By Carie Birkmeier EBS Staff

I would wager that at least 75 percent of people have honey in their kitchen. I would also guess that very few of those people know which variety of flower’s nectar produced that honey. Many hives are strategically positioned close to fields of specific flowers so that bees will collect their nectar from them.

Honey is made when a honeybee collects nectar from flowers and transports it back to the hive where worker bees process the nectar into simple sugars. The nectar is then spread throughout the honeycomb where evaporation creates a thicker syrup. The evaporation process is helped along by the design of the honeycomb and the constant flutter of the bees’ wings.

Whether you are hoping to reduce your carbon footprint, save the bees, or support local agriculture, buying local honey is not a bad idea. Mass-produced honey can be diluted with corn syrup and ultra-filtered, which removes many of the natural nutrients present in raw honey.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Montana is the third largest producer of honey in the country, topped by North and South Dakota. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of honey varieties, but below is a list of some of the more common and accessible types in our area.

Clover honey is one of the most common and widely available types of honey. Its color varies from clear to light amber, depending on the location and source of the clover. Clover honey is mildly sweet with floral notes, with a slight sour aftertaste. This variety lends itself well to more delicate and lighter applications when cooking.

Buckwheat honey is among the darkest in color and strongest flavored of all honey varietals. It has a robust caramelized flavor as its deep brown color suggests. It contains high levels of iron and has antioxidant properties. Use this varietal when you want a deep honey flavor.

Fireweed honey comes from fireweed, one of the first plants to grow after land has been burned. It is delicately flavored and pale in color, and is a great choice for sweetening tea.

Wildflower honey is used to describe a product made from several flower sources. Its color and taste will vary according to the mix of seasonal flowers used.

Honey can be used for several applications—as a sweetener in your latest recipe, for its health benefits, or simply stirring a tablespoon into a cup of tea. Remember that lightly colored honey will have a more delicate flavor, while darker varieties will be more robust. So next time you reach for that plastic bear-shaped bottle at the super market, consider buying a local variety, pay attention to the varietal, and mix it up!