When you go into the store to buy a bottle of wine, you can’t just buy “wine.” There’s an enormous selection of reds and whites (and rosés, if your taste runs that way). They’re produced in different countries, made from different types of grapes with different varietal names, bottled in different years – and all clearly labeled that way. That may make choosing a wine more difficult, but you definitely know what you’re getting.
Purchasing honey doesn’t have to be quite that complicated, but it should really involve more than just walking into a supermarket to buy a jar of honey. In truth, many of those generic jars (or plastic bears) filled with “honey” actually contain a product which has been so thoroughly processed, or modified with artificial sweeteners, that it’s lost most of the nutrients and health benefits of unfiltered, raw honey.
Few people realize that there are more than 300 varieties of honey, each with its own distinctive color, aroma, taste and benefits. The types of honey which is ideal for marinating ribs, for example, are often very different than the best-tasting honeys for cooking or for sweetening your tea.
To many people, particularly Americans, acacia honey comes to mind when they think of high-quality honey. And even though it can be pretty expensive, it’s the most popular variety in the United States.
Here’s what you should know about acacia honey.
Acacia Honey Doesn’t Come From Acacia Trees
The name acacia honey may conjure visions of acacia trees on the wildlife-filled plains of Africa or near the crystal-clear waters of Hawaii. But acacia (in the forms of trees, shrubs and bushes) is most commonly found in Australia – and most importantly, acacia honey doesn’t comes from any of those trees, which rarely produce honey nectar.
What we know as acacia honey comes from what’s called the black locust tree or “false acacia” tree, usually the Robinia pseudoacacia or Caragana arborescens species. (The honey’s source determines whether it is white or pale yellow). “Fake acacia” is native to the southeastern U.S., but now found across North America and on three other continents.
Because of that distinction, many producers label this honey as American acacia or locust honey when sold in America, but it’s sold simply as acacia honey in Europe (and in some stores in the U.S.) Surprisingly, the variety is immensely popular in nations like Bulgaria and Hungary, and a number of Hungarian and German beekeepers have planted entire black locust forests and set up huge beehives dedicated solely to collecting acacia honey from the honeycombs.
Wherever it comes from and whatever it’s called, it’s yummy – and many experts call it the best honey you can buy.
The Qualities of Acacia Honey
There are two reasons that most people love acacia honey.
The first is its taste and appearance. Acacia has a sweet, delicate flavor with hints of vanilla, a clean floral aroma and no aftertaste. Unlike many varieties of honey which can be quite overbearing, acacia honey is light and easy on the palate; you can even enjoy more than a teaspoon or two of acacia honey straight from the bottle or jar without feeling like you’ve overdone it. In that regard, many compare acacia to orange blossom honey (which has more of a light citrus taste.) And its beautiful light color, ranging from white liquid glass to a lovely pale yellow, could easily induce you to dip your spoon into the jar more than once or twice.
The second reason acacia honey is so popular is that it is extremely slow to crystallize on the shelf, due to its high fructose content. (The percentages of simple sugars in honey determine how quickly its water falls out of suspension and forms crystals, and water remains in solution for a long time when honey is high in fructose and has low sucrose content.) Acacia can remain liquid on the shelf for as long as 1-2 years.
Best Uses for Acacia Honey
The mild taste of this honey makes it perfect for use “straight up” and added to yogurt, cereal or ice cream, since it doesn’t overpower other flavors. Acacia honey also has a low acid content so it pairs well with many cheeses, figs, apricots or other stand-alone fruits and nuts.
When it comes to baking, Acacia is a good honey to use in some circumstances. It’s quite sweet due to its high fructose content, so it is an excellent sweetener which won’t fight with other ingredients. If you want a honey to contribute its own strong flavor to a recipe, however, you may want to look to chestnut or Manuka honey, or another type of honey with an instantly-distinguishable taste.
And of course, it’s delicious right out of the jar as a quick-energy snack.
The Health Benefits of Acacia Honey
Like most varieties, raw acacia honey provides a wide range of health benefits due to its high concentration of natural antioxidants which fight damage from free radicals. Specifically, acacia is rich in flavonoids which are believed to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer (including lung cancer). Regular consumption of acacia honey has been shown to lower blood pressure and increase hemoglobin levels.
Acacia honey has natural antibacterial properties. It contains substances which produce and release hydrogen peroxide into the body, an acid known to kill bacteria. It’s also a strong antiseptic, useful for both external and internal use to heal body sores, reverse skin problems like acne and eczema, and even treat eye issues like conjunctivitis and corneal abrasions. There are claims that acacia honey is effective in treating stress, insomnia and sleep apnea, but not enough research has been done to substantiate them.
There are important minerals and vitamins in acacia honey, including magnesium and vitamin C. And like most varieties of honey it’s an anti-inflammatory, making it a good treatment for sore throats, coughs, and respiratory system issues. Unlike many varieties, however, acacia is not particularly effective in treating or boosting the gastrointestinal tract, as many of the beneficial bacteria it contains don’t survive long enough to work their magic in the gut.
Some nutritionists and doctors tell their diabetic patients that acacia honey is the best variety for them to eat because of its high fructose content and low glycemic index. Other medical professionals, though, believe that honeys with a 50-50 ratio of fructose and glucose are healthier for diabetics. Consult your own doctor if you’re concerned about the effect of honey on your blood sugar.