Except for comb honey, in Ontario, honey is sold by grade and colour.
Ontario honey colours are White, Golden, Amber and Dark. Darker honeys tend to have stronger flavours.
Several factors, including moisture content and flavour, are considered when determining Ontario honey grades. Grades include Ontario No. 1, Ontario No. 2 and Ontario No. 3. Ontario No. 1 is the most common and will keep up to three years in dry cool storage.
Ontario honey is available pasteurized or unpasteurized, liquid or creamed, or as comb honey. Honey may also be sold by nectar source, such as clover, basswood, canola, sunflower, alfalfa, buckwheat or goldenrod varieties.
One tbsp of honey contains 60 calories (mostly fructose and glucose).
How honey is made
Bees gather nectar from flowers and shrubs. During their trip back to the hive, the bees add invertase enzyme to it to begin the honey-making process.
At the hive, they transfer the nectar to young bees who store the nectar in the honeycomb. The bees dry the nectar similar to the Maple Syrup making process until it becomes Number One Grade.
The beekeeper manages the process, splitting the colonies if necessary to prevent the bees from swarming and going wild. Beekeepers harvest the honey by removing the bees from the filled honey boxes of the hive.
Honey is extracted from the full honeycomb by centrifugal force. It is then classified, processed and packaged.
Wild honey has been gathered for human consumption since the Stone Age. Cultivation of honeybees began during the Bronze Age. The Egyptians kept beehives 3,000 years before the birth of Christ.
In South America, the Aztecs and Mayans kept domesticated stingless for honey. European honey bees are an introduced species to the Americas.
Throughout the Middle Ages manor houses and monasteries kept thriving colonies of bees not only for the honey but to make beeswax candles that were superior to those made from animal fat. They also produced excellent honey wine and mead that is again available in Ontario.
European honeybees, thought to be superior to the native American bees, came to North America with the Pilgrims.
Buying and storing
You can buy honey in its natural state just as it comes from the honey comb or as heat-treated honey, a process that destroys sugar-tolerant yeasts and large crystals to prevent crystallization. (Natural-state honey is usually found at the farm gate or farmer’s markets; most honey sold at retail stores is heat treated.)
The heat-treated version tends to remain liquid for a long period without affecting flavour. But it's still best kept in a tightly-closed container in a cool, dark place.
You can also store honey in the freezer. The container should be kept clean at all times so the honey does not become adulterated.
All honey will eventually granulate which is normal for honey. If it does granulate you can reliquify it by placing it in a bowl of warm water and stirring it every 20 minutes until it is clear again. It can be reliquefied in a microwave by heating it for several short intervals and stirring between each heat treatment.
Honey is used as a sweetener in tea and coffee and in a wide range of baked goods such as breads, muffins and cakes. Honey is 2.5 times sweeter than sugar.
You can reduce by 15 per cent the calories in such dishes by substituting 2/3 cup honey for every 1 cup of sugar the recipe calls for.
In addition, honey is "hygroscopic" – it attracts moisture and thus keeps baked goods fresher longer. It also makes a good stabilizer for dressings and sauces.