What is so special about sourwood honey?
sourwood: a rare and highly prized honey
what is sourwood honey?
American Sourwood Honey has twice been selected as the "Best Honey in the World" at Apimondia, which is a bi-annual world conference for beekeepers and the honey industry. Slow Food USA had this to say about sourwood honey: "Sourwood honey is so rare that a good crop sometimes only surfaces once every decade. Yet, its deep, spicy flavor makes it sought after by honey connoisseurs everywhere."
Sourwood honey comes from the nectar of sourwood tree blossoms. The tree gets is name from sour tasting leaves (who eats the leaves anyway?) but the honey is amazing. The tree blossoms are small and pure white. In shape, they resemble a Lily of the Valley flower. Hence one of the nicknames for this tree -- the Lily of the Valley tree.
where does sourwood honey come from?
The sourwood tree is native to the United States, and can be found in a number of eastern states, ranging from a small southern section of Pennsylvania, down to Alabama and Mississippi. But the greatest concentrations of sourwood trees are found in the central portion of the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina and Georgia. Sourwood trees are native to the United States and they have no related species. They are not found on other continents unless they have been transported there.
A sourwood tree in full bloom is majestic. These large trees are covered in hundreds of white clusters of small white flowers. The bloom begins in June and continues into July, with the precise timing of the bloom varying by elevation. Trees at lower elevations bloom first and then the bloom continues up the mountain slopes as summer progresses.
Beekeepers set up their beehives in bee yards - a piece of property that is flat and easily accessible by truck. Good bee yards that are close to the target nectar source are highly prized. Many bee yards have been used by the same beekeeping families for generations.
What do people say about sourwood honey?
Mary, a Smiley Honey customer from California, had this to say about sourwood honey: "The Sourwood is subtle with a mellow flavor gradually producing a stronger, rich caramel undertone from underneath the initial woodsy spice. As an amateur connoisseur I may have 30 or more honeys from all over the United States and other countries at any time. I think that, for the price, the Holly and Sourwood rival most that I've had in Greece and Sicily, and although very different from the New Zealand and Middle Eastern honeys, are no less pleasing on the tongue."
Carol, another customer from out west, adds: "Sourwood honey is my very favorite and this year's is better than ever. Best honey I've ever eaten!"
what does sourwood honey taste like?
After tasting some sourwood honey from the 2022 crop, Larry put it this way: "Sourwood honey has a flavor profile of a warm cinnamon pastry." That's a pretty good place to start with a description of this fine honey.
Sourwood honey is complex. The first flavor notes you will detect are caramel and a very subtle floral flavor. As the honey spreads over your tongue, then you start picking up warm spices such as cinnamon and cloves. In some cases, you will detect a hint of anise. You may also pickup a spicy bite at the very end, which is playfully intriguing. It's just a fun flavor journey that will have you craving more and more.
Good quality sourwood honey will not sugar
Honey is a super-saturated sugar solution and many varieties of raw and unfiltered honey will crystallize over time. This is also called "sugaring." Sugaring is a natural process. The honey has not gone bad, it has simply changed form and it can be re-liquified by gently warming the honey. But sourwood honey is different. Because it has a higher concentration of fructose sugars as compared to glucose sugars, it resists sugaring. Although it may happen from time to time, it is very rare for sourwood honey to sugar.
Is sourwood honey expensive?
Sourwood honey is hard to collect. Unlike an orange grove, for example, sourwood trees are not found in large groups. Instead, these trees are scattered hither and yon over the Blue Ridge mountains. Because of this uneven terrain, it is hard to get the beehives close. So beekeepers must find a flat spot of land where they can place a small number of hives and then hope there are a sufficient number of sourwood trees within a reasonable distance. After placing the hives, temporary electric fencing must be set up around them to discourage honey loving bears. Finally, the southern Appalachian mountains get frequent thunderstorms when the trees bloom in mid summer. Bees do not fly in the rain, nor do they like to work wet flowers. All of these factors mean that sourwood honey crops are generally quite small. In some years, hardly any honey is made. Small crops and high demand mean that prices for sourwood honey are generally higher as compared to other honey types such as clover or orange blossom.
Can i find sourwood honey near me?
If you happen to live in the mountains of southwestern North Carolina or northwestern Georgia where this honey is made, then you can probably find it in local stores. But for the rest of us, there are several companies that sell it online. At Smiley Honey, we like to think we have some of the best quality and reasonably priced sourwood honey that you can find anywhere.