The golden honey that accompanies warm biscuits in the morning isn’t just a sweetener; it’s the cumulative effort of thousands of bees and millions of flowers. 

“A pound of honey contains the concentrated essence of about 2 million flowers,” said Jon Zawislak, Extension apiculture expert for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “It’s just part of the magic of the stuff.”

The 60,000 or so honey bees in a hive may collectively travel as many as 55,000 miles to collect enough nectar to make a pound of honey. 

(See Honey laundering trails all lead to China)

Zawislak, who keeps bees and collects honey from several hives, said his summer honey is of a darker amber than his spring honey.

Honey can range from nearly colorless to a maple syrupy darkness. USDA uses seven color classifications, from water white to dark amber. The lighter ones tend to be milder in flavor, while the darker ones are more intense.

“Different mixtures of flowers give honey a distinct color, aroma and flavor,” Zawislak said. “Every batch of honey is different, every year and every season.”

“If I hadn’t mixed it all together, you would have probably been able to detect a difference in the honey from each of the hives,” he said.

Flowers visited by the bees can impart distinct flavors to each honey. In the U.S., it’s not uncommon to find clover, mixed wildflower or orange blossom honey on the grocery shelves. However, the National Honey Board says there are more than 300 unique kinds of honey in the U.S. — including eucalyptus that makes for honey with a slight menthol flavor, lavender honey with a floral undertone and soybean honey.

Aside from flavor, sweetness and water, honey contains a variety of antioxidants. Researchers have found that in general, darker honeys have higher antioxidant content than lighter honey. Honey is also a natural preservative.

Honey production in 2010 from producers with five or more colonies totaled 176 million pounds, up 20 percent from 2009, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. There were 2.68 million colonies producing honey in 2010, up 7 percent from 2009. Yield per colony averaged 65.5 pounds, up 12 percent from the 58.6 pounds in 2009.

North Dakota led the nation in 2010, producing more than 34.6 million pounds of honey. Arkansas produced 1.3 million pounds last year. USDA only tracks production from individual producers with more than five colonies.

For more information on keeping bees, visit www.uaex.edu or contact your local county agent.

Fast Facts

  • Pound of honey contains essence of 2 million flowers
  • Honey classified in seven different colors from light to dark
  • Honey varies by season, year, surrounding flowers