- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
It's Valentine's Day and it's a honey of a day.
Valentine cards proclaim "Bee Mine" and "Bee My Valentine."
Invariably, there's a happy honey bee buzzing around a flower on a Valentine's Day card. With the onset of colony collapse disorder, the smile may be fading a bit, but the honey bee is still very much a part of Valentine's Day.
“Honey is nature’s best and sweetest sweet,” said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who does research at both UC Davis and Washington State University. “It tastes sweeter than sugar, so you use less when you’re cooking with it.”
“Also it comes in as many flavors as there are bee flowers,” she said. “It’s a high-energy simple, natural sweet. Athletes use it for a quick pickup.” Each tablespoon of honey provides 17 grams of carbohydrates or 64 calories.
Honey, she said, is one to 1.5 times sweeter than sugar—and that’s especially “sweet” on Valentine’s Day when folks partake of such dishes as honey-baked ham, honey-mustard chicken, whole wheat honey bread and assorted honey desserts. And then there’s mead, or honey wine.
The average worker bee produces about 1/12th teaspoon of honey in her lifetime; on one collection trip, she visits 50 to 100 flowers. The workers in a beehive may collectively travel 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers “just to gather enough nectar to make a pound of honey,” Cobey said.
Depending on the location, the average healthy hive can yield from 50 to 500 pounds of honey a year. “In Canada they get crops of 300 to 500 pounds—surplus harvest,” Cobey said. “It’s about 50 pounds here. This is their winter feed.”
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty says the bees’ floral source determines the color and flavor of honey.
The standard colors are water white, extra white, white, extra light amber, light amber, amber and dark amber, he said. The lighter colors tend to be mild and the darker colors, more robust.
"The milder flavors are good for drizzling over pancakes and oatmeal or for vegetable dishes," said Mussen, who writes the bimonthly newsletter, from the UC Apiaries, available free on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website. "The darker, more robust colors, are excellent recipe ingredients, providing substantial honey flavor and resistance of the final product to 'drying out.'"
"For great lemonade," he said, "try mixing one cup of freshly squeezed lemon with one cup of liquid honey, and add water to fill a quart."
Now that sounds like a honey of lemonade on a honey of a day!