All honey doesn't come in a plastic bear

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Considered the golden liquor of the ancient gods, honey has been around since King Tutankhamen was a tot.

At the Agricultural Museum in Dokki, Egypt, two honey pots pulled from New Kingdom tombs (1400 BC) still have their contents intact. And the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses III made sure he was in good with the Nile gods by offering them 15 tons of honey.

The same stuff that makes your bran flakes go down a little easier, coated the royal tongue of Caligula. In fact, Romans knew the value of the sensual syrup: They paid their taxes in pounds of honey instead of gold. Even today, some people tout the beauty benefits of the sweet stuff, adding it to bath water for silky skin. Others dunk their faces in it for a moisture mask.

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On average, Americans eat about a pound of honey each year. But not Doug McGinnins and his family. They've been in the honey business in Edgewater, Fla., since 1940, and they know honey like Betty Crocker knows cooking. They gulp gallons of honey every year. And, unlike most consumers, it's not coming from that plastic bear in the pantry.

When describing the tastes of honey, Mr. McGinnis sounds like someone critiquing an opera, not something that comes from a buzzing box behind the woodshed. He says orange-blossom honey has a light, delicate taste that's "slightly citrus in its notes." Sourwood honey, he says, has "distinct caramel and vanilla notes." Basswood honey has a "bite" to it and gallberry has a "twang." In Arizona there's a mesquite honey, and in California, a sage honey. Darker honeys, like tulip poplar and buckwheat, are good for cooking because of their stronger flavor. Experts also say that because honey contains pollen, the protein content is high - and since bees add beneficial enzymes to honey, it can last forever.

McGinnis says the flavor of honey ranges from ultra-sweet, such as tupelo honey, to honey so strong and dark it's almost inedible (Christmas berry).

There are more than 300 types of honey, with distinct flavors, in the United States. Clover honey is the most popular because, experts say, it's an extremely strong nectar-producing plant.

"Consumption of honey is definitely on the rise," says McGinnis. He attributes this to the increasingly international palate in the US. Ethnic groups prefer stronger honeys. He sells "chunk" (honey in the comb) to Arabs, Russians, and people of Turkish and Armenian descent. He has also found a market for stronger-flavored honeys in Europe. His "unfiltered" honey is heated to about 110 degrees F. then strained through a mesh bag. This retains natural pollens that add to the flavor.

Infused honey is also gaining in popularity. McGinnis's Key-lime honey is infused with a dash of Key lime. This is done by blending flavored oil with the honey in a simple mixing process.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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