Difference in Honeydew and Monofloral Honeys
Honeydew honey or Forest honey is a type of honey made—not from blossom nectar i.e. monofloral honey—but from honeydew excreted by plant sucking insects such as aphids. It is usually produced from trees, both conifers and deciduous, although it may also produced from grasses and plants.
The ancient Roman naturalist Pliny thought honeydew fell from the stars and this belief was held for centuries. It was as recent as the 1960s that some beekeepers believed that honeydew collected by bees was sweated out or exuded from trees and plants although it was determined by the French naturalist, Reaumur in 1740 to be produced by aphids. In fact, this strong-tasting, mineral-rich, savory honey is the result of a relationship between aphids and bees that is common throughout the world, yet unbeknownst to most.
Honeydew flow is often strong in late dry summers. It may be known generically as “Forest Honey” or “Tree Honey” but also by the name of the particular source plant, “Fir Honey”, “Pine Honey”, “Lime Tree Honey”, “Oak Honey” etc.
So that even today many people believe this honey is created from sap secreted directly from the tree itself. This is not the case. Only about 1% of the time do plants exude a honeydew-like substance directly that bees will use, and this is usually as the result of an injury or shock to the plant.
Honeydew honey is highly appreciated in certain parts of the world by connoisseurs and honey lovers alike for its strong flavor and healthful properties. It is especially well known in European countries like Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Greece, and Turkey as well as New Zealand for beech where it generally commands a higher price.
While honeydew is produced in North America, the honey is not particularly common. It was prized as White Cedar honey in California, made from honeydew of the Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) and by the scale insect, Margarodidae: Xylococcus. Also from Hawaii, honeydew was made by the sugar cane leaf-hopper (Perkinsiella saccharidica) and produced hundreds of tons of honeydew honey in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Although it was considered a lower quality “bakers honey,” it helped launch the honey production industry of Hawaii.
Characteristics of Honeydew or Forest Honey
Honeydew honey from different European countries, from Conifers (fir, spruce, pine), and deciduous (mostly different oak species) and Metcalfa pruinosa, share the following characteristics.
Color: Dark to very dark, honey colored, sometimes with green fluorescence.
Taste: Intensity: medium, woody and warm. Medium sweetness with weak acidity. No bitterness with a medium aroma. Medium persistence/aftertaste and sometimes astringent.
Aroma: Woody and warm.
Translations: French: Le miel de forêt or Les miellats; German: Waldhonig or Honigtau Honig; Italian: Miele di bosco or Miele di melata; Slovenian: Gozdni med or med iz mane; Turkish: Salgı balı; Spain: Miel de mielada or Miel Forestal
What is honeydew anyway?
Why do aphids eject honeydew in the first place? Normally waste products of insects or animals are not particularly appetizing except to dung beetles, fungus and bacteria. Yet honeydew is eaten by a wide variety of insects and animals, and by humans. It is so prized by ants they actually tend their ‘herds’ of aphids and protect them from predators to harvest their honeydew. Why don’t the aphids digest the honeydew as food for themselves, or is it created perhaps as an incentive for the ant’s protection?
Plant sap is largely composed of water and sugars with a small amount of amino acids. It turns out that while aphids use some of the sugars and other nutrients in the plant sap, they must process a large amount of sap to get usable amounts of proteins. Plant sap only contains about 1-2% of proteins. The rest is expelled and actually ejected away from the insect to land on leaves or needles, branches and the ground below.
If an aphid-covered branch is suddenly jostled they will release their honeydew in a fine misty spray. It will then dry and in this form, when produced in enough quantity, it is traditionally collected and eaten by the Aborigines of Australia as well as Arabs.
It is considered by some to be the “manna” described in the bible as the food used by the Israelites in the desert. Many animals and insects, including bees, collect this off the plant or tree itself and off the ground below. It would be very easy to believe this substance was exuded directly by the plant itself.
What is the difference between blossom honey and honeydew honey?
While the composition of honeydew honey varies by the type of insect and plant, just as the composition of blossom honey varies by the type of blossom, there are some common differences.
In general, honeydew honey is higher in minerals and amino acids as well as higher molecular weight sugars (oligosaccharides) in particular, melezitose and raffinose. Oligosaccharides are prebiotics that have a beneficial effect on bacteria in the digestive system.
It tends to be darker, less sweet, less acidic and resists crystallization when compared to honey. Honeydew honey has higher electrical conductivity and ash content and tends to remain liquid and resist crystallization because of high fructose and low glucose levels, as well as a low glucose to water ratio.
There has been some research that indicates that honeydew honey also has higher than average antibiotic properties due to higher levels of Glucose Oxidase which leads to the production of Hydrogen Peroxide.