Honey comes in an array of colors. Today we are discussing where the different colors of honey come from and what they mean for the honey in your jar.
Honey Color Varieties
Have you ever noticed that honeys from different sources are often found in varying colors?
The beekeeper at the Farmer’s Market might have a lighter honey than the beekeeper that you purchase from outside of the market… And then you find that the processed honey at the grocery store is different from both of the local honey options.
Raw honey can actually range in color from water white to a dark amber (almost black) with several colors in between.
Honey colors in the grocery store typically tend to be in the middle of this range, but the color you see on the shelf may not be the original.
Why is that?
What Causes Different Honey Colors?
Honey Bee Food Sources
Honey color is determined by the food source of the bees. Pollen and nectar from different plants will produce different colors of honey.
If you compare honey from hives in multiple regions (or climates), then you are likely to see a range of honey colors due to the pollen and nectar source differences in each region.
The availability of plants also changes for each hive throughout the year. This means that the honey from one hive can change colors a few times from season to season.
Honey in the grocery store has usually gone through processing that can affect the color. As honey heats up, the color gets darker so it will darken as it goes through the pasteurization process. Honey color can also darken as it sits in a warm warehouse awaiting transport to the store.
Monofloral vs. Multifloral Honeys
Monofloral honey, also known as a single varietal, is honey from the floral nectars of one plant species.
Multifloral, or polyfloral honey, is honey that does not have a predominant plant species as its source, but is instead derived from multiple flowering plants near the beehive. This is often called wildflower honey.
What Are There Different Colors of Honey?
We mentioned water white and dark amber, but what about the honey colors that are found in between those two ends of the spectrum?
While honey color does not play a part in the USDA quality grade of honey, it is still commonly measured. Honey color in the United States is measured using the pfund scale. This is a continuous scale that measures the ”length” of honey in millimeters.
The Pfund color grader is an amber colored glass wedge that goes from light to dark. Honey is placed on the wedge and where the color matches is where it is measured.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes 7 honey colors:
1. Water White Honey
You’ve never seen white honey? That’s because this honey isn’t actually white at all. “White” here simply means “colorless” and transparent.
Water White Honey is <9 millimeters on the Pfund Scale.
2. Extra White Honey
Extra White Honey has just a bit more color to it than water white honey. It tends to have a very light yellow tint while still remaining transparent.
Extra White Honey is 9-17 millimeters on the Pfund Scale.
3. White Honey
White Honey moves up the color scale one notch with a slightly more yellow/very light amber coloring. This honey is also transparent.
White Honey is 18-34 millimeters on the Pfund Scale.
4. Extra Light Amber Honey
Extra Light Amber Honey is commonly seen on grocery store shelves. It is transparent and has a light orange / amber hue.
Extra Light Amber Honey is 35-50 millimeters on the Pfund Scale.
5. Light Amber Honey
Light Amber Honey is also commonly sold in grocery stores. At this point, the honey isn’t completely transparent and it has a deeper orange / amber hue.
Light Amber Honey is 51-85 millimeters on the Pfund Scale.
6. Amber Honey
Amber honey is a deep orange color and it is not transparent.
Amber Honey is 86-114 millimeters on the Pfund Scale.
7. Dark Amber Honey
Dark Amber Honey is sometimes referred to as “motor oil black”. It is very dark and opaque.
Dark Amber Honey is >114 millimeters on the Pfund Scale.
Light Honey vs. Dark Honey
The color of honey is directly related to the honey’s overall appearance, flavor, and nutritional value. This is because the color is caused by the honey bee’s food source and the pollen / nectar source determines the flavor, appearance, and nutrition of the honey.
Lighter honey is said to have a higher water content which results in fewer nutrients and a mild taste.
Examples of light honey floral sources:
- Black Locust Trees
- Apple Blossom
Darker honey contains less water and yields a more complex and rich flavor. Dark honeys are also known to have more antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals than light honeys.
Examples of dark honey floral sources:
Keep in mind that processed honey can appear darker due to the sugars burning during processing even if the honey wasn’t dark to begin with.
**The differences listed here generally hold true, but there are some exceptions depending on the type of plant pollen that makes up the honey. For example, tupelo honey is generally lighter in color, but it is very aromatic and flavorful.