Alfalfa? You know who he is. He’s one of the characters in The Little Rascals.
If you grew up in a rural area you know that alfalfa is also a crop, mostly used as a high-protein feed for livestock.
And if you shop at natural foods stores, you may have discovered crunchy alfafa sprouts and enjoyed them sprinkled on top of salads.
You probably never knew, though, that alfalfa is also a variety of honey.
Even adventurous souls who’ve tried different types of honey may never have heard of alfalfa honey. Even though it’s produced across the United States, it’s not seen as often as honey varieties commonly found at farmers’ markets or organic stores like wildflower honey or manuka honey. But it’s definitely worth finding for its distinctive taste, the many ways it can be used in the kitchen, and its health benefits.
Interested in finding out more about this premium honey?
Where Alfalfa Honey Comes From
Alfalfa honey, you won’t be surprised to learn, comes from the nectar of the purple flowers that grow on alfalfa plants (Medicago sativa). Even though it is largely used for feed, alfalfa isn’t a grass like hay or wheat. It’s actually a legume in the same family as peas and beans, and is grown in most agricultural regions of the western and northern United States, where it’s less susceptible to the root diseases that can infect it down south.
Honey bees make alfafa honey in the usual way. They collect pollen and nectar while fertilizing flowers and then return to the hive, where the nectar is passed from worker to worker bee and stored in the honeycomb. That process breaks the nectar down into simple sugars and causes most of its water to evaporate (bees flapping their wings help in the evaporation process as well), turning the product into honey. It’s then capped with beeswax until it is either used by members of the hive as food, or collected and extracted by beekeepers.
The reason alfalfa honey is less common than varieties like acacia honey, linden honey or buckwheat honey is that alfafa flowers are more difficult for bees to pollinate. That forces the bees to spend more time with each plant, so they end up collecting less of the nectar and pollen that eventually becomes honey.
The Taste and Properties of Alfalfa Honey
Some who have tasted both honey types have compared alfalfa honey to the clover honey that’s carried in specialty stores and even some grocery stores. They’re indeed similar in some ways, as both are mild in taste and smooth in texture, and both provide significant health benefits. Digging a bit deeper, though, you’ll find there are some significant differences as well.
Alfalfa honey is less sweet than clover honey, making it more suitable for cooking than for eating straight out of the jar. Its taste is delicate, although high-quality raw alfalfa honey will often have slight undertones of grass and vanilla in addition to its typical “honey taste.” There is usually a very light floral aroma to alfafa honey, and it is typically a beautiful light amber in color. (By contrast, clover honey has a slightly stronger scent and can range from water white to dark amber in color.)
As mentioned earlier, alfafa honey is one of the best honeys for cooking because its mild flavor won’t override the taste of other ingredients. But it can be used in many other ways. It’s excellent as an ingredient in salad dressings, marinades and barbecue sauces, it’s yummy when drizzled over strong cheeses like brie or breakfast foods like waffles, and it complements foods like granola and yogurt quite well. It’s also a great change-of-pace tea or coffee sweetener, not only sweetening the beverage but providing a bit of an earthy taste as well.
You’ll find that alfalfa honey crystallizes fairly quickly when stored, even when kept at room temperature and protected from moisture. That happens because it has relatively high glucose content compared to its fructose content; the water in glucose is more likely to fall out of solution and form the opaque crystals that make many people think honey has gone bad. It hasn’t – all it needs is a gentle warm water bath, and it will be returned to its natural, gooey liquid state.
Alfalfa Honey is Very Good for You
It’s often said that raw honey is one of the healthiest foods in the world. (Raw, unfiltered honey contains pollen, which is responsible for the majority of honey’s impressive health benefits.) Some varieties provide more benefits than others, though, and alfalfa is squarely in the “very good for you” column.
Almost any list of any honey’s health benefits starts with its antioxidant properties. Alfalfa honey contains a large number of flavonoids, which are quite effective in fighting the damage done by free radicals in the body. Free radicals have been linked to an enormous number of medical issues, from heart disease and strokes to cancer and even cataracts. And while many of the believed health benefits of honey varieties haven’t been conclusively proven by research, there’s no question about the importance of antioxidants in general, and flavonoids in particular.
Here’s additional information on the benefits of alfalfa honey that natural health practitioners have found.
- Antibacterial properties: Alfalfa honey contains generous amounts of the ingredients that create acidic hydrogen peroxide, a natural enemy of many bacteria. It’s dense with a low moisture content, which creates a barrier to the growth of bacteria in the body. And there’s anecdotal evidence that alfafa honey is also effective as a topical treatment for wounds because of its antibacterial power.
- Prebiotic activity: While alfalfa honey is not a natural probiotic, it contains many of the nutrients required for the growth and proliferation of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, promoting good gut health.
- Important nutrients: Alfalfa honey contains a number of vitamins and minerals important for overall health, also allowing it to provide an energy boost when consumed.
- Other claimed benefits: Many naturopaths suggest including alfalfa honey in the diet to lower cholesterol, battle the effects of anemia, calm the nerves, reduce fevers and suppress the appetite.
All honey is good for you. Alfalfa honey is one of the varieties that stands out as being a great addition to a healthy diet.
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If you want to learn more about honey, read our Types of Honey: All You Need to Know post.