Since many people pick honey for its taste, medicinal benefits, or for a specific use, it’s essential to know the differences between kinds of honey – especially considering that there are 300 different types.
The most important distinctions, however, are between clover vs wildflower honey and raw vs processed. The contrasts between these kinds of honey are significant enough to alter the health benefits, flavor, look, and use.
Clover Honey is the most common type of honey in the market because of the plant’s widespread use in agriculture. Farmers will grow a field of clover between planting seasons to reduce soil erosion, reduce invasive weed introduction, and fix nitrogen in the soil for the following crop. Not only does clover provide those benefits, but it can also make the farmer money in the process.
The farmer can:
- Harvest and sell the clover for livestock feed since it is highly palatable and nutritious.
- Place beehives around the field and extract clover honey.
Because of this, clover honey is the most easily found honey in today’s markets. Over 50 percent of the nectar must be sourced from the clover plant to be distinguished as clover honey.
This type of honey usually comes in a light, amber color and has a sweet and mild taste. Although clover honey doesn’t have a lot of vitamin or mineral content, it does have small amounts of vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
Where it packs a punch, however, is in its antioxidant properties. These antioxidants can help improve heart health, protect the central nervous system, regulate blood pressure, lower bad cholesterol, and neutralize free radicals. This honey, when in its raw form, also contains antibacterial properties. This component can help soothe sore throats and suppress coughs.
Wildflower honey, on the other hand, is much different. As its name suggests, wildflower honey comes from wildflowers – flowers of plants that generally grow in the wild without deliberate cultivation. In this method of honey production, beekeepers place their hives close to an undeveloped land area. Then, the bees collect nectar from various nearby wildflowers.
Because of this, each vat of wildflower honey will be tremendously unique from another. Moreover, these differences will be exacerbated from region to region and season to season.
Although largely dependent on the region of the world and the type of bee, common wildflowers include: poppy, bee balm, bellflower, baby blue eyes, lady’s bedstraw, blackeyed Susan, and purple coneflower (echinacea).
Wildflower honey changes in taste and texture depending on the nectar source but is generally stronger in flavor than clover honey. It also can be distinguished by its darker color.
The health benefits of wildflower honey also depend on location and season. If the beekeeper is knowledgeable enough, they will tell you what plants the bees are likely collecting from and the subsequent health benefits. For example, if the bees are collecting from purple coneflower nectar, the honey will have an immune system boosting property.
One benefit that won’t depend on the flowers is the anti-allergenic property of wildflower honey. Because many seasonal allergies come from the pollen of flowering plants, wildflower honey acts as a natural mini-immunization by allowing the body to contact the pollen in small doses at a time. However, it’s important to note that the anti-allergenic property is only found in the honey’s raw form.
Raw vs Processed Honey
Although the distinction between clover vs wildflower honey is important, a more critical factor in choosing your honey will be if it’s raw vs if it’s processed.
The difference between the two goes back to the beehive.
When bees collect nectar, they process it into honey and store it in honeycombs for storage. When beekeepers remove the honeycomb for harvest, they lightly strain it to remove some large debris: large pieces of beeswax, dead bees, etc. After this, it’s considered to be in its raw form.
Raw honey still contains smaller debris, including bee pollen, beeswax, and propolis. Each of these features has distinguished health benefits, which is why people prefer to purchase raw honey over-processed.
Bee pollen is the “bread” that feeds the colony. Honeybees pick up pollen from various plants on their fuzzy bodies and then put it into storage once in the hive.
While it packs a punch of vitamins, minerals, and even protein, bee pollen is best known for helping ease seasonal allergy symptoms. It is also thought to help lower high cholesterol, help protect the liver, and treat osteoporosis.
However, health experts warn against ingesting large amounts of bee pollen because of people’s possible allergic reactions. Because of this, it’s wise to start small with bee pollen and watch for symptoms before taking larger quantities.
Honeycombs, or where the honey is stored, are made out of beeswax. Mainly used in skincare products, beeswax can also be found in raw honeycomb and raw honey.
Ingesting beeswax has numerous health benefits. First, it’s also jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Beeswax has also been shown to support heart health, help the body metabolize glucose, protect the liver, boost the immune system, treat a cough or sore throat, and naturally boost your energy.
Considered the “glue” that keeps the hive together, propolis is a resinous substance bees produce from tree buds.
Propolis is considered to have antimicrobial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor qualities. It is also commonly used to treat cold sores, burns, and gastrointestinal disorders.
After reading all of the health benefits of raw honey, it’s easy to question why beekeepers produce processed honey at all – and that boils down to looks, shelf life, and viability for vulnerable consumers.
Processed honey has steps added to its production to make it homogenous, pasteurized, and sometimes sweeter.
First, the raw honey is strained. This process removes much of the beeswax, propolis, and bee pollen. After that, the honey is heated to become pasteurized. This process destroys the yeast, bacteria, and fungi found in honey and helps to extend its shelf life.
Next, some manufacturers will add sugar or sweeteners to the honey to reduce costs and make the honey taste high quality.
While it doesn’t contain the added health benefits of raw honey, processed honey is suitable for people with severe allergies and people vulnerable to bacteria/virus introduction; i.e., the immune-compromised and the young/old population.
Other Important Factors
There are several other factors to consider when looking for high-quality honey, regardless of what type you are purchasing.
Where to Purchase
It’s important to consider where you are looking for your honey, as it will be hard to find certain kinds of honey in regular supermarkets.
Generally, if you want to buy honey for its many health benefits, you want to purchase local, raw honey.
You will need to look at either your local farmers’ market or your local natural foods store to find this. Local farmers’ markets and co-ops will be the best places to purchase, as they generally pay the farmers more for their products.
Because bees interact directly with a plant’s surface, it’s also vital to obtain organic honey when possible. Purchasing organic honey will ensure that you are not ingesting harmful pesticides and that the bee population continues to thrive.
Although this is mainly true, it is also important to note that many small, local farmers and beekeepers often can’t afford the time and expense that the organic certification process takes. Although they may not be certified, you can ask them about their process to ensure it’s free of harmful chemicals.
Many people like to heat their honey to make it easier to scoop, use in recipes, and turn it back into its liquid form.
However, heating raw honey at too high temperatures will degrade its nutritional properties and reduce its health benefits.
As a general rule, you want to ensure that the honey doesn’t go far above 95 F since that’s the highest approximate temperature reached inside a beehive.
The truth about clover vs wildflower honey is simple: they come from different flowers. In that, they have slightly different health benefits, flavor profiles, and looks.
Clover honey is the most popular source of honey because of its use in agriculture. Though slightly lighter in color and weaker in flavor, clover honey provides many beneficial health benefits.
Wildflower honey is sourced from a variety of uncultivated flowers. Because of this, its health benefits and flavors change from season to season and area to area. However, the fact that it’s from seasonal flowers allows for its anti-allergenic properties.
Whether you buy clover or wildflower, it’s crucial to purchase raw honey if you are buying it for its health benefits. However, as raw honey is unpasteurized, people with asthma or severe allergies, the immune-compromised, or the very young/old population should not consume it.
When purchasing honey, it’s also important to consider where you’re buying it from, if it’s organic or not, or if you plan on heating it.