June and July are harvest time. The frames filled with honey are taken to the extraction room where the cappings are removed. To extract the honey, the frames are centrifuged in an extractor. The empty frames are then returned to the hives, saving work for the bees and increasing the harvest.
My goal is to obtain the most aromatic honey possible. The best-tasting honey is always freshly extracted, but it is a delicacy that can only be enjoyed during harvest time. Any handling of the honey, such as pumping, heating, or bottling, affects its taste. To preserve the maximum flavor, I try to handle the honey as little as possible.
Good and better honey
How can you as a consumer know which honey is of good quality? Being biased, I always suggest buying directly from the beekeeper. However, there is also good local honey available in most grocery stores. A rule of thumb is that if the beekeeper’s name is on the jar, it is probably high-quality honey. The reason is quite simple: imported honey and Swedish honey without the beekeeper’s name on the jar have gone through many steps of being sold, bought, transported, mixed, and handled, all of which affect the taste. If you’re going to bake or marinate, there’s nothing wrong with buying lower-quality honey, but buy locally-produced honey and you’ll make an active contribution to pollination and local biodiversity!
The finished honey is a collaboration between the bees and the beekeeper. The bees determine the flavor by choosing the flowers from which they gather nectar, while the beekeeper determines the consistency.
When newly extracted, honey is liquid, but over time it will crystallize. The speed of crystallization depends on the type of flowers the nectar was taken from, usually taking anywhere from a week to a month, with the exception of heather honey. Crystallization is a chain reaction that starts with the presence of pollen grains, which act as nuclei for the formation of the first sugar crystals. The crystals then continue to form until the honey is fully crystallized. Honey that is allowed to self-crystallize will usually become coarse-grained. To produce a softer honey, beekeepers will cream it by stirring in a few percent of extremely fine-crystallized honey, called the “graft,” into the newly extracted honey. The graft acts as many small crystallization nuclei, starting the chain reaction. The final consistency of the honey depends on the amount of graft, the size of the crystals in the graft, the temperature of the honey, and how much the honey is stirred. As a result, it takes some experience to achieve the right consistency. In Sweden, creamed honey is traditionally preferred.
Swedish liquid honey does it exist?
Well, if we ignore the delicacy of heather honey that often stays liquid, the answer is “kind of.” Newly extracted honey is liquid, but it only stays that way for a week to a month, so it is a delicacy that must be enjoyed immediately. Nectar in Swedish latitudes does not contain enough fructose to prevent crystallization. The three most common ways to make Swedish honey liquid are to heat it to about 60 degrees, mix in about 15% fructose, or fine-filter it to remove all crystallization nuclei. Regardless of the method, the quality will deteriorate, and according to EU rules, it’s not allowed to be labeled as honey anymore.
Liquid honey is usually a sensitive topic among beekeepers and easily stirs up strong emotions. I am part of the group that thinks it is a bit disrespectful to the bees to treat the honey that way. However, even a purist like me can appreciate that liquid honey is convenient in the kitchen when cooking. My solution is simple: take a teaspoon of solid honey and heat it in the microwave for a few seconds. You’ll have the best of both worlds: liquid honey for your vinaigrette and most of the jar left in the cupboard with all its beneficial lactic acid bacteria and enzymes retained. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with freezing honey to stop crystallization, with good results.
Wax harvest and virgin wax
The wax produced by bees has actually been valued higher than the honey for centuries, and this is understandable considering all of its many uses, including as a base for ointments, a sealant, polishing agents, thickeners, candles, and molds. Producing wax is also extremely costly for the bees, as they must consume approximately 4 kilograms of honey to produce 1 kilogram of wax.
The purest and finest wax is that which is produced in new honeycombs and is almost white in color. It is commonly referred to as virgin wax. When making ointments, it is important to only use virgin wax from beekeeping operations that are managed without the use of pesticides.
Beeswax is a superior material for candles. Beeswax candles have a number of advantages over candles made from other materials. For example, they can be dipped without the need for additives, have a pleasant scent, burn evenly with a light flame, burn for a long time, and are non-toxic. Block candles made from beeswax are naturally scented and give off a stronger scent compared to other candles because of their larger pool of molten wax.
When caring for a beeswax candle, there is not much difference from caring for a paraffin or stearic candle, but since beeswax candles burn at higher temperatures, they require a thicker wick. It is best to extinguish the flame with a candle snuffer to avoid smoke.
Beeswax candles are usually more expensive than paraffin candles from big-box stores, but they are a non-toxic natural product and burn for twice as long as stearic candles and three times as long as paraffin candles. Hand-dipped beeswax candles are usually made by hand and the main cost is labor, so the price difference between hand-dipped stearic candles and hand-dipped beeswax candles is marginal.