In 2002, Ted Dennard founded Savannah Bee, which won a 2011 sofi Gold Award at the Summer Fancy Food Show in Washington, D.C., for its Tupelo Honey Flute. Dennard, who has more than 30 years of experience with bees, was introduced to honey as a boy in Georgia. I interviewed him about what affects honey’s taste and how to use it to enhance food.
What are some food uses for honey? How can a chef pick the right honey for a specific food?
There are multiple food uses for honey. Really, your imagination is the limit. Honey, of course, can impart a sweetness, but it can also add flavor if it is a strong-tasting honey. A unique-tasting honey can add character to a glaze.
For instance, you can make a simple lemonade with honey, water and lemon juice. You can make it sweet like most lemonade, or you can add a little bit of a sourwood honey that creates a complex flavor without making it sweet. The result is more like a tasty lemon water with gingerbread and maple spice undertones and only a hint of sweet. The same goes for how you use honey in other food. You can also use honey to balance vinegar or lime in a sauce. You don’t have to make it sickly sweet, and you can choose a certain tasting honey to impart a flavor. Most of my honey consumption does result from tea I drink in the morning, but I also make lots of sauces and glazes.
There are literally hundreds of possible varietal honeys out there. I’d say the main thing is to begin to experiment with different ones. And you can’t ignore wildflower honey. Some of it can be great. Taste the honey, and use your creativity to come up with something wonderful. The exciting thing is that for a chef who hasn’t done this before, it is like discovering a spice drawer.
How does honey compare with other sweeteners?
Like wine versus grain alcohol, meaning honey isn’t a processed and tasteless sweet. Honey is alive and is carefully harvested by bees from flower nectar, and the variation is as infinite and complex as wine.
Your Tupelo Flute won a sofi Gold Award at the Fancy Food Show. What sets your tupelo honey apart from the pack?
Tupelo sets itself at the top of the honey world. The sugars are different, and the type of sweet is so soft that it is addictive. It makes nearly every other honey taste too candy sweet. The packaging literally and figuratively lifts it out of the honey world into a sleek and elegant gift. People sometimes buy the Tupelo Flute to sit on their counter. The sleek, long lines of honey are sexy and captivating.
What kinds of meals work well with honey?
Everything from tea, coffee, lemonade, cocktails, smoothies, yogurt, biscuits, toast, English muffins, scones, honey cinnamon rolls, granola, oatmeal and cereal to sauces, marinades, dressings, glazes, bastings on the grill and desserts galore. You can use honey to make ice cream. One of the greatest tastes in the world is the taste of honey, a chunk of good cheese and a bite of a baguette slice together.
What factors affect honey’s taste?
The species of flower from which bees collect nectar determine the color, taste and type of sugar combination of the honey. Single-flower honey is specific in its flavor profile, and it can change slightly from year to year in the same way that weather determines subtle changes in cabernet. Wildflower honey can be infinite in its variety of flower combinations. Wildflower basically means that bees went to multiple species of flowers, and all of the honey was mixed into one.
Lastly, the way honey is processed and bottled have a great deal to do with how it tastes. It if is heated too hot or for too long, then the sugars begin to change and the color tends to darken and the taste isn’t the same anymore, similar to a fresh lemonade versus a pasteurized lemonade. There are some companies that blend honey from all over the world to achieve a consistent color from year to year. That tends to make the honey taste weird and is the reason so many people who have had only grocery honey say they don’t like honey.
Get honey from local beekeepers because it is always good to support them. And find a honey company you can trust to take care and deliver honey the way honeybees intended it to be.
Image courtesy of Savannah Bee