What do you imagine when you think of honey? Do you see rivers of a gold that are tasty and sweet? Maybe a little paler or a little darker? Nothing too crazy, right? No blue, candy red, green, or purple right? That’s right! Honey is a reflection of the primary food source for bees or a particular hive. This primary food source impacts the color and taste… so of course honey would only be those natural colors. I mean really; according to the FDA:
“Honey is the natural sweet substance produced by honey bees from the nectar of plants or from secretion of living parts of plants …”
There are 7 color grades for honey. Honey ranges from nearly colorless, golden , to a deep dark amber brown color. The darker the color, the stronger the flavor, though there are some very notable exceptions to this rule of thumb.
Perhaps it is due to the fact that these colorful colors aren’t produced naturally? Maybe it is because honey of theses colors are dyed? So, what do you think beekeepers do when they open up their busy little beehives to see these unexpected colors?
Red Honey in Brooklyn:
In 2010, beekeepers in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn started finding bright red honey in their hives. They joked that the bees were drinking maraschino cherry juice from the local maraschino cherry plant. Turns out it wasn’t a joke. Bees discovered large vats of cherries that were routinely moved from one building to another on the plant grounds, and started feeding off of them. The honey produced had a metallic, unappetizing taste, and was unsellable as honey because of it’s color, and the source of the sugars the bees were consuming. Subsequent tests found that it was packed full of FD&C red dyes. The solution was to cover the vats when in transit out of door.
The color of the maraschino cherry juice the bees were feeding on was so red that many of the bees even looked red (due to red juice in the honey stomachs, and a translucent abdomen).
Red honey in Utah:
In 2013, red honey started showing up in beehives in four Utah counties. Everybody was stumped as to the cause of the unpleasantly flavored, sugary honey until a local beekeeper, who kept hives in two of the counties, admitted that he had been using a syrup made of crushed candy canes to supplement his hives. The syrup was given in open troughs and bees from other hives must have discovered the sweet treat. The red product does not meet the definition of honey, cannot legally be sold as such in the US. Mitigation offered to beekeepers who could not legally sell the red honey as honey. Again, The honey produced was unsellable as honey because of it’s color, and the source of the sugars the bees were consuming. Subsequent tests found that it was packed full of FD&C red dyes.
Blue and green honey:
In 2014, in Eastern France beekeepers were upset and dismayed to find frames of blue and green honey in their hives. The beekeepers were understandably upset since the honey was considered inedible and could not legally be sold as such in the EU. analysis of the unappetizing honey showed that it was found to be full of FD&C blue and green dyes. After much investigation, a Mars waste processing plant was found to be the source of the contamination. Bees were eating M&M candy shell waste that was being stored out in the open. Once discovered, the plant began storing candy waste in covered storage buildings.
Purple and blue honey:
Very rarely, over the last 100 years, isolated hives in the Sandhills area of North Carolina have produced wonderful, naturally flavored honey that is various hues of blue and purple. The cause is unknown, but believed to be a natural phenomena since foraging bees arrive back at the hive with naturally colored nectar and produced blue honey from it. Over an extended period of time, the color of this honey fades to dark amber or brown, The color is widely believed by many to be due to bees feeding directly off the juice overripe grapes and berries that abound in the area in the summer and early fall. The findings of Professor John Ambrose, an entomologist and assistant vice provost of undergraduate affairs and director of N.C point to sourwood blossoms as the cause of the purple/blue honey:
“While the honeybee flies and forages, it is fueled by the nectar in its honey stomach. When Ambrose field-stripped bees in his study, the bees arriving at the blue honey hives never had blue in their stomachs, but the bees leaving the hive did.
“That tells you something is happening to the nectar after it reaches the hive to change the color,” Ambrose says.
The scientists then collected as many blue flowers and plants as possible and soaked them overnight in the juices of the bee’s’ digestive tracts. By morning, the goo surrounding one specific flower, the sourwood, was tinged blue.”
When collected, this honey is sold by the local beekeepers as honey.
Wow, right? They really did find red, blue, green, and purple honey. Well, most of the “honey” was product that can’t be sold or consumed but they were made nonetheless. So, kinda cool right? But such a sad loss. Makes some wonder whether or not those “honey sticks” really are honey? I have seen bright green (apple), bright red (cherry), but I have never seen those colors in my hives.