Honey Varietal Tasting at the OSU Food Science Lab

December 15, 2014 · 2 comments

Old Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard Spark

We’ve had our honey up for sale online for six weeks now, and so far, everything has been going extraordinarily well. Our customers are emailing/Instagramming rave reviews, and I haven’t yet made any major mistakes in the packing and shipping process (Whew!).

When I originally wrote the product descriptions for each varietal, I intentionally did not include any flavor descriptors because I simply don’t have a very discerning palate, and Henry didn’t feel comfortable describing the tastes on his own. If you look around, many honeys you might find online or at a grocery store are described with words like “luscious”, “robust”, and “intoxicating”, which are words that don’t really have much meaning, and we didn’t want to go that route. We also didn’t just want to come up with a bunch of pretentious sounding adjectives that weren’t relevant or helpful. The reality is, however, that people shopping for food online really need the retailer to guide them in choosing an appealing product by providing accurate flavor descriptions.

To remedy our lack of flavor vocabulary, Henry scheduled a honey tasting event at the Oregon State University Food Science lab with his friend Brian Yorgey and five of Brian’s flavor-nerd coworkers. In the Food Science Department, the professors, research assistants, and students regularly do to organized tastings of all sorts of foods from the latest cane berry varieties to fat-free cream cheese. Honey tastes a lot better than fat-free cream cheese, so the folks we met with were quite happy to help us out.

Old Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard Spark

We didn’t set up a super official taste test, but we did set out our unmarked varietals in order with the strongest flavors at the end of the line. Tasters had water to drink between sampling and sniffing each varietal. Honeys were warmed to about 80° to best bring out the flavors and aromas. We brought along several of UC Davis’s recently published “Honey Flavor and Aroma” wheels that list and categorize different tastes that appear in varietal honeys. (If you have a hankering to do your own honey tasting, you can pick up a honey flavor wheel here.)

A bottle of each varietal was passed around the table, and our tasters took free-form notes as they sampled. We tried to keep the discussion to a minimum during the tasting, although there were several varietals that elicited strong facial expressions and gasps of “Oooh!” and “Whoa!” At the end, we talked through the character of each varietal and voted on favorites/least favorites.

Old Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard Spark Old Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard SparkOld Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard Spark

Old Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard Spark

The two clear favorites of the day were the Clary Sage & Hairy Vetch from our Kiger Island apiary and the Blackberry & Salal from our Fruitvale apiary. With the exception of one taster who really liked it, the Raspberry & Mint from our Sunset Valley Organics apiary was the least favorite. The Blackberry from our Depot Slough apiary and the Blackberry & Lotus from our Elk City apiary were declared the most mild and pleasant but unobtrusive, not anyone’s favorites but not their least favorites either. The Bigleaf Maple from our Blodgett apiary and the Blueberry & Chittum from our Greenberry apiary were the most flavorful and most controversial in a love ‘em or hate ‘em kind of way.

When you compare one taster’s notes to another’s, you’ll notice that some flavor profiles are all over the map, but a few are very clearly defined. Though the taste is pretty obvious, I was still impressed that all the tasters used the words “eucalyptus” and “menthol” or “mint”, and five out of six used “root beer” or “birch beer” for the Bigleaf Maple honey. Words like “sweaty”, “rubber”, and “toast” were also used by more than one taster to describe one varietal or another.

Old Blue Raw Honey tasting at the OSU Food Science lab // Waysard Spark

I’ve added a condensed version of the flavor notes from the tasting to each honey varietal that we have listed online, but the full, mostly unedited descriptions are included below. Each line was written by a different taster.

1. Blackberry from our Depot Slough apiary

floral, waxy, clover, fruity, vanilla
nutty, walnuts, confectionary: butter scotch, toffee, tree fruit: pear, dried fruit:figs, barnyard
waxy, floral, honeysuckle, fruit paste, slight almond, caramel, brown sugar, nutty aroma
beeswax, propolis, quince, floral, maple syrup
uncomplicated, honeysuckle, butterscotch
waxy, fig, cotton candy, nutty, pecans

2. Blackberry & Salal from our Fruitvale apiary

floral, jasmine, citrus, roasted, astringent, woody, cedar, nutty
bready, roasted, woody, pine, mint, tea, papery, toasty
roasted, toasted walnut aftertaste, orange
cinnamon, allspice, toast
toffee, pollen
floral, honeysuckle, clover, herbal, tea, veggie/grass/hay, pastoral

3. Blackberry & Thistle from our Feagles Creek apiary

fruity, dried apricots, jam, clove, dark fruit, viney
estery, fruity, citrus, orange zest, berry, cane fruit creme brûlée, orange blossom
citrus, lemon, geranium leaf, floral, slight citrus, Ricola cough drops
lime, cherry, cough drops, viney, plant, floral/violet, orange
herbal, mint, grassy
peach, apricot, toffee, salty, bready

4. Blackberry & Lotus from our Elk City apiary

caramel, vanilla, very sweet, oak tree, spicy
lavender, marshmallow, moldy, sweaty
caramel, cooked fruit, figs, lemon aftertaste, maple
cabbage, citrus, orange, earthy, earth spice
marshmallow
melon, spicey, pine, caramel, maple

5. Bigleaf Maple & Dewberry from our Logsden apiary

goaty, barnyard, hay, earthy, pungent, white pepper, licorice, burnt
peppermint, fennel, mushroom, cherry
rubber or ash, waxy, fishy smell,
rubber, almond, lime, butterscotch
very buttery, beeswax
anise, licorice, minty burnt wood

6. Poison-Oak & Chittum from our Cardwell Hill apiary

berry, currants, herbal, earthy, rose, cinnamon
orange, orange blossom, maple
waxy, almond, floral
plastic, candy, cotton candy, rose
sweet grass, light lemon
menthol, prune, rootbeer, tea, rubber

7. Clary Sage & Hairy Vetch from our Kiger Island apiary

floral, very sweet, perfumey, cotton candy, toffee, almond brittle
cocoa, toffee, floral
cinnamon, lemon, citronello
marshmallow, plant, clover hay, alfalfa, viney/plant
nutty, toasted, brickle, most unusual, unique, slight fig, flora, jasmine
vanilla, maple, butterscotch, orange blossom

8. Bigleaf Maple from our Blodgett apiary

medicinal, menthol, eucalyptus, cough drop, licorice, root beer
melon, anise/licorice/root beer, eucalyptus, banana
eucalyptus, menthol, minty, licorice, root beer
licorice, spearmint, eucalyptus, floral, birch beer
eucalyptus, menthol
minty, menthol, anise, eucalyptus, clove, root beer

9. Blueberry, Dewberry, & Vine Maple from our Siletz apiary

fruity, dried fruits, spicy, toast, yeast
maple, butterscotch, citrus, lemon/orange, soap
orange peel, lemon, baking spice, toast, maple
bread, toffee, cinnamon, plastic, toast
sweet cream
cinnamon, strawberry, ginger, molasses

10. Raspberry & Mint from our apiary at Sunset Valley Organics

tropical fruit, sulfur, orange blossom, clove
cotton candy, cat pee, sweaty, cherry, christmas, clove, cinnamon
rubber, burnt aroma, heavy waxy taste, slightly medicinal, eucalyptus, animal, leather, bitterness
sweaty, gamey, chestnut, plastic
off aroma, decomposition/socks, spices
sweaty, leather, waxy, nutmeg

11. Blueberry & Chittum from our Greenberry apiary

pungent, dried dark fruits, sour, spices, potpourri, strong
leather
orange, cloves, sharpness, acid, roasted
marshmallow, vanilla, astringent, oak, woody
rich, root beer, nutmeg
sour, astringent, marshmallow, tea, tobacco

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendy December 16, 2014 at 8:09 pm

This is just fascinating! Congrats–hope to try some of your honey soon!

Reply

LaurieY January 14, 2015 at 5:53 am

We sent a whole selection to our family in California. They *LOVED* the honey varietals. There was an official taste test with everyone gathered around the table to appreciate the characteristics; like when Marguerite, in the film The Hundred-Foot Journey, tasted the 5 basic sauces (the essence of French cuisine) that Hassan made for her approval. My Aunt said that the gathering around Old Blue was a big hit. Lots of spoons! Such goodness. We printed out as much of the story about bees from both websites and sent it along. That got passed around, too. Folks were astonished on how much work it takes to bring the finished product to the table. Both by bees and man., and woman! Pretty swell.

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