the honey is heavily pasteurized or exposed to extreme heat, some of its flavor may be cooked out, or at the very least dampened. Many purists worry that the natural benefits of honey may also be lost with over-pasteurization.
This leads some consumers to eat raw honey, which tends to have a fuller flavor. Still, even raw honey from a trusted farm needs to be filtered and handled carefully to ensure its safety. It is usually possible to purchase locally sourced, organic honey that has still been processed in accordance with safety and health codes.
All honey varieties are natural antioxidants. This means that they can help the body eliminate harmful free radicals that may lead to cancer and other health concerns. Honey is also an antiseptic, and is revered by many cultures as a treatment for everything from cuts and scrapes to sore throats.
Forms and Styles
Clover honey typically comes in a jar or squeeze bottle, but these are not the only forms of packaging or presentation available. The honey may also be whipped or packaged with the honeycomb. Creamed honey is often used as a spread, much like margarine or cream cheese.
A range of other products may also contain clover-derived honey; yogurt may be sold with the honey blended in, for instance. It is a common additive to bread and other baked goods because it keeps them moist. Many different cosmetics — particularly lotions and skin creams — also sometimes incorporate clover additives.