What Is White Honey?

Dan Harkins

Most commercially sold honey is made by bees collecting nectar from a variety of flower sources, a so-called multi-floral product that tends to be colored an iconic amber hue. Varietal, or mono-floral, honeys, on the other hand, are largely made from nectar of a single flower and can be almost red or virtually colorless. White honey alone can be divided into three categories — white, extra white and even water white. To obtain these types of honeys, beekeepers will focus hives on areas with just certain pale-colored flowers, from alfalfa and fireweed to sage and cotton.

A honey bee.
A honey bee.

Beekeepers consider the plain white honey to be the closest to an actual light amber coloring. These include honeys made from flowers like summer thistle and cotton. Not quite clear but clearly light-colored, the extra white variety of honey comes from flowers like the Hawaiian kiawe, alfalfa and sage. The fiercely violet fireweed and pale-white basswood flowers contribute to the so-called water white camp, touting near-complete transparency.

White clover can produce white honey.
White clover can produce white honey.

A general rule that honey connoisseurs follow is the darker the hue, the bolder the flavor. This means that the white honey varieties are more likely to have the most subtle flavorings. Darker varieties of honey — from wild rose and macadamia flower in the extra light amber family to soy and avacado flower in the dark amber camp — will impart a brash rendition of the flower from which they came.

This does not mean a white honey cannot be considered exquisite. According to National Geographic, a Hawaiian beekeeper named Richard Spiegel was producing a white honey at the beginning of the 21st century that was considered some of the best of any color in the world. Spiegel points his bees in the direction of white kiewa trees on the Hawaiian coast.

Though white honey is likely to contain a preponderance of nectar and pollen from the flower touted on the label, it is also likely to have some from other flowers too. Some of most prized white honeys are those made from bees cross-pollinating in an area where just one kind of flower can usually be found. This can be important not only to chefs looking to add a certain, isolated flavor to a recipe but also to herbalists using honey to supplement their diets with medicinal herbs. White honey-producing flowers like sage, fireweed and white clover have long been used to treat a variety of ailments.

To obtain white honey, beekeepers will focus hives on areas with certain pale-colored flowers, such as alfalfa.
To obtain white honey, beekeepers will focus hives on areas with certain pale-colored flowers, such as alfalfa.

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