With so many different honey types in the market it is difficult to distinguish between them and how the different types influence the quality. There are basically two ways of classifying the different types of honey: by processing and by floral source.
Types of honey by processing
One of the most important ways of classifying honey is based on the way it is processed. The main honey types are:
- Commercial, regular or pasteurized honey. This honey is industrially processed, pasteurized (at high temperatures typically 65-75oC), treated and finely filtered. The process is very efficient and fast. However, it also destroys most of the active ingredients within the honey, eliminating the vast majority of its natural health benefits.
- Raw honey. This is pure, unheated, unpasteurized and unprocessed honey – it is practically the same honey found in the beehive. The honey is extracted my mechanical means at low temperatures in small batches. It preserves all the natural health benefits.
The quality of honey is affected by a multitude of factors including the quality of the sources of the nectar, the soil, the weather, the level of pollution in the area, how the honey is selected and, of course, the experience and skill of the beekeeper. However, without much doubt, processing has the biggest influence on the honey´s quality and properties. Processing honey at a high temperature and fine filtering has a significant effect on the physical and chemical properties of the honey, directly affecting the honey´s health benefits. For a detailed explanation see: Raw vs Regular Honey: What´s The Difference?
Honey can also be organic. Organic honey is collected from areas that are totally free of fertilizers and pesticides, including the flowers where the bees gather their pollen.
Types of honey by floral source
Honey is also classified by the floral source of the nectar used by honeybees to make it. It can be classified as follows:
The pollen contained in the honey can be analysed to determine the floral source as well as the region of origin of any honey. The melissopalynological and rheological properties of honey can be used to identify its plant nectar sources.
This is the most commonly available honey type on supermarket and food store shelves. Most commercially available honey, or regular honey, is a blend of several honey varieties from different floral sources, with different densities, from different geographic regions and even different countries. This type of honey is typically industrially processed, pasteurized and filtered. The pasteurization process liquefies any microcrystals in the honey, delays the onset of visible crystallization as well as destroying yeast cells. Excessive heat exposure also results in the deterioration of many of the honey´s properties and phytonutrients (which provide many of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties), as it increases the amount of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) and reduces diastase (enzyme) activity. The high temperatures also darken the honey as well as affecting its aroma and taste.
The other types of honey described below (Polyfloral, Monofloral and Honeydew) are typically unprocessed, 100% natural, pure, unpasteurized and unfiltered. This type of honey is usually referred to as raw honey because it is totally unprocessed. Basically this means that the raw honey is as it exists in the beehive because it is extracted from the honey comb without adding any heat, maintaining as low a temperature as possible. Raw honey contains some pollen and may contain small particles of wax while retaining all its natural active ingredients such as phytonutrients which provide a wide range of health benefits.
Polyfloral / wildflower honey is produced by honeybees from the nectar of many types of plants and flowers blooming at the same time within the same geographical area (usually in the same beehives). They can include: flоwеrѕ, fruіt trееѕ, hеrbѕ, hеrbасеоuѕ рlаntѕ, fоrаgе, еѕѕеntіаl оіl, wооdу аnd оthеr vаrіеtіеѕ оf mеllіfеrоuѕ рlаntѕ.
The taste and aroma may vary from year to year as well as with the types of flowers which are blooming, resulting in unique varieties for each beehive and colony.
Monofloral honey varieties have distinctive flavours, aromas and colours as it is made primarily from the nectar of one type of flower or plant source. To produce this type of honey beekeepers keep their beehives in an area where the bees have access to only one type of flower.
The two factors influencing the production of monofloral honey are:
- Location. Beekeepers need to prepare honey bees by setting them in an area plentiful with only one type of flower or plant so the honey bees have a minimal selection of plants.
- Timing. Beekeepers must time the introduction of the beehive and the actual harvesting of the honey to coincide with the blooming period.
Monofloral honey is a result of flowers blooming in a specific region and under specific environmental conditions which is reflected in the flavour, viscosity, aroma and colour of the honey.
Bees can also use honeydew, the sweet secretions from plant sap-sucking insects such as aphids, to produce honey instead of plant or flower nectar. Honeydew honey is very dark brown in colour and is not as sweet as nectar honey.
An important point to bear in mind as well is that honey is one of the foods where adulteration and fraud is most common. There have been cases affecting most of the different types outlined above.