The flavors of honey are influenced by where the honey bees range while they are collecting nectar. For this reason, many stores offer an assortment of flavors, commonly including clover honey, sage honey, and various honey blends. The difference is in flavor, rather than nutrition, although the nutrition value of honey can be affected by how it is handled and processed. When picking out which type to buy, shoppers should select one that looks and tastes good to them, and remember not to feed honey to infants, because of botulism concerns.
Honey is one of the oldest sweeteners known to man, and it has been extensively consumed and written about historically. Early observers noted that honey's flavor was influenced by the area in which the bees collected nectar and the season, and early apiarists placed their beehives in strategic locations to improve the quality of their honey. When bees eat from scented flowers such as lavender, for example, the honey will be scented and lightly flavored with lavender. Darker honeys with a stronger flavor come from plants like buckwheat, thistle, alfalfa, sage, and berry producing plants. Lighter honeys, such as clover honey, acacia, and orange blossom honey, have a milder flavor and color.
Typically, honey is identified by the primary forage plant that the bees have access to. Bees living in an apple orchard, for example, will produce apple flower honey. In some cases, the honey will be blended during processing to create a particular flavor. Darker honeys especially are sometimes mixed with light honeys so that the rich, assertive flavors from buckwheat and berries can be blended with more mild clover or orange honey so that the flavor will not be overwhelming. The flavors of honey can also be blended by allowing bees access to a wide variety of plant materials.
Processing also has an impact on the flavor of honey. The most naturally flavored honey is honeycomb honey, which is packaged, comb and all, for sale to consumers. This type is not very shelf stable, however, because it is not filtered for contaminants. Typically, honey is allowed to slowly drain from the honeycomb over a filter before being packed, although honeycomb can also be whirled in a centrifuge. Honey which has been heated will lose much of its flavor, so consumers should try to stick with cold processed, minimally handled honey for the best flavor.