In addition to its sweetening properties, honey is prized as a mild laxative and sedative, an antiseptic, a moistening agent, a beautifying facial masque, a sobriety syrup and a quick source of energy.
By inhaling its fragrance, viewing its color and tasting its flavor, honey connoisseurs can pinpoint a honey's type and origin just as wine experts can discern the grape and vineyard source of a vintage wine.
Some honeys found on grocery shelves may contain cane or corn syrup. To find a purer honey, a wider variety of honeys or a less expensive honey, a natural food store is often the best bet. For the best value, look for a store that sells bulk honey, where you bring your own jar and pay only for the honey.
Appearance, fragrance and flavor are the criteria used in judging honeys. The properties, flavor and color of honey vary with the qualities of the flowers from which it is made.
Light-colored honeys are usually of higher quality and milder flavor than darker honeys, although the darker-colored varieties are often richer in minerals including copper, calcium, iron and manganese, plus small amounts of vitamin C and some of the B vitamins.
The finest honeys are called water-white for their lightness and colorlessness.
Fragrance also plays a part in identifying honeys. Along with honeys that are almost perfume-pleasant, such as citrus and linden, are honeys with unpleasant odors, like tobacco honey used to manufacture high-grade aromatic blends of tobacco.
Legend cites honey produced by bees that roam the thyme-covered hills of Corinth as the finest honey in the world. White Narbonne honey from France is favored by connoisseurs for the delicious flavor that comes from the rosemary and labiate flowers on which the bees feed.
But you don't have to cross continents to find superb honey; Many domestic varieties are prized for their fragrance and flavor.
Among this country's most popular honeys are tupelo, from the southern trees that bear that name, and grapefruit honey from Texas. Also favored are buckwheat honey from Pennsylvania, bluberry honey from Michigan and white saga honey from California.
Honey is slightly sweeter than sugar - 62 calories to a tablespoon as opposed to 50 calories per tablespoon for sugar. It is marketed most frequently in the form of extracted honey or comb honey. Comb honey is often sold in frames or small wooden boxes known as sections.
Raw honey is not processed by straining or heating beyond a point required to liquify it. Organic honey is produced in an environment free of chemical residues and is made from floral sources grown on soil untreated by chemicals.
The honeys listed below represent a cross-section of distinctive varieties.
ALFALFA - A light, yellow-gold honey with a bright, sharp sweetness and an almost perfume-rich fragrance.
ORANGE BLOSSOM - A pale amber-colored honey with a softly sweet flavor and a light, delicate fragrance.
TUPELO - The Rolls-Royce of honeys. Tupelo is pale, pale amber in color with a delicate aroma and a subtly rich taste.
WILDFLOWER - An aromatic honey ranging in color from golden amber to dark-reddish-brown, wildflower honey has a strong but pleasant flavor and is one of the least expensive varieties of honey.
CITRUS - A most fragrant honey, the aroma of citrus honey is reminiscent of orange and lemon blossoms.
CLOVER - A golden amber-colored honey with a mellow, unobstrusive sweetness and gentle fragrance, clover honey is extremely versatile and adaptable to use with many foods.
BUCKWHEAT - A popular dark honey ranging in color from deep gold to brown, buckwheat honey has a distinct, hearty flavor.
SAGE - Ranging in color from light amber to dark gold, sage honey has a delicate aroma and a pleasant flavor.
AVOCADO - This brownish-red honey has a pleasant fragrance and a smooth, rich taste. HONEY STORES
Most health food stores stock a variety of honeys. Look for a store that sells honey in bulk B.Y.O.J. (bring your own jar) for the best value.
HOME RULE NATURAL FOODS, INC., 1825 Columbia Rd. NW, HO 2-5150 - Fine kinds of bulk honey are available: wildflower ($1 a pound), buckwheat, alfalfa, orange blossom, and tupelo ($1.75 a pound). Also a wide variety of bottled honeys including tamarsk, avocado and biblical honey are available.
SUN & EARTH, 4701 Sangamore Rd., Bethesda, 229-7876 - Clover (97 cents a pound), wildflower and raw tupelo ($1.37 honeys are available in bulk. An extensive array of pre-bottled honeys include lime, thistle, basswood, avocado, orange blossom, sage, clover and yuchan.
THE GOLDEN TEMPLE EMPORIUM, 1634 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 337-7790. - Three honeys are sold in bulk: Clover (85 cents a pound) wildflower and linden (both 95 cents a pound). Bottled honeys available include tupelo, orange blossom, avocado, sage, lime, acacia, ginseng, buckwheat and crystal.
GLUT, 4405 34th St., Mt. Rainier, 779-1978. - This co-op sells wildflower (77 cents a pound), clover, orange blossom, alfalfa and tupelo ($1.26 a pound) in bulk.
BEAUTIFUL DAY TRADING COMPANY, 4915 Berwyn Rd., College Park, 345-6655. - Four honeys are currently available in bulk; wildflower (79 cents a pound), orange blossom, clover and tupelo ($1.30 a pound).
YES! 1015 Wisconsin Ave. NW, 338-1700. - Clover and wildflower honey (both 95 cents each) are sold in bulk. Bottled honeys available include wild eucalyptus, raw clover, raw orange, sage and organic wildflower.
GOLDEN HARVEST, 19310 Montgomery Village, Gaithersburg, 977-3806. - Only pre-bottled honeys available here, but an extensive selection is offered. Buckwheat, tupelo, clover, orange blossom, Rumanian acacia and comb honeys are available with Ginseng Royal Jelly Honey a gourmet's delight at $9.95 for 10 ounces.
KENNEDY'S NATURAL FOODS, main store 1051 W. Broad St., Falls Church, 533-8484. - A wide variety of pre-bottled honeys are offered including avocado, alfalfa, buckwheat, safflower, sage, eucalyptus and biblical honeys plus whipped honey and comb honey.
VITA HEALTH FOODS, 1010 F St. NW., RE-7-1212 - Pre-bottled honeys in one-, two-and five-pound sizes include wildflower, orange, sage, dark buckwheat, tupelo and biblical.
FIELDS OF PLENTY, 2447 18th St. NW, 483-3884. - This co-op regularly offers two bulk honeys, clover (89 cents a pound) and wildflower (83 cents a pound) and will sell you a jar for 17 cents if you forgot to bring one.
STONE SOUP, 1801 18th St. NW, 234-7665. - Three types of bulk honey are featured: wildflower (82 cents a pound), orange blossom (87 cents a pound) and clover (89 cents a pound).
THE GOOD DIET SHOP, 1228 H St. NW, NA-8-8094. - Bottled honeys include tupelo, wildflower, biblical, grapefruit and comb honey.