Throughout human history, there are plenty of examples of mankind and the natural world working in harmony, but the production of honey is surely the most successful.
A regular bee colony can contain tens of thousands of insects, all of them working together to produce sweet honey, and if correctly tended, a thriving bee colony can develop some of the most sought after food products to delight the senses.
Honey has the advantage of not only being delicious, but packed with health benefits, and it is not hard to see why this treat has been popular across all civilisations.
These days, the honey making process has been updated and refined considerably, which means that whenever you go into any regular English supermarket you’ll find a huge variety of honey options, from mass-made honeys to the most sought-after artisanal and specialist brands.
The basis of honey production is the industry of the bees, who toil hard all year to make honey so they will be able to eat throughout the cold winter months. This means that when the right flowers are in bloom bees will often travel for many miles to find flowers packed with the precious nectar, which they extract using their tongues and store in special stomachs.
Once a bee is full up with the good stuff, it will head back to the hive and pass this nectar over to the worker bees to be transformed into honey through chewing. The honey is then packed into those familiar hexagonal honeycomb cells, before being sealed up with wax. Beekeepers are then able to harvest this honey, but proper beekeeping means ensuring they only take a surplus amount, so the bees will have enough to survive on. That precious honey is then bottled or jarred before sale.
The beauty of this delightful food is that individual hives in different areas of England can produce wildly different flavours. As you find with wine, there is a wide number of variables and factors that can influence the final flavour, texture and colour of the honey. These include the species of plants and flowers that have been harvested, the techniques used by the beekeeper to process the honey, and the type of bee involved. All of these influences have an effect on the final product, and the result is that even honey harvested from the same flower species can taste completely different when taken from hives located in different parts of the country.
Honey is popular all over the world, and other nations including Greece, Saudi Arabia and Italy have established thriving honey industries, but the English honey tradition is also a well established feature of our cuisine. In fact, honey bees may have arrived in Britain as long as 9000 years ago when these islands were joined with the rest of Europe. By the time the Romans arrived in Britain, the tradition of bee-keeping and honey production was already well underway.
Over the years, English honey production has had to deal with a variety of challenges, and the latest problem facing honey producers is the combination of environmental factors that are making it harder for beekeepers to maintain the right environment for English honey bees. So one way to show your support for English honey producers is to try some of the many delightful honey products available today. Here’s our guide to the best of English honey in 2021.
English Blossom Honey – Tiptree
Proud holders of a Royal Warrant, Tiptree are known for their delicious condiments and their range extends to honey, including this example of set honey, which may be one of the best available. It offers a smooth consistency, along with a creamy flavour, and it doesn’t leave a sticky residue on your tongue, which is the case with some set honeys. It has plenty of flavour depth and a subdued sweetness that isn’t too strong.
Black Bee Honey – British Spring Honey
Black Bee have the reputation of being one of the most popular and well known of the English honey making brands and their select British Spring Honey is a particularly popular product. Their first venture into soft set honey, this product is creamy and light, and is produced by bees that have been foraging in the spring flowers found in the Somerset region, and it makes for a perfect spreading honey. It is also worth noting that Black Bee produce a Summer and Autumn version of this honey, both of which have their own distinctive taste.
Keepr’s – Cotswold Honey
Another popular English honey maker, Keepr’s produce a variety of distinctive local honeys, including this brand, which is collected from apiaries in the Cotswolds area. It is a multi-floral honey that has been carefully crafted in order to capture the unique flavour of Cotswold flowers. It is particularly tasty when paired with toast at teatime or breakfast.
Keepr’s – Oxford Honey
Another contender on our list from Keepr’s, and this one is produced by bees from apiaries in and around the famous city of Oxford. As with the Cotswold Honey, it has been lightly filtered, which helps to ensure that it retains all the natural honey goodness. This is a honey that you will find works well when spread over crumpets or toast, and also adds extra zest to a cup of peppermint tea.
Littleover Apiaries – Pure English Clear Honey
Littleover Apiaries are known for their popular raw honey products, all of which are cold extracted from local hives ensuring minimal interference with the bees. Their organic honey product is derived from a wide range of wildflowers, which have been uncontaminated with pesticides or chemicals, and their dedicated laboratory works hard to ensure that their honey is of a high quality. This brand is a liquid honey that offers an intense, warming flavour. Ideal for spreading on toast, it also functions well as a cooking ingredient or a general sweetener.
Paynes South Down Bee Farms – English Honey
Based in the South Downs, which stretch across Sussex, Kent and Surrey, Paynes are able to draw on the influence of a wide array of flora for bees to forage, while the South Down National Park provides a safe and natural environment. Paynes go to extra lengths to produce the best possible product, ensuring that hive locations are perfectly balanced to offer a high quality of nectar and honey.
Their traditional beekeeping methods avoid modern technology and ensure that there is minimal disruption to the hives, while their honey harvesting is carried out twice a year, in May and August. The result is a memorable local honey with a subtle, but beautiful taste.
Maters & Co – Pure Raw Orange Blossom Honey
This honey provides a delicate taste and an attractive amber colouring, for a real treat. The subtle hints of citrus in a spoonful of this honey provide a gentle tang without being overpowering, and the floral undertones add extra freshness. Maters & Co always draw their honey from sustainable hives, and never pasteurise the product, preserving natural vitamins, enzymes and nutrients.
Urban Bees – Regent’s Park Raw Honey
Although beekeeping is facing severe pressures, caused by habitat and pest challenges, one bright spot is the burgeoning urban community of beekeeping. Urban Bees is one of the best producers working in this niche. Their bees harvest flowers in the Regent’s Canal and Camley Street Natural Park areas of London, as well as the flowers growing in the railway sidings at Euston and St Pancras, and the variety of parks and residential gardens in the area. The result is this delightful and fragrant floral honey that has definitely gone down well with consumers all over England.
Bees and Co – Wild Countryside British Honey
Based in the Peterborough area, of England, Bees and Co have produced some lovely honey products, and their Wild Countryside British Honey is one of the most successful, landing a Great Taste Award in 2018. It is produced from honey harvested in the summer months when bees are able to gather pollen and nectar from the greatest possible array of sources, including hedgerows, wild flowers and lime trees, which helps to provide this runny honey with a pleasing citrus edge. It has a unique flavour and is versatile enough for use with breakfast cereals, tea or desserts.
Fortnum & Mason – Acacia Chunk Comb Honey Amphora
For the ultimate in English honey, Fortnum and Mason sell this expensive honey jar that features a chunk of pure honeycomb. The honey itself has a powerful flavour that is floral and slightly fruity though with a mild taste. This makes it the ideal partner for cheese, yoghurt or to spread on toast. Although it is one of the most expensive English honeys you will come across, it packs quite a punch so it will last longer than you might think.