Aruba is blessed with outstanding beaches, friendly people and Sunshine year round. But did you know that Aruba is also blessed with flora that can handle the heat, the dry temperature and difficult growing conditions? Yes, even though we are an island in the Caribbean and we do have Palm Trees we are not like your typical island paradise. As you get to know the island and visit the many sites you will see one thing that sticks out, we have a lot of Cactus plants. We have both barrel cactuses as well as Tuna cactuses, both types of cactus create a flower that needs polinization to create a fruit. What’s also interesting about Aruba’s Flora is that we can grow many plants that are native to India, such as Cashew, Tamarind, Moringa, and Neem. This is due in part because we are on the same point on the equator’s line, thus receiving a similar amount of the sun’s rays. The above mentioned trees create fruit and flowers, both of which our Aruba Bees love!
So let’s go back to the question, What does Honey Color mean? Quite simply put Honey color depends on the type of tree as well as pollen that the Bees visit. In commercial beekeeping Beekeepers make money through the renting of their hives to farmers that raise Almonds, Apples, Oranges for example. This presents an unhealthy problem for Bees. Traditional farming is based on monoculture, meaning only one type of crop. Imagine if you were a Bee and had the same type of pollen and the same type of nectar from a tree for your food for about 2 months, it would be the same as if we were eating a Salami Sandwich for 2 months. Your body would not get all the necessary vitamins and nutrients that it needs. We need diversity in our diet, the same goes for Bees. So Bees in the wild will naturally go to different types of trees to collect pollen and nectar to keep diversity in their pollen and honey stores. So getting back to Aruba, the available trees that provide pollen and nectar are Cactus trees, Palm trees, Kinepa Trees, Tamarind Trees, Cashew Trees, Shimaruku Trees, etc. Many of these trees, if not all these trees, do not grow very well in Northern Climates so as you can imagine the Honey flavors from these trees would be considered unique and special.
In my humble experience as a Beekeeper I have noticed that areas that are abundant in barrel and tuna cactus produce a very light, clear colored honey. The flavor is very floral but has a slight butter taste to it. These areas are usually the Coastal areas of the island, like Alto Vista. Areas that produce a darker, more viscous honey are in the Noord area, Bubali, Jaburibari areas. There are still Cactus plants but there have been more houses built so people are more keen to plant fruit Trees such as Cashew, Kinepa and Tamarind. In all areas of Aruba people plant Coconut Trees, which also leads to a light colored honey. To be healthy Bees need diversity in their diet, so different types of pollen are also collected by the Bees which can add a slight color variation to the Honey.
An important point to make is that honeycomb age can also affect the color of honey. In our Eco Living Aruba Bee practices, we only use honey that comes from the Honey Super, the box that sits on top of the box where the Queen Bee lays her eggs. In between the two boxes we use a Queen separator so that the Queen does not go into the top box to also lay eggs. As you can imagine it can get messy if you have honey comb that you are trying to extract honey from that has both honey and baby bees in it. So in our situation we do not deal a lot with older comb since we leave it undisturbed in the brood box, where the Queen Bee lays eggs. As bee comb gets older and more used by the bees the color begins to change into a Coffee Color. As the honey sits in this coffe colored comb it can begin to adopt the color of the comb. If you buy honey from a beekeeper and the color is a very dark color it usually means that they extracted the honey from a ferrel hive, meaning a hive that needed removal from a location. There is absolutely nothing wrong with darker honey and in fact many people prefer it, but it can mask some of the delicate flavors that chrome from the flowers of the trees in particular areas.
Besides colors beeing different in Honey, honey flavor can also be affected. Depending on which trees the Bees are foraging the flavor of the honey can taste floral, buttery, citrusy, maple syrupy etc. I have to say that one of the most pleasant surprises of Beekeeping is the amount of flavor differences that I get from my hives. Each hive has different flavors and the flavors are never the same. Because we cherish unique flavors of the honey we never store all the honey together in one big batch. We in fact bottle them seperately and also label them by the location they are from. We also keep track of the total amount extracted by that location, add a date to it and and also add some flavor notes to keep track of what the flavors were like that harvest.
Honey is a very unique and special product. Worldwide Bee populations are dwindling due to pesticides, diseases and conventional practices in farming. For those Honey lovers who are lucky enough to have local Beekeepers that produce Raw Honey from their hives take advantage of it and purchase from them. Be aware of what you are buying in Supermarkets and make sure it says Raw honey on it. As the human population grows demand for Honey will only increase. We simply do not have enough Bees to support that demand. Support your local Beekeeprs!