Monofloral or Polyfloral
Ever since I ventured into the world of honey, its's been a continual process of discovery. If you ask an average person what the difference is between a monofloral and polyfloral or multifloral honey is the answer is liable to be " well one is from a single flower source and multifloral honey is from many flowers".
Unfortunately that is an oversimplification which is inaccurate to the point where it is simply (nearly) untrue.!
It is extremely rare to get a honey that is 100% from a single flower source alone, its not how nature is and it's not what bees do (or even like to do). Monofloral honeys are supposed to be predominantly from one source, but what does that even mean ?
Well scientists and regulators tend to get involved and try to determine uniflorality by certain minimum percentages of flower pollen as a prime indicator of botanical origin. (This is mainly to prevent fraud and dubious practices in the honey world it must be said- but it does have some undesirable effects)
The study of flower pollens to determine the botanical origin of honey is called Melissopalynology. This kind of analysis is useful up to a point and will provide you with relative percentages of the pollens present. It does not give you absolute amounts of pollen for which there are other kinds of testing. Honeydew of course is not a nectar foraged honey.but a an insect secretion foraged honey. so no pollen there!
Pollen versus Nectar
Unfortunately the premise here is quite flawed. Honey is made of flower nectar, honeydew or combinations of the two not pollen. It may contain traces of pollen but it is not primarily pollen. Some plants like Eschium Plantagineum (very common in the wild in Portugal) are extremely pollen rich not nectar rich. You can find honeys which have a predominant quantity of Eschium pollen but they are not Eschium honey. Conversely with a plant like the Carob tree, carob flowers contain very little pollen at all and are a combination honeydew and nectar plant. It is actually possible to have a Carob honey with almost no Carob pollen at all. Technically according to EU rules it is supposed to be above 37%, I've tried that kind of Carob honey and its anodyne and boring.
Sometimes climate can play a very big part in the content of pollens. Pollen is delicate, If a flower is of a shape and size that means it has a small amount of pollen which is entirely exposed to rain, the rain can wash off pollens but the honey may still have the nectar from that flower source. This can happen to Heather honey. Where the obvious distinctive taste of Heather is not accompanied by any Heather pollen.!
The other technical factors used are conductivity ( the main technical indicator of a honeydew), sugar composition, color and even water content.
However for us the primary and most important factor is what is called "Organoleptic" its a fancy way of saying taste and smell and appearance. When we select honey, (after determining provenance and quality), we select it on the basis first and foremost of taste and smell. It's easy to forget with all this science that honey is a food and medicine-its about taste !!!. Very often we come across monofloral honeys with high percentages of a single flower source (proved by all this analysis) and find them to be one dimensional and frankly uninteresting. In the case of a honey like Chestnut honey, actually quite unpleasant quite unlike our Raw Chestnut honey
Changing standards and Priorities
We've all heard about honey lasting 1000's of years and of course its true, particularly of certain honeys like European honeys, but take a tropical honey and its water content is typically higher, especially for rain forest honeys. the problem with this is fermentation. Enough water content and temperature and the fermentation process begins. But why is that a bad thing ? Because It means the flavour and composition alters not because its bad for you. In fact fermented honey is pretty amazing. Much of our food chain is now regulated against flavour natural processes and complexity in favor of safety, sterility, shelf life and standardization. The pendulum has swung from quality control to stifling regulation, a little adjustment is necessary.
HMF or Hydroxymethylfurfural is a compound which occurs when sugars are heated or dried. The european codex alimetarius standard requires HMF levels in honey to be less than 40mg/kg to prove that honey has not been heated. 80mg/kg for tropical honeys. Above that it i consigned to being "bakers honey" HMF levels can rise easily in even ambient storage conditions of 18-20 degrees centigrade and at 30 degrees centigrade even while the honey is still raw, (42 degrees to alter that status and diminish enzyme activity) HFM levels can rise to hundreds of times the legal limit.
According to Wikipedia a piece of bread might have 14.8mg/kg just after toasting and come in at 2024.8 mg/kg an hour later. This is quite frankly a really useless and misleading indicator of quality. It is worth noting that there is no suggestion that HMF is in any way harmful to humans otherwise the next time you eat a dried plum 2200mg/kg or a piece of toast 15 mins after making it you would have a health crisis ! I myself have come across honey cold extracted and properly stored which when tested immediately after has HMF levels higher than the legal limit. At one point the UK had a derogation from these regulations and had the limit at 80mg/Kg. Personally I think it should be at least this high if not higher.
There is another really insidious side to this. If a honey, because of its HMF level, gets designated a "bakers honey" or industrial honey, the price of course drops hugely. So the net beneficiary of this idiotic and misleading indicator and very low legal level is really the pharmaceutical and cosmetic and other industries which buy up vast quantities of good honey at knock down prices. A of big business protection dressed up as consumer safety ?.
"We've all had quite enough of experts"
A notable quote from the dreaded Mr Gove, used to dismiss expertise when it was pertinent and inconvenient. I'm not suggesting that we throw out expertise but instead trust our own expertise as food consuming humans, trust our own sense of taste, smell, intuition and desire and our own evolutionary instincts and good old fashioned common sense. If you like something and it feels good for you, it probably is. The white coated humans in a lab can be supportive to this but don't leave them in charge of your decision making.
- caution beginning of minor rant-
In case I seem to be suggesting something contrary to my own interests, let me say this, it takes skill and patience and commitment to make monofloral honeys but simply making honey which has one source to the exclusion of all others leads to an uninteresting honey. Just like humans. Expecting scientists and technicians to be the final arbiters of what we consume or don't leads to an abrogation of human instinct and responsibility, makes people fearful and ends up in public health crises. After nearly 30 years the bad science and public health advice which gave us sugar, carbs and processed veggie oil instead of saturated fat has finally been debunked but only after a diabetes and heart disease and liver disease epidemic which was avoidable if you'd just stuck to the lard and the butter in the first place.
-end of rant-
In Bees We Trust
Bee consciousness is a highly evolved form of collective consciousness, when bees are left to forage in the wild they gather what they need for food and medicine. As master alchemists they take all these complex phytochemicals and transform them into what they want. We help bees by placing them close to food sources and as a consequence we can get monoflorals. Getting fetishistic about the particular amount of certain pollens is not the point, Its about helping to identify the botanical sources. We like Raw complex honeys. wild foraged, obviously monofloral in origin, but polyfloral in character, produced by talented ethical bee-keepers and we're pretty sure if you're reading this you do too.