When you sample some honey varieties for the first time, there’s no way you can know exactly what their flavor will be. For example, even if your acacia or Tupelo honey came straight from the blossoms of acacia or Tupelo trees, there’s no way you can seriously claim that you know what acacia or Tupelo “tastes like.” (Incidentally, acacia honey doesn’t come from acacia trees, it comes from the flowers of the black locust tree.)
The taste of orange blossom honey, though, is predictable – it has a somewhat weak but distinctive orange flavor. At least, some of the time.
That uncertainty is because orange blossom honey, despite its name, isn’t always made from nectar harvested from orange trees.
Where Orange Blossom Honey Comes From
Sweet and relatively thick, orange blossom honey is one of the best honey varietals you can add to tea, drizzle over granola or spread on toast. If you close your eyes as you taste it, you almost imagine yourself transported to a lovely, fragrant citrus grove in Florida or California.
That grove may not be populated only by orange trees, however, particularly if the honey was produced in Florida.
Orange groves are often surrounded by other citrus trees: tangerines and mandarins, lemons and limes, grapefruit and other flowering fruits. For that reason, it’s often nearly impossible for beekeepers to ensure that their honeybees are only gathering nectar from orange trees, even if they try to restrict bees’ movement and clean out honeycombs before the orange blossoms begin to bloom. Chances are great that the bees will be gathering honey from other citrus trees as well.
The problem is most obvious in the famed orange groves of central Florida, where many other citrus trees proliferate. Florida honey with an orange blossom pollen count of 20% or more can be sold as “orange blossom honey,” but if there’s a lower concentration it must be sold as “citrus honey” instead. (The 20% number is so low because there’s relatively little pollen in orange blossom honey; in truth, 20% pollen represents a much higher amount of the nectar.)
Many of those other citrus trees don’t grow in or near California groves, so producers in those states are more likely to be able to bottle and sell “monofloral” orange blossom honey (that is, honey that comes only or predominantly from orange blossoms).
Whether it comes from Florida or California, though, orange blossom is a delicious and versatile variety of honey.
Characteristics and Uses of Orange Blossom Honey
Orange blossom honey is usually thick with a beautiful light amber color, although it can range more toward a water white color when there’s little or no other citrus nectar used to produce it. Over time, the honey’s color will darken slightly if the jar remains sealed. Don’t be surprised if your orange blossom honey crystallizes extremely quickly, because it has very high glucose content. A gentle warm water bath will restore the honey to its liquid state.
An unusual ingredient in this honey is caffeine, which is not found in any other varietal. However, it’s an extremely small amount of caffeine, even less than you’ll find in decaf coffee, so it won’t give you a wake-me-up jolt if you eat it with breakfast.
Orange blossom honey does indeed smell like oranges and citrus, although the aroma is a mild and delicate one. If you wait a while before eating the honey, its aroma and “honey taste” will take on added complexity. Orange blossom is a fruity and sweet honey, but only has light citrus overtones rather than a strong orange flavor. It’s also rather acidic.
When you put a jar of orange blossom honey into your shopping cart and take it home to check out its uses in the kitchen, what should you expect? Well, its sweetness makes orange blossom an outstanding honey for eating straight out of the jar. If you’re trying to get a better idea of its sweetness, it’s a bit less sweet than blackberry honey, more-or-less on a par with clover honey, and definitely sweeter than wildflower honey.
Spreading orange blossom honey on English muffins, French toast or pancakes (from any nation) is a recipe for a yummy breakfast or snack, but it’s just as delicious when paired with aged cheeses, used to sweeten baked goods (honey breads simply beg for the inclusion of orange blossom), added to marinades, sauces and dips (try making an avocado and honey dip!) – and of course, replacing sugar as a sweetener for tea or coffee. Pro tip: wait until the tea is lukewarm to add honey, because boiling water destroys many of the honey’s beneficial health ingredients. Speaking of which…
Health Benefits of Orange Blossom Honey
The primary medical benefits of all honeys are that they’re high in antioxidants, anti-bacterials and anti-inflammatories, largely due to their slow release of hydrogen peroxide into the body. Orange blossom honey is no exception; in fact, it’s better than most varieties in that regard.
The many antioxidants contained in this honey include hesperitin, quercetin, luteolin and galangin; they work to support the immune system and fight the effects of free radicals that, over time, damage the body’s important organs and cause chronic illnesses. (1) As for anti-bacterial power, studies have shown that orange blossom honey is effective against some of the most serious bacterial pathogens, like E. Coli and a number of staph bacteria. (2)
Orange blossom honey is one of the best varieties for those who suffer from allergies, because of its relatively low pollen content. It also helps with digestion, eases sore throats, and is one of the honey varietals which can aid with wound healing when applied topically. No honey is an ideal food when it comes to nutrition, because of honey’s high carbohydrate and calorie content, but orange blossom does contain a number of important minerals including zinc, potassium, magnesium and calcium.
One final note: the health benefits of orange blossom honey – as well as its trademark sweetness and taste – are only present in raw honey. Those attributes are diluted or eliminated completely when the honey is pasteurized and heavily filtered, because processing removes the pollen and propolis (perhaps better known as “bee glue”) which give natural honey its antioxidant and anti-bacterial properties. Light filtering to remove bee parts isn’t a problem, but the best choice is unfiltered, unpasteurized, raw orange blossom honey.