Single vs. Multi-Pollen Honey
"Is it local"? "What do they feed on"? "Do you have buckwheat"? "Do you have 'Manuka'"? Just a small smattering of the questions I get every day while selling honey at farmer's markets. All these questions are intertwined. As some of you know, if the bee hives are surrounded by a particular pollen type (flower) the honey they output will tend to be made up of entirely that flower's pollen. For people out there who are suffering from seasonal allergies, wildflower honey (from within the pollen bloom (not necessarily within a few miles)) will allow your body to acclimate to these pollens and will help mute your symptoms. There are dozens and dozens of different regions. Some people buy honey because they want a 'local' product to combat these seasonal allergies. Others fall in love with a particular flavor produced by a pollen that is not indigenous to where they live. Whatever the case, the pollen source is what will drive not only the flavor but also a person's reason for buying.
So let's say you live nowhere near a farm, several miles removed from any agriculture of any note, and set up hives in the wild. These hives will generate a wildflower honey made up of the pollen from within a few miles of that hive site. There may be more aster or goldenrod in the area than that of the apiarist 2 towns over - depending on where you are, there could be over 100 different pollens within the honey those bees eventually produce.
Most people's seasonal allergies are a reaction to a number (or dare I say, a combination) of multiple pollen. Multifloral honey gives you a cross section of all the different pollen. It is for this reason people seek it out to mute their seasonal allergies. The trick with this remedy is to be consistent with your consumption. As a general rule of thumb, eat 1 teaspoon, twice a day - every day - to stave off issues with allergies. Give your body some time to react. Generally, most of my customers report that it takes between 7 and 10 days for their body to acclimate.
Now this is the wild card and in my opinion, the most interesting of the honey groupings.
Monoflorals are, generally, more difficult to produce commercially. This is because apiarists must also have a lease on land where only one type of flower grows - or they must grow it themselves. Now, the bee keeper's bees can fly wherever they wish - but bees prefer to stay close to home base when gathering nectar/pollen. That being said, if a hive (or a grouping of hives) is situated square in the middle of a sunflower field, the bees primary collection will be of sunflower pollen and thus, sunflower honey will be the final product. The same is true for buckwheat, chestnut, acacia, blueberry, heather, - pick your flower.
There are a number of studies that examine the enzyme types and concentrations within varying monofloral honeys. The best explanation (breakdown) of properties I have come across can be found at Geohoney. For those of you who prefer a more 'heady' ie. in-depth analysis of enzyme activity in a single pollen honey, this research paper broke down enzyme activity and amino acid profiles in Ethiopian monofloral honey. Just be advised, it is some heavy reading.
Buy for Taste
For years, I have heard people profess dime-store logic regarding the health value of one floral type over another. Generally, I stay away from these conversations. What I have discovered about human behavior when it comes to food based buying decisions is that this type of purchase is not drastically different from any other purchase. People prefer a quality, artisan product that is raised in a clean and controlled environment with care. Assuming that, they buy for taste. Buckwheat honey is extremely high in antioxidants and is noted to have antibiotic properties beyond that of it's multifloral counterparts, but has an extremely earthy flavor. You may be turned on by the medicinal qualities but it has been my experience that flavor tends to drive the selection. Just as an example, if you are not raised with it, the molasses flavor of buckwheat can take some getting used to.
Be aware, single pollen honey, for the most part, is extremely regional. If you are on the lookout for Hibiscus honey but you live in Alberta Canada as (opposed to Hawaii or Polynesia - where the Hibiscus flower grows in mass), you won't find it locally. You can always order it and have it flown in. Just be mindful when you ask for a local, single pollen honey. Does that flower even grow in mass (or is cultivated in-mass) in your area?
Cost is another element to take into consideration. Monofloral honey tends to be markedly more expensive than multifloral honey. Cultivation of a single flower is expensive. Further, the output of honey tends to be more limited and as we all know, supply and demand are inversely related. So if you discover a honey during your travels that you fall head over heels for, I suggest you savor it. Why? - because getting it on a regular basis will probably be next to impossible. When you can get your hands on it, it will hit you in your wallet.
If you are a collector of hard to find single pollen honey, here are some links to apiaries and honey packers who I have tried and recommend:
Apicoltura Camerini mielecamerini.it - They used to carry, Chestnut, Acacia, Sunflower, Italian Multifloral, Orange Blossom, and Heather.
Abeille Soleil http://www.miel-du-sud.fr/ - First off, it will be terribly helpful for you if you speak French as the site does not have an English translation. That being said, Abeille Soleil (Sun Bee) is a premier French producer of Lavender, Garrigue, and Rosemary honey. They even produce Rhododendron honey - be aware Rhododendron honey can cause hallucinations.
If that is what you are into, Mad Honey is also Rhododendron honey but it is produced in Nepal. They profess that it will cause you to Hallucinations - I haven't tried it. Not sure how they can get it into the country past the FDA, but apparently they ship around the world. Check them out at The Mad Honey.
Happy Honey Eating.