Dictionary of honey terms


AMBASSADORS: this is what honeys represent, offering snapshots of the territories that are home to the flowers whose nectar bees collect, transforming it into honeys that reveal the aromas, tastes and colours of their areas of origin.

AZAHAR: the flower of citrus trees, in particular of orange, lemon and bergamot. What is commonly called orange blossom or citrus honey, should actually be called azahar honey.

BIODIVERSITY: this describes the great variety of living organisms in a single species, in different species and in ecosystems. It is synonymous with richness and variety, symbolising the coexistence and cooperation between countless life forms that together guarantee the future of our planet. Bees are the animal kingdom’s ultimate pollinators and help to pollinate over 70 of around 100 edible plant species.

BINDER: because of its excellent binding properties, honey was also used in savoury dishes. Its ability to bind ingredients together made it a natural choice as a base for sweet and savoury sauces used in countless dishes, including distinctly salty ones.

CONAPI: founded originally as a cooperative of young beekeepers, established in 1979, today it is the largest beekeeping cooperative in Italy, representing over 600 beekeepers all over Italy, from north to south.

CRYSTALLISATION: This is a natural physical phenomenon by which honey turns from a liquid to semi-solid state. Acacia, chestnut and honeydew honeys remain liquid for a prolonged period of time thanks to a high fructose content, while other varieties, on the contrary, begin to set even just a few weeks after collection, thanks to their higher glucose content.

CLARITY: this is one of the typical characteristics of acacia honey, and it is considered that the clearer it is, the higher the quality.

ENZYME: while transforming the nectar into honey, bees add special enzymes that promote a range of activities. The antiseptic property of honey, for example, is due to the presence of the glucose oxidase enzyme which, in the presence of water, favours the transformation of glucose into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide…

EVALUATION: visual, olfactory, olfactory-gustatory, tactile and lastly TASTE! These are the “tests” carried out by experts during sensory analysis in order to carry out initial classification of honeys.

FORAGING: this term describes adult bees’ collection of nectar, water and pollen during the flowering season.

FLOWERS: they are not just beautiful but also essential for the production of fruit, and in order for this to happen, plants nearly always need to be visited by pollinating insects. Bees search for nectar to make honey and, in exchange, they transport pollen, and in so doing safeguard biodiversity!

FRUCTOSE: together with glucose it represents around 80% of the sugar present in honey. It is a simple sugar, unlike sucrose which is a disaccharide. It is highly digestible and is stored in the liver as glycogen, ready to be used by the body as and when needed.

FIDELITY: a quality displayed by bees whereby, upon finding a satisfactory flowering, for the entire day they will continue to collect that particular plant nectar, enabling effective pollination and the production of monofloral honeys.

GLUCOSE: one of the simple sugars found in nectar and therefore honey which, together with fructose, represents around 80% of the sugar present in honey. Glucose is a simple sugar, unlike sucrose which is a disaccharide. Glucose is assimilated immediately in the body, releasing readily available energy.

GLASS, PET AND PAPER JARS AND TUBS: when honey is ready, it can be packed into containers of various different materials. Glass allows consumers to appreciate the colour. Squeezy bottles let consumers appreciate the clarity while also allowing easy dosing. Compostable paper tubs offer an eco-friendly end to the honey cycle: when the honey is finished, the tubs naturally break down into compost.

HONEY VINEGAR: it is derived from the fermentation of mead and is thought to be the oldest vinegar of all, since it comes from the oldest fermented alcoholic drink known to man!

HONEY HUNTERS: honey has been prized since ancient times and long before beekeeping became a widely established practice, man would seek natural beehives from which honey could be collected, often causing irreparable damage to the colonies in question. Honey hunting still exists today, but to a limited extent and in only a few geographical locations.

HONEYDEW, or forest honey: a very distinctive honey! It is actually the only honey not derived from flower nectar but from tree sap: when certain insects, including the citrus flatid planthopper, suck the sap from the trees, they retain the protein part but eject the excess sugar. Bees are attracted to these sweet droplets and collect them, finishing off the insects’ work by turning it into honey!

HONEY FLAVOUR AND AROMA WHEEL: this wheel provides the definitions to be used when describing the characteristics of honey in terms of its aromas and flavours.

MEAD: the drink of the gods, the earliest fermented beverage of all. Contrary to popular belief, mead has nothing to do with apples! It is produced by fermenting honey with water.

MELISSOPALYNOLOGY: a tongue-twister which indicates the study of pollen contained in honey. Pollen consists of microscopic non-deformable grains, with precise characteristics depending on the flower of origin. Through melissopalynology, it is also possible to trace the exact botanic and geographic origin of the nectar and therefore the honey.

MONOFLORAL: the definition of honeys derived from a single flower type.

MOISTURE CONTENT: this is an important parameter in the evaluation of honey. Honeys with an excessively high moisture content can ferment, so using a refractometer, beekeepers assess the % of moisture present to ensure it does not exceed the 20% legal maximum.

NECTAR: the substance produced by flowers to attract bees and entice them into becoming pollinators, unwitting messengers of love. For flowers nectar is not food, but a sweet trap for attracting pollinators deep into their calyces, where their bodies are covered in powdery pollen which they proceed to carry to all the other flowers they subsequently visit.

ORGANOLEPTIC: the properties of honey that can be evaluated using the various senses. The organoleptic qualities of honey concern colour, smell, consistency, aroma and taste.

PASTEURISATION: a process whereby honey is heated to a temperature in excess of 70 degrees. Naturally crystallised honey reverts to its original liquid state and will not set again, but this comes at the expense of unique organoleptic characteristics.

QUALITY: that of honey, of the life of the beekeeper and the bees, and of the environment. ‘Good’ and ‘quality’ are the words that best go hand-in-hand with the world of honey!

RAW: a term which could describe the honey of ancient times, since the production and collection method led to the presence of pollen, larvae and beeswax.

SWEET: this is the primary quality attributed to honeys but, in actual fact, every honey has very different aromas, depending on the origin of the nectar. Sweet is a definition that is simply insufficient for honey! Honey can have salty notes like eucalyptus or a bitterish aftertaste, as in the case of chestnut honey.

SWEET & SOUR: this flavour, which derives largely from the influence of Arab cuisine, was much appreciated by aristocratic palates and honey was a component of almost every dish, including savoury fare.

SENSORY: sensory analysis is used to evaluate several aspects with a view to identifying the organoleptic characteristics of the honey in question. The evaluation sequence was established at the end of the Seventies by Michel Gonnet.

TASTE: honey experts have devised extremely precise tasting techniques for evaluating honey. Honey TASTING thus follows a strict procedure involving all the senses, starting from visual assessment of colour, to smell, consistency and then, last of all, taste. With proper training and practice, we can learn to identify the flowers from which the nectar was collected!

UNCAPPING: when the honey is ready, the bees seal the cells with wax, forming veritable “plugs” called caps. To collect the honey, this superficial layer of wax must be removed and this operation is called uncapping.

VEGETAL: all honeys are of vegetal or plant origin, but some have a particular vegetal aroma which becomes a distinctive characteristic.