You might not think much of the honey you squeeze into your tea, but according to Lindsay Collins, host and creator of Effin B Radio, “good honey has a distinct sense of place and reflects where it comes from the way a well-made wine or high-quality oyster would.” In fact, different honey varietals can have flavor profiles as distinct “as a Pinot noir and a Chardonnay” says Camille Kaplan of Oregon-based Old Blue Raw Honey. So to find the best honeys, we spoke with beekeepers, food writers, and chefs for the best versions to use for any occasion. Note: All the experts recommend experimenting with different varietals to differentiate and appreciate your favorite. (Tom Wilk, head beekeeper and vice-president of Wilk Apiary, for instance, prefers buckwheat honey for its molasses taste, while Kaplan likes clary sage honey for its strong floral notes.)
The best honey for everyday use
Jerrelle Guy, author of Black Girl Baking, recommends this “sweet, full-bodied” honey as an “everyday go-to.” While it is not single origin (the honey is processed in a facility that sources from many different beekeepers), its affordable price point means you don’t have to feel bad about using it liberally while cooking. Collins also suggests always having a workhorse honey in your pantry because “if you’re cooking with honey it usually puts a pretty significant dent in your stash so I don’t use the super special, raw, local stuff because it’s a waste to throw such a nuanced and delicate product with lots of other ingredients.”
Best honey for baking
“Dr. Pescia’s bees make this special honey from nectar gathered from the chestnut blossoms that grow in the rolling hills of Chianti. The earthy flavor — dark, dusty, even a little bitter — is an unforgettable match” for most desserts says Natasha Pickowicz, executive pastry chef at Café Altro Paradiso and Flora Bar. Pescia practices a type of “nomadic beekeeping” in which he transports his hives to specific areas seasonally to produce monofloral honey.
Meadowfoam Honey “has developed something of a cult following in the last few decades” for its marshmallow and vanilla flavor that is “hard to believe until you try it,” says Kaplan. While it is available nationally, almost all meadowfoam honey is produced in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. “We harvest our meadowfoam honey during or immediately following the bloom, so it is particularly intensely flavored compared to other meadowfoam honey harvested later in the season after the bees have foraged for some mild Northwest blackberry nectar.”
Another ideal honey to use for baking is Mieli Thun French Honeysuckle Honey, which Le Bernardin’s executive pastry chef Thomas Raquel recommends because it “has a well-balanced floral and fragrant quality that still allows other ingredients to shine through.”
Best honey for finishing
Dolce Miele ai Fiori di Origano is produced in Northern Sicily in the province of Palermo on an organic farm at the base of the Madonie mountains. Scott Tacinelli and Angie Rito, chefs and owners of Don Angie, describe it as having a “delicate floral flavor from the oregano that sets it apart from other honey and makes it a perfect accompaniment for young sheep’s milk cheeses.”
Simonis also loves Tupelo honey for “it’s earthy, rich” flavor and “beautiful, golden amber color.” Tupelo trees typically grow in swampy areas in Florida and Georgia, and the honey they produce is sometimes referred to as “swamp honey.”
Food writer and author of the cookbook, Indian-ish, Priya Krishna, recommends Mike’s Hot Honey for its balance of sweet and heat that “gives you the complexity of the honey itself, but with a subtle yet effective kick.” The chili-infused honey is “a good finishing condiment to drizzle on anything from buttered biscuits to salty pizza,” adds Jerrelle Guy. Mike’s Hot Honey is made from wildflower honey harvested in Jefferson County in upstate New York from a variety of local hives.
Collins was first introduced to acacia honey while working at Per Se where it was used to “as an elegant way to finish desserts table-side or to garnish a decadent savory dish.” This “delicate, floral, and ultra-nuanced honey” should be a pale shade of champagne. “I use it at home to adorn a hunk of fancy blue cheese or as the sole companion to a bowl of fresh figs,” says Collins. Acacia honey is produced by bees who pollinate in Black Locust trees or False Acacia trees and can be found anywhere from Hungary to the United States.
Best medicinal honey
This honey is made from a mix of honey, pollen, propolis, and royal jelly. “Be warned — it’s funky,” says Julia Sherman, author of Salad for President, but “it’s the first thing I reach for when I have an inkling that I’m getting sick.” Andrew’s Honey sells a range of varietals, many of which are sourced from New York City rooftop hives.
Best honey sampler
Old Blue Raw Honey doesn’t “mix honey from different areas or times of the year, so you can truly taste the flavor that develops from specific seasonal nectar — poison oak, wild blackberry, clary sage. I recommend buying more than one at a time to really enjoy the distinct flavor profiles,” says Sherman. This sampler includes 16 8-ounce bottles — six different early- to late-season wildflower honey, four different main-season wild blackberry honey, and six different Willamette Valley crop honey — as well as a honey flavor and aroma wheel produced by the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.