October 10, 2016

What makes Tupelo Honey Special?

Tupelo honey is highly sought after and is considered to be a premium honey due to its purity and relative scarcity. Pure Tupelo honey is only produced in the Southeastern United States, in the Apalachicola River basin, the Chipola River (a tributary of the Apalachicola) and the  The Ochlocknee and Choctahatchee Rivers in Northwest Florida and Southern Georgia.  These areas are the only places in the world where certified Tupelo honey is produced.  As it is the only place where the white tupelo tree, Nyssa Ogeche , that produces pure Tupelo honey, grows in any abundance.

There are other types of  tupelo, for example black tupelo, but this does not produce the high quality honey that the white tupelo does. When buying Tupelo honey you should ensure that it is the pure certified variety from the white tupelo and preferably raw honey straight from the comb.

The white tupelo blooms from early April to early May, depending on the  weather conditions.  This means that beekeepers have a small window of opportunity to ensure that their bees produce the maximum amount of pure Tupelo honey.

Black Tupelo, Nyssa Biflora , actually blooms in advance of white tupelo and is used to build up bee colony strength. However as soon as the white tupelo are ready to bloom beekeepers empty the hives of all stores and replace them with empty drawn comb ready for the bees to fill them up with pure white tupelo nectar and turn it into this much sought after honey crop.

The hives usually need to be transported to the river banks, often by barge, where the tupelo trees grow in time for the bees to start the harvest. As soon as the white tupelo trees look as if they are going out of bloom the beekeepers have to remove the frames of honey to prevent the bees mixing it with nectar from other types of plants or flowers and therefore ruining its purity. Timing is everything and it is easy to see why this is an expensive and time-consuming operation for the beekeepers.

It is estimated that it takes the nectar from over two million white tupelo flowers to produce just one pound of honey. Add that to the fact that one honey bee during her life will make 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey only and you will begin to  see just how much effort is required to produce this amazing crop.

Tupelo Honey

Pure Tupelo honey is a light amber gold colour with a distinctive greenish tint.  It has a distinctive and delicious flavour, with buttery undertones. Honey produced solely from the white tupelo is the only honey that will not granulate, this is due to its high fructose (levulose) (44.3%), low glucose (dextrose) (29.98%) ratio. This combination of sugars has also meant that it is the only honey that some diabetics can consume.

More Honey Facts

A Closer Look at Honeycomb

Honey bee nests are made from honeycomb, which is made up of a mass of hexagonal wax cells built by the bees from wax . Each of these cells are used to contain honey and pollen stores and all stages of the young or brood from egg to pupa.

These hexagonal cells are built up on both sides of a central vertical plain known as the septum . The base of the cell on one side of the septum serves as the base for the cell on the other side, thereby maximizing the space created using the least amount of wax.

The hexagonal  honeycomb cells are not all the same size but come in two distinct sizes. Cells used to rear worker bees measure  approximately 5 to an inch, while those for the larger drone bees measure approximately 4 to an inch. Both types of  cells can also be used to store honey.

The honeycomb cell walls are very thin, only about .006 of an inch in thickness, with a slightly thicker top or coping. Propolis is used to strengthen and varnish the cells.

It is believed that the reason that honeycomb is composed of hexagons, rather than any other shape is that the hexagonal shapes cover a surface and create cells in a way that is composed of the least surface area. That is, the bees have typically used the most efficient way to maximise the storage space in an area while using the least amount of wax.

In a typical hive or nest in the wild the honeycomb structures or frames will hang vertically. The bees will build or draw the hexagonal cells out enough to hold the developing young bees or honey. If the cells are used for brood there will be enough space left for two bees to work back to back between the vertical honeycomb and if the cells contain honey to maximise the storage space there will be only enough space left for one bee to work between the honeycombs. The cells are also cleverly angled at about 13 degrees, which is just enough to prevent honey or nectar dripping out.

More about Honey Bee Colonies