Honey is viscous, sweet, liquid gold! The different varieties boast wildly distinct flavors and noteworthy differences due to specific regions and unique flora. So, while some honey varieties have a light and sweet profile with gentle floral accents, others exhibit layers of prominent flavors that develop and linger into a long finish after hitting your palate. However, which honey tastes the sweetest?
The sweetest honey is European locust honey (acacia honey), followed by locust, tupelo, sage, and gallberry honey. Fructose has a high sweetness level, whereas maltose is comparatively bland. So, honey with the highest fructose levels and lowest maltose levels exhibit the sweetest flavor profile.
From zesty orange blossom honey to dark, tangy buckwheat honey, there’s a long list of honey sorts in between, each offering a unique flavor profile worth relishing over. However, before your mouth waters too much, let’s crown the sweetest honey.
Which Honey Tastes The Sweetest?
Based on a 2017 study, we find that European locust honey has the sweetest score. However, the rare and expensive tupelo honey comes in a close second.
We need to understand and distinguish between the chemistry of various honey types to determine which honey is the sweetest.
The most common way to determine the sweetness of honey relies on the ratio of the various sugars (sucrose, fructose, glucose, and maltose). Honey that contains high fructose and low maltose levels is naturally the sweetest. Fructose is the sweetest natural sugar, whereas maltose generally has a bland flavor.
Fructose also aids in preserving the texture of the honey. So, honey with high fructose levels tends to take longer to crystallize than those with higher glucose levels.
The following table will rank 30 different types of honey from sweetest to least sweet, based on a 2017 study by the American Bee Journal.
|SWEETNESS OF HONEY VARIETIES|
|RANK||HONEY VARIETY||SWEETNESS SCORE|
|9||Alfalfa & Sweet Clover||115.89|
|11||Alfalfa & Blends||115.75|
|14||Clover & Blends||115.38|
|30||Honeydew Metcalfa (Europe)||107.81|
Continue reading for a full rundown on how we determine which honey tastes the sweetest and a short description of the flavor profiles of the top 10 sweetest types of honey.
Why Does Locust Honey Taste The Sweetest?
Locust honey or acacia honey is regarded as the sweetest due to the ratio of four common sugars.
Locust honey contains over 40% fructose, the sweetest natural sugar, and lacks maltose; the sugar offers a bland flavor compared to fructose.
While all honey is sweet due to fructose and glucose sugars, fructose is 2.5 times sweeter than glucose. Therefore, honey containing more fructose than glucose is sweeter than varieties with a higher glucose concentration.
How Is The Sweetness Of Honey Measured?
The sweetness of honey is usually measured using the threshold taste test and according to the proportions of the common sugars found in it -mainly fructose, glucose, sucrose, and maltose – all of which contain different sweetness levels.
This sugar ratio helps explain why one variety tastes mild or bland while another is sharp and sweet.
Honey high in fructose tastes especially sweet due to the higher sweetness factor of fructose. For example, fructose has a sweetness ranging around 163, sucrose scores 100, glucose 74, and maltose only 40.
If high-fructose honey contains a large percentage of maltose, the sweetness diminishes. So, although fructose plays the most significant role, you’ll need to consider all the sugar proportions to determine the sweetest honey.
Locust Honey vs. Average Honey Sweetness Levels
Below is a quick table comparing the different sugar levels of European locust honey and the average range of standard floral honey.
|Sugar Type||Locust Honey (European)||Standard Floral Honey|
Why Does The Sweetness Of Honey Varieties Differ?
Like wine grapes naturally take on flavors from their soil and climate, honey attributes various flavors, colors, and aromas based on the location, flowers, soil, and climate.
Before continuing, we’d like to make you aware that the squeezable plastic bears in general grocery stores might be labeled as ‘honey,’ but these bottles aren’t filled with true raw honey.
Instead, they contain a homogenized version from thousands of colonies, boiled down until all the vibrant flavors are distilled in an effort to supply a consistent sweetness, color, and viscosity. So, the unique flavors are melted down and processed, creating the mediocre syrup we’ve all grown accustomed to consuming.
However, raw honey straight from the hive is packed with unique, mouth-watering flavors based on the location, floral source, season, and without a lick of heat. Once you know these subtle variations, you’ll develop the same admiration for honey varieties as fancy wine, virgin olive oil, and mature cheese.
In simple terms, flowers produce nectar, a sugary fluid that attracts bees for pollination. The honeybees take the high-energy nectar from the flower and store it as honey for harsh winters and rainy or drought seasons.
Region & Seasons Affect The Sweetness Of Honey
Most honey varieties have a “terroir,” a French term meaning “taste of place.” These regional products are made from a unique blend of flower varieties present in a particular season and radius of the hive. On average, honeybees travel up to 3 miles to forage; therefore, much of the flora surrounding the bees will be dominant in the honey, producing a distinct flavor, color, and texture.
Changing seasons affect a honey’s taste, color, and texture. A plant only contains enough sugar to disperse to the blossoms. So, in spring, bursting blossoms result in less sweet honey. However, later on in summer, when plants compete for a visit from the pollinating bees, they compound excess sugar and nutrients into fewer flowers. These extra sugars naturally produce darker, rich honey with a deep orange or rusty brown hue.
Floral Varieties Affect The Sweetness Of Honey
Flowering plants’ nectar and pollen are the fundamental reason for honey’s distinct taste profiles. However, when honeybees forage primarily on one plant type, it produces “monofloral” honey, offering a more consistent taste.
Some plant nectars are mild and have low sugar levels, producing honey that tastes like the plain honey we find in grocery stores. However, other plants produce flowers with rich nectar characteristics that yield intensely fragrant, floral-tasting honey.
So, zesty orange blossom honey tastes like dark, tangy buckwheat or basswood honey; even wildflower variants taste wildly distinct.
However, you also get “uni-varietal” honey by placing hives in a specific spot where there is an abundance of one plant type blooming. These kinds of honey are generally harvested immediately after the particular flower or crop is done blooming.
What Makes Honey Sweet?
The short and sweet (pun intended) answer to what makes honey sweet is that it contains natural sugars from nectar -a sweet syrupy solution that bees and other pollinators find irresistible!
Nectar mainly consists of water, fructose, and glucose; however, it contains traces of acids, salts, proteins, and essential oils that alter honey’s flavor and sweetness profile.
Is Dark Or Light Honey The Sweetest?
There is a clear connection between honey’s color and taste.
Light honey is generally sweeter than dark honey; however, the flavors are soft and delicate on your palate.
The taste, texture, and color vary depending on the honeybees’ floral source as the minerals (sulfur, calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, copper, manganese, and iron) and sugar level differ. However, the color of honey also depends on the season in which its harvested:
- Spring honey is lighter and more transparent
- Summer is cheerful yellow
- Autumn honey is darker, rusty hue
More so, time and heat exposure can impact the hue of honey. For example, honey exposed to high temperatures gradually turns darker.
We can classify honey into seven primary color categories:
- Water white
- Extra white
- Extra light amber
- Light amber
- Dark amber
For the most part, light to transparent honey lends a sweet but soft, delicate taste; medium honey produces a mild, mellow bite, white darker honey unfolds into a more substantial, rich flavor profile.
Besides the taste and sweetness level, the color can determine the number of antioxidants in the honey. Darker honey generally has a higher concentration than lighter honey.
Light honey ranges from transparent to the prototypical yellowish, golden hue.
Common examples of plants that produce light honey include:
- Black locust trees
- California sage
- Blueberry flowers
- Clover flowers
- Canadian flowering plants
- Manuka trees
Generally speaking, lighter honey has a sweet, light, and mild taste that isn’t too overpowering. However, there are several outliers, like locust and basswood honey.
As the name suggests, dark honey has a darker gold shade and rusty, brown color. The darker appearance generally indicates that it contains more components like antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, which contribute to its dark hue.
Common examples of plants that produce dark honey include:
- Buckwheat flowers
- Chestnut trees
- Maple tree
Dark honey generally has a richer and fuller taste that can taste quite overpowering and bold.
What Does The Sweetest Honey Taste Like?
Now that we understand what makes some honey sweeter than others, we can dig into the heavenly flavor profiles of the top ten sweetest honey varieties.
1. Locust Honey
Locust honey or Acacia honey comes from the “false Acacia” tree, also known as the black locust tree. Many experts believe it’s the best honey you can get your hands on.
Locust honey is beautiful honey that ranges from light liquid glass to a pale, lemonish white hue and offers a persistent floral and fruity aroma. Locust honey, especially the European variety, is the sweetest honey on the market.
To boot on the sweetness of locust honey, it has a slightly tangy taste with vanilla and floral notes at the end, with no aftertaste. Surprisingly, you could indulge yourself in a second spoonful of honey without feeling like you’ve overdone it.
The sweet yet light flavors are easy on the palate and work perfectly with fresh cheese or a bowl of fruit and yogurt.
Locust honey remains liquid gold without crystalizing thanks to its significantly high fructose content; it can remain up to two years on the shelf without crystallizing.
2. Tupelo Honey
Tupelo honey is a delicacy! But unfortunately, it is one of the rarest and most expensive honey varieties globally.
Tupelo honey comes from the white Ogeechee tupelo tree in the remote wetlands of Florida and Georgie. Unfortunately, the tree only blossoms around ten days a year. Hence, beekeepers need to be precise about getting their bees onto floats above the murky water to access the trees.
Tupelo honey is prized for its rich buttery sweetness laced with hints of cinnamon and fresh, fragrant flowers.
Tupelo honey is generally a light amber color with a greenish cast. Aside from the scarcity and distinct flavor, tupelo honey has a high fructose-to-glucose ratio, making it stand out from other kinds of honey. Like locust honey, tupelo honey crystallizes slowly.
Consider using this rare and expensive honey in places where the nuances shine. For example, serve it raw with aged cheese, freshly baked artesian bread, nuts, sliced ham, and dried fruit. Alternatively, drizzle tupelo honey over ice cream or a slice of cheesecake.
3. Sage Honey
Sage honey is made from any of the genus Salvia species during the peak of their blooming season.
The most prominent sage species in the honey determine the color. For example, black button sage or white sage makes the honey a light in color with a pure golden glow or greenish-yellow tinge. In comparison, purple sage produces darker honey, almost appearing black.
Sage honey has a sweet, balanced taste with predominant clover-like notes and an elegant floral aftertaste. It is also prized due to its low moisture, fructose content, and prolonged crystallization rate.
Sage honey makes a delicious glaze for chicken or turkey and mild, creamy cheeses.
4. Gallberry Honey
Gallberry honey is sourced from the tiny white blossoms dripping with nectar on the evergreen holly bush (inkberry bush) growing along the South Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
Gallberry honey is light amber and offers thick, aromatic flavors with a mild sorghum and molasses taste. This rich, elegant-tasting honey is also prized for its noteworthy honeycomb.
Gallberry honey is desirable for its slow crystallization. It is perfect table honey and works well for baking.
5. Sunflower Honey
Sunflower honey is a standard variety in most parts of the world. It is made from the nectar of vibrant sunflower heads.
On its own, sunflower honey does not exhibit a robust flavor. Instead, it is mild, slightly floral, and sweet.
Sunflower honey ranges from light to extra light and has a neutral to sweet floral and lightly oily aroma. Sunflower honey crystallizes and turns firm in a month or two.
Sunflower honey is famous for baking, fruit, or yogurt.
6. Eucalyptus Honey
Eucalyptus honey is mainly produced from bees pollinating eucalyptus trees’ blossoms; however, they sometimes also gather honeydew from the bark.
Eucalyptus honey has a dull, medium-dark amber color with a red tinge. It has an intense, long-lasting aroma with reminiscent notes of menthol or the forest.
The flavor profile ranges from tart to medium-sweet with bold, earthy flavors and undertones of menthol and butterscotch.
Eucalyptus honey can be a yummy sweetener for tea or drizzled over grilled fruit, blue cheese, or marinades.
Eucalyptus honey is typically higher in fructose and slower to crystallize; it takes several months before you’ll notice crystallization.
7. Alfalfa Honey
Alfalfa honey comes from the sweet nectar of the purple flowers on alfalfa plants. It is less common than other varieties because the alfalfa flowers are more challenging for honeybees to pollinate.
Alfalfa honey is beautiful light amber and mild-tasting honey with a smooth texture, making it ideal for eating straight of the jar. Many people compare this delicate honey to clover honey with slight grass and vanilla undertones.
Alfalfa honey is ideal for baking or cooking if you do not want the honey to override the other ingredients. More so, it complements strong cheeses and breakfast foods well. However, you’ll notice that it crystallizes reasonably quickly because of the high glucose content.
There is usually a very light floral aroma to alfalfa honey, and it is typically a beautiful light amber in color. (By contrast, clover honey has a slightly stronger scent and can range from water white to dark amber.)
8. European Citrus Honey
Citrus honey, better known as orange blossom honey, holds its name because of its taste and color rather than deriving from orange blossoms.
Orange blossom honey is made from mixed citrus nectars, including oranges and their sister fruits (grapefruit, lemons, limes, mandarins, and tangerines). In Europe, this honey is specifically referred to as citrus honey as the proportion of orange blossom nectar is too low (the needed target is 20%).
Citrus honey is almost colorless to pale yellow or amber. It has a lasting sweet and slightly citrus flavor from its natural vitamin C content.
Citrus honey has a distinctly fresh, lively floral fragrance reminding you of orange blossoms.
Orange blossom honey works wonder for baking cakes and bread. However, it is also considered classic table honey.
Citrus honey crystallizes several months after its harvest and turns into a pearly, clear beige.
9. Sweet Clover
Clover is by far the most common variety of honey. Beekeepers generally collect this prolific honey source from Dutch, white blossom, yellow blossom, and sweet clover, the latter producing the sweetest honey.
While a clover and alfalfa blend honey is generally sweeter than sweet clover honey, sweet clover produces a strikingly similar taste.
Clover honey is light amber honey with a delicate aroma of sweet flowers and subtle hints of freshly cut grass. It has a clean, subtle flowery taste that lingers in your mouth and pairs well with most food as it does not overwhelm but compliments other food flavors.
Clover honey is often sold creamed as it crystallizes quickly into a fine-grained solid mass.
10. Cotton Honey
Although cotton is self-pollinating and does not require bees, honeybees aid in the amount of lint formed and the number of seeds produced. More, bees produce sweet honey from cotton plant blossoms.
Cotton honey is light amber and offers a rich, full-bodied, and tastes buttery with a hint of heat, quite like butterscotch or buttered rum; however, it has a definite tang.
Cotton honey crystallizes fairly rapidly (around four weeks); however, some people believe it becomes mellow after forming crystals that actually improve its taste.
The Most Bitter Honey Variety
We decided to add the sweetest honey counterpart if you were interested.
The most naturally bitter honey variety is obtained from Italy’s autumn bell-shaped flowers of the wild Sardinian strawberry tree.
The Sardinian strawberry honey is amber-colored when liquid but turns beige-brown when crystallized. This extremely rare honey tricks your palate! Instead of producing the well-expected sweetness of honey, it has a surprisingly bitter taste with leather, smoke, and licorice notes.
Besides lending itself to numerous literary and poetic metaphors, Sardinian strawberry honey is highly medicinal with the most significant antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiradical properties.
We urge you to give locust honey a try when preparing your next cheese platter for friends and family. The sweet flavors melt into your mouth and disappear once swallowed.
The slightly tangy, vanilla, and floral notes that seep through after the sweetness blankets your tongue make it almost irresistible not to indulge in a second or third spoonful of this liquid gold.