It remains one of nature's miracles ― that process by which buzzing honeybees transform flower dust into edible gold. Aristotle called the result "the nectar of the gods."
But all honey is not the same. Nuances of flavor and color vary according to the source flower. "It's like wine in that way," says Helene Marshall, who produces honey in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Spencer.
Increasingly, diners ― and cooks ― are seeking out specific specialty honeys, from delicately perfumed sage to citrusy orange blossom to tangy avocado. Many people are surprised by the range of flavors.
Richard Spiegel of Volcano Island Honey Company in Hawaii says most people can't find words to describe the taste of his creamy organic kiawe honey. "It's very light and subtle, but rich and tropical at the same time."
The distinctive flavors of Western honey shine in an equally surprising range of dishes, from salad to dessert.
Joann's Honey. Nut blends and wildflower. Reedsport, OR; (877) 846-6392.
Marshall's Farm Natural Honey. Lavender, wildflower blends, and others. American Canyon, CA; www.marshallshoney.com or (800) 624-4637.
McEvoy Ranch. Lavender. Petaluma, CA; www.mcevoyranch.com or (707) 778-2307.
Volcano Island Honey Company. Honoka'a, HI; www.volcanoislandhoney.com or (808) 775-1000.