If milk is the metaphor for human kindness, what role is left to honey? Variety!
The average consumer buys honey produced by bees feasting on clover. The color is blond and the taste is one least likely to offend. But the true spectrum of honey's tastes is as broad as the one that spans from beer to Grand Marnier. And there is a honey for every mood.
Test the one made from blossoms of sage, thyme and rosemary. This herbal honey from Spain conjures up images of the Mediterranean coast. A teaspoonful lends an exotic taste to tea; my 10-year-old son Danny thinks it is terrific on waffles.
Or try orange blossom honey. The strong aroma elevates the taste of any tea, including iced tea.
Great with baklava, it's also the biblically correct honey to dunk cut-up apples into on Rosh Hashana -- "May the New Year be as sweet as honey." My son Shamu, 13, thinks orange blossom honey is "real good."
Lavender honey is favored in France's sunny Provence, where fields of lavender reflect the blue Mediterranean. Lavender honey has class, sophistication -- and the unmistakable perfume of lavender. No other kind of honey will do as well as a thoughtful gift to an elegant lady. But it's not for everybody. Shamu's comment: "It smells like soap, and it tastes like you had washed your mouth with soap. Yuk!"
Both boys, however, are enthusiastic about wildflower honey from West Virginia. No matter where it's collected, wildflower honey is dark and syrupy, with the bouquet of summer meadows and a pleasant lingering aftertaste. It lends a richness to honeycakes and is a dessert by itself.
Acacia honey, the pride of Hungary, is liquid, translucent gold with a light taste unassertive to the point of being ethereal. Lather it on a slice of rye bread with unsalted butter and you have made yourself one sweet sandwich. My sons think acacia honey is "all right, but not very interesting."
The word for buckwheat honey is robust -- in taste, close to maple syrup; dark in color and thick in consistency. It is the macho honey: gritty, with a rough, curiously bitter edge -- the flavor of the West, a sensitive cowboy might say. Buckwheat honey overpowers any tea, dominates a pancake and goes great with strong coffee. Shamu's verdict: "The weirdest honey."
Most domestic honeys are available at $1.65 to $2.10 per pound at The Montgomery Farm Women's Cooperative Market, 7155 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda. 652-2291. Imported sage- thyme-rosemary honey is $6.29 per pound and lavender honey is $5.19 per pound at Sutton Place Gourmet, 3201 New Mexico Ave. NW. 363-5800. Acacia honey is $3.95 per pound at Tell's Apple, 3251 Prospect St. NW. 338-7277.