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Heather honey is a sweet syrup created by the mixture of nectar from the heather flower with enzymes in bee saliva, as well as hive storage and moisture extraction. The food is derived from the perennial heather shrub grown in specific habitats in Scotland, Britain, and Northern Europe. Its physical characteristics of texture and color vary depending on its purity, and the pungent taste makes it highly prized alone or in a number of treats and dishes.
Like all honey, this variety is made when bees forage and mix flower nectar with enzymes in their saliva. The substance is stored in the hive's walls, where the bees heat it and reduce its moisture by flapping their wings. Heather honey does have a higher moisture content than other types because it has a jelly-like texture requiring higher temperatures for extraction, which can lower its quality. As of 2011, Scotland, Wales, and Northern England are the largest producers of heather honey, followed by several spots in Northern Europe.
Common heather, also known as ling or Calluna vulgaris, is a perennial shrub growing anywhere from 8 to 20 feet (about 2.44 to 6.1 meters) tall. Its common name stems from its heath and moorland habitats, primarily in Scotland and Britain. These areas are located outside enclosed farmlands and extend up hills or mountainsides to the tree lines. The heather shrub grows vigorously there, producing bell-shaped flowers in a wide range of hues from white to red and numerous purples, the most common blossom colors.
Heather honey has several defining physical characteristics. It settles into a thick jelly until stirred, when it mixes into a syrup. The purest kind typically has air bubbles and a bright, translucent color, but is never clear. Its gelatinous consistency makes moisture extraction difficult, so it is sometimes sold in the comb. Heather honey crystallizes at a very slow rate, and, in some cases, will not harden at all.
Other unique qualities to heather honey are its color, scent, and taste. This sweet syrup comes in numerous colors, from reddish-orange to dark amber. Its scent is reminiscent of the flower from which it derives and has warm, woody notes. Perhaps the strongest-tasting honey, it has a pungent, smoky flavor and light sweetness. Heather honey is known for its long-lasting, bitter aftertaste.
The intense flavor makes this honey frequently used in a variety of foods. The unique taste of this syrup is often paired with gourmet ice cream, Greek yogurt, and strong, black coffee. It may also be served with ham, chicken, or lamb. Scottish dishes like atholl brose and cream crowdie also may feature the delicacy.