Summer is around the corner. Fields and flowerbeds are already abuzz with bees. Turns out, buying local honey is one of the best ways to support local food producers in the Beehive State.
Honeybees don’t just produce the sticky, sweet stuff that tastes amazing drizzled over Utah scones. They also help pollinate farms and gardens. Three-quarters of the fruits, nuts and vegetables we eat and around 80 percent of our flowering plants are pollinated by the insects, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
All that pollinating keeps the bugs busy. The Mormon pioneers who settled in Utah admired bees for their industrious nature, and several Utah entrepreneurs went on to make an industry of the honey bees produce.
“If you really want to taste the area in which you live … you taste the honey,” said Kyle Kanno, owner of The Honey Jar in Box Elder County. “The bees gather for 3 miles in any direction, so it’s an interesting snapshot of an area for a specific period of time. It’s almost like looking at tree rings.”
Honey flavors vary widely, depending on where the bee colony is based. The Honey Jar operates out of Honeyville, where bees gather two types of honey — clover-alfalfa and wildflower.
Clover-alfalfa honey has a mild flavor and “can range from almost white to a light amber color, depending on what the other flowers are around it and the type of clover,” Kanno said. “There are even different types — red clover, white clover and yellow clover.”
Wildflower honey is a term for honey made with pollen collected from a potpourri of plants.
“It can be either really light or really dark, depending on the flowers they visit,” Kanno said. “There’s also a wide spectrum of tastes, some that are almost bitter, some that almost tastes like clover honey.”
Some beekeepers and producers set their hives among lavender for a unique, floral taste. Others place colonies near fruit, like blueberry bushes and orange trees. The Honey Jar also has a colony in Bear Lake among the area’s famous raspberry farms.
“The raspberry honey … is a little sweeter than clover honey,” Kanno said. “You also can almost taste berry in it, but we don’t add anything to it.”
A lot of that variety gets lost in mass-produced, large-scale honey operations. Those honey makers mix several honey varieties from different hives so the taste becomes uniform. Filtering and heating the honey also makes mass-produced honey easier for big companies to bottle, but at the cost of the honey’s quality. Kanno said over-filtered honey also reduces its health benefits.
“We find quality comes with trying to maintain honey as the bees produced it,” Kanno said.
Local beekeepers’ processes might take a little longer than big businesses’, but that extra time and care makes a difference.
“If your honey seems cheap as far as price goes, it’s probably cheap in terms of quality, too,” Kanno said.
The best way to know whether you’re buying quality honey, Kanno said, is to contact the beekeeper and ask questions. Most local honey producers are happy to chat about their craft.
“That’s a great way to know how they produce their honey and the guarantees they make — like the temperature they use for processing or whether they add anything to it,” he said.
It’s also important to consider how a honey maker cares for the bees. Happy hives mean better honey.
“We believe quality honey is produced when you take a holistic approach to beekeeping, in that the bees are fed honey instead of sugar water during wintering,” Kanno said. “This allows them to receive health benefits of the honey they produce as well.”
Kanno recommends storing honey in glass containers. While those squeezable bears might look cute, plastic can leach chemicals into the honey, especially if the container is heated. Plastic can alter the honey’s flavor if it’s stored long term, too.
If honey becomes hard and crystalized, Kanno recommends placing the honey container in a water bath over the stove or running hot tap water over the container until the honey becomes soft. Microwaving hard honey, however, will ruin it.
Store honey in an airtight container so water can’t spoil it.
“As long as it hasn’t had water added to it or hasn’t been diluted, your honey will last years, centuries, millennia,” Kanno said.
Keep an eye out for these local honey producers in Northern Utah:
Cache Valley-based beekeepers producing honey since 1929.
Where to buy: Available at most grocery stores, including Smith’s and Harmon’s.
Miller’s Honey Company
Commercial packers of raw honey products, sourced from hives throughout the West.
Location: Salt Lake City
Where to buy: Available at most grocery stores.
Making raw Utah honey, honey wine vinegars and honey-based marinades.
Where to buy: Beehive Cheese Co. in Ogden, Good Earth Natural Foods in Riverdale, Simply Eden in Ogden Valley, Harmon’s grocery stores and Lee’s Marketplace grocery stores.
The Honey Jar
A home-operated honey hive sending raw honey and flavored honey sticks to stores throughout Utah.
Where to buy: Available at most grocery stores and at the beekeeper’s small storefront at 950 W. Kershaw St. in Ogden.