When you need honey and put it on your shopping list (if you’re actually organized enough to make a shopping list), you probably don’t specify which type of honey you want to buy.
You may even know that there are different varieties of the gooey, sweet, yummy stuff (there are more than 300 varietals, in fact) – but we’ve all been conditioned to think of honey as generic. After all, that’s what the label says, right? “Honey.”
The majority of the honey containers on grocery store shelves in the United States, if they don’t just say “honey,” are marked “clover honey.” This light-colored honey with a delicate flavor is one of the best-tasting honey varieties you can find, and is perfect for most everyday uses. But that’s not the only reason why so much of this type of honey is sold.
It’s also widely available because honeybees love the nectar found in clover plants, so beekeepers end up harvesting and selling a ton of the honey that bees make from clover nectar.
That’s not a bad thing. Clover honey not only tastes good, but is very good for you.
The Allure of Clover Honey
When you think of a jar of honey, you probably visualize a light or extra-light amber color, with a light aroma to match and a sweet, clean, smooth and somewhat flowery taste. That describes most clover honeys almost perfectly – but there’s a slight catch.
Raw honey that comes exclusively from clover honeycombs is closer to a water-white color than the familiar amber of most clover honeys. The reason you don’t normally see white clover honey is that the majority of commercial honey producers blend other types of light amber honey from floral sources (like orange blossom honey or wildflower honey) into their clover product.
If you want to be sure you’re getting pure clover honey, it should specify “pure clover” on the label, and not just “pure honey.” It will look lighter than usual “supermarket clover” honeys, and it should definitely not have a color similar to buckwheat honey or similar, stronger varieties.
We’ve mentioned that honeybees are especially fond of clover nectar, but there’s another reason that beekeepers and honey producers have so many clover fields. The plants are weather-hardy in temperate areas, so by focusing on clover they’re able to maintain honey production throughout most of the year.
When comparing two jars of pure, raw clover honey, you may notice some slight differences in taste and color. Why? There are 250 species of clover (such as white clover, red clover and crimson clover) and the taste and appearance of the nectar from each plant varies slightly, with some of the final products darker or stronger than others. One thing that usually doesn’t vary, though, is the slight, distinctive aftertaste of grass or hay that clover honey is noted for.
Surprisingly, there are a few types of “clover” honey which aren’t actually from the clover genus. Mexican clover and sweet clover honey (grown in both white and yellow species), for instance, are different varietals but still light and delicious.
The product you’ll find at farm stands or in organic supermarkets, as with all types of honey, will usually be far superior to grocery store brands. That’s because the “good stuff” is unfiltered, raw honey with no preservatives, which hasn’t been pasteurized or gone through ultra-filtration. Those processes prolong the honey’s shelf life and delay crystallization (which happens quickly with clover honey), but they remove important nutrients like the pollen and enzymes primarily responsible for honey’s health benefits.
When you purchase raw, unfiltered honey right from the farm you also know that the producer hasn’t engaged in one other fairly common but undesirable practice: adding sweeteners like corn syrup to the honey. They do that to increase the overall yield and the amount of product they have to sell – but they “ruin” the honey by doing so.
Clover Honey: Nutrition and Best Uses
The light and sweet taste of clover honey makes it ideal for use in a wide variety of applications. It’s perfect as a sweetener for tea (and coffee, believe it or not), and since it doesn’t have a powerful taste and won’t overpower a recipe, it’s one of the best choices for cooking or as a substitute for sugar in baking. Clover honey is also delicious when added to a vinaigrette or stir-fry, stirred into yogurt, or drizzled over cereal, ice cream or even savory foods like goat cheese.
Nutritionists will never tell you that honey is a “health food,” because all varieties are high in natural sugars. Clover honey is no exception, as there are about 60 calories in each tablespoon, and its 17 carbs per tablespoon are almost all due to the sugars it contains. There is, however, no fat in clover honey, and it does contain relatively small amounts of zinc, potassium, iron and magnesium. And this honey is noteworthy for providing several important health benefits.
Clover Honey’s Health Benefits
Most varieties of raw honey have at least some antibacterial and antiviral properties. Clover honey is one of the best in that regard.
Studies have shown that clover is the strongest honey for fighting many staph bacteria – as effective as some antibiotics. (1) Clover honey has also shown promise in fighting some viruses, such as chicken pox and shingles. (2) And there are a number of research studies showing its effectiveness as a wound dressing, thanks largely to the fact that bacteria don’t become resistant to honey.
The antioxidant content of clover honey is quite high, helping the body to fight the damage caused by free radicals. That can help in the battle against many diseases, including heart and liver disease. In fact, the high levels of anti-inflammatory phenolic acid and flavanols in clover honey are believed to be effective in helping to maintain nervous system, heart and lung health.
Finally, studies have shown that raw honey, including clover honey, is a better choice than sugar when it comes to cholesterol and triglyceride levels.