There are many examples of mankind and the natural world working together but one of the most fascinating is the production of honey. A typical bee colony can contain tens of thousands of bees, all of them working in harmony to create honey, and if correctly maintained and looked after, a thriving colony can produce some of the sweetest food products to delight the taste buds.
Honey is not only delicious, it is packed with health benefits, and it is not hard to see why it has been popular across all civilisations since the dawn of time. These days, the honey making process has been refined considerably, which means that when you go into any supermarket you’ll find a huge range of options, from mass-made and commoditised honey to artisanal and specialist brands.
The basis of honey production is the industry of the bees, who work hard to make honey so they will be able to eat during the winter. This means that when flowers are in bloom bees will often travel for miles to find flowers containing the precious nectar, which they extract with their tongues and store in special stomachs. Once they are full up with the good stuff, they head back to the hive and pass this nectar over to the worker bees, which transform it into honey through chewing. The honey is then stored in those familiar hexagonal honeycomb cells, and then sealed with wax.
Beekeepers are able to harvest this honey, but ensure that they only take the surplus amount, so the bees don’t starve. The honey can then be bottled or jarred for us to enjoy.
The beauty of honey is that individual hives in different areas can produce wildly different flavours. As with wine, there is a wide number of variables and other factors that can go into producing the final flavour, texture and colour. The plants and flowers that have been harvested, the way that the beekeeper processes the honey, and the type of honey bee involved, will all have an effect on the final product, which means that even honey harvested from the same flowers will taste very different in different parts of the world.
And although honey from Greece, Saudi Arabia and Italy can be popular, the English honey tradition is a long and proud one. Honey bees may have arrived on these islands around 9000 years ago when there was no such thing as the English Channel, and by the time the Romans arrived, the tradition of bee-keeping and honey production was well established.
Over the years, English honey production has faced numerous challenges, and right now, there are genuine concerns about the future of beekeeping, with a variety of factors combining to create a more difficult environment for English honey bees. So why not show your support for English honey producers by sampling some of the truly flavourful products out there.
Bees and Co – Wild Countryside British Honey
Based in the Peterborough area, Bees and Co have produced some fine honey products, and their Wild Countryside British Honey has been one of the most successful, landing a Great Taste Award in 2018. It is made from honey produced in the summer months when bees are able to gather pollen and nectar from the widest possible array of sources, including hedgerows, wild flowers and even lime trees, which helps to give this particular honey a citrus edge.
This is a runny honey that has a unique floral flavour, and a versatility that means it is equally suitable for drizzling on porridge, stirring into your tea or using in any recipe.
Black Bee Honey – British Spring Honey
Black Bee are one of the most popular and well known of the English honey making brands and their British Spring Honey is a particularly well liked product. Their first venture into the world of soft set honey, this is a creamy and light product, produced by bees that have been foraging among spring flowers in the Somerset region, and it makes a perfect spreading honey. Black Bee also produce a Summer and Autumn version, each of which has a distinctive taste.
Keepr’s – Cotswold Honey
Another popular English honey producer, Keepr’s produce a range of distinctive local honeys, including this brand, collected from apiaries in the Cotswolds area. It’s a multi-floral honey that has been carefully developed to capture the unique flavour of Cotswold flowers. It’s particularly tasty when paired with toast, marmalade or jam at teatime or breakfast.
Keepr’s – Oxford Honey
Another entry from Keepr’s on our list, and another 100% English honey. This one is produced by bees from apiaries in and around the city of Oxford, and like the Keepr’s Cotswold Honey, it has been lightly filtered, ensuring that it retains all the natural honey goodness. This is a honey that works well when spread on crumpets or toast, and also goes well in cup of peppermint tea.
Littleover Apiaries – Pure English Clear Honey
Littleover Apiaries produce popular raw honey products, all of which are cold extracted from hives ensuring minimal interference with the bees. Their organic honey is produced from a wide range of wildflowers, which are not contaminated with pesticides or chemicals, and their dedicated laboratory ensures that their honey is of a high quality. This brand is a liquid honey that has an intense, warming flavour. Ideal for spreading on toast, it also works well as a cooking ingredient or sweetener.
Paynes South Down Bee Farms – English Honey
Based on the South Downs, reaching across Sussex, Kent and Surrey, Paynes are able to draw on a wide array of flora for bees to forage, while the South Down National Park provides a safe and natural environment for them. In producing their honey Paynes go to extra lengths, ensuring that the hive locations are perfectly balanced to provide sufficient quality of nectar and honey.
Their time-tested beekeeping methods eschews modern technology and ensures minimal disruption to the hives, while honey harvesting is carried out twice a year, in May and August. The result is a wonderful local honey with a subtle, but beautiful taste.
Urban Bees – Regent’s Park Raw Honey
Although beekeeping is under pressure nationwide, due to habitat and pest challenges, one bright spot is the development of a thriving urban community of beekeeping. Urban Bees represent the best of this trend. Their bees harvest plants in the Regent’s Canal and Camley Street Natural Park areas, along with flowers growing in the railway sidings at Euston and St Pancras. They can also explore the many parks and residential gardens in the area. The result is this beautiful and fragrant floral honey that has proven to be a hit with consumers all over England.