I’ve made a commitment to use only top-quality, ethically sourced ingredients for our delicious Liberty Chocolate.
One of the reasons I love making small-batch chocolate from start to finish is the ability to know exactly how it is made as well as use the best and most ecologically sourced ingredients.
The only sweetener that goes into Liberty Chocolates is organic honey. It’s important to me to use organic honey in order to support the planet by promoting the sustainable production of honey worldwide (which means healthy bees, which means bountiful gardens and farms), and by sourcing our ingredients from companies that have strong ethical standards.
Sweetening with honey is a great choice, but it turns out that finding a source for organic honey is tricker that you would think, especially if I want that honey to be domestic. To understand why organic honey can be hard to find close to home, let me share a few fun facts to give you some insight into where honey comes from and how it’s made.
How Is Honey Made?
So, this process is fascinating and detailed. In a nutshell (which does not do the process justice at all!), bees use their long, tubular tongues to collect nectar from the flowers of plants like clover, lavender, blackberry, and many, many others.
The nectar is held in a second stomach, called the “honey stomach”, which is used for carrying the nectar. The bees then take the nectar back to the hive and (skipping a few steps here) deposit it into the honeycomb. The nectar is deposited in the honeycomb cells and spread along the surface so that water can evaporate, allowing the nectar to thicken. The bees aid this evaporation process by vigorously fluttering their wings over the nectar until excess water is removed, creating the syrupy liquid we call honey. (Wow, isn’t nature amazing!?)
For a more detailed (no skipped steps!) and fascinating description of how bees collect and make honey, check this out.
To harvest honey, beekeepers collect the honeycomb frames and scrape off the wax cap the bees have placed to seal the honey in each cell of the honeycomb. They are placed in an extractor that spins the honeycomb frames and forces honey out of the comb. It is then strained to remove any leftover debris or wax.
Honey’s flavor and color vary depending on the type of nectar collected by the bees so the flavor and look of honey can be wide-ranging (I think it’s all great)! Honey made from acacia nectar is usually light in color with a bright, clean flavor, while avocado honey is a dark amber color with a rich, buttery taste.
The honey I use for Liberty Chocolate bars is from wildflowers, which means it can change slightly from season to season and year to year. I will write another blog about bees and honey-making, and I will expand on the question about the impact on bees of humans using their honey.
My goal is to buy honey from local apiaries in New England, but right now there is no way to know if any honey produced in the U.S. is truly organic. Currently, the USDA has no standards in place for organic honey, so we are sourcing our honey from Brazil, where there are still large swaths of land far from fields treated with pesticides.
Why Is It Hard To Find Organic Honey In The U.S.?
Honeybees fly an average of two miles, and up to five, in various directions from their hives to forage for nectar and pollen, which can encompass an area up to 50 square miles or more. To call honey organic, an apiary must make sure that no pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and other chemicals are used anywhere in this large area.
If there are homes, farms, waste-water treatment plants, landfills, and power plants nearby, it’s virtually impossible to guarantee that the honey is 100 percent organic.
Producing organic honey in the U.S. is possible, but apiaries have to be situated in unpopulated, isolated areas, and beekeepers would have to own a significant amount of land to keep their honey’s organic integrity.
The definition of “local” can be flexible, and neither the USDA nor any other legal authority has a strict definition for what local means. A general definition of local honey would be honey from an area that contains the same plants, flowers, trees and other flora within a 50 to 100-mile radius.
I hope to find a Vermont or New England apiary that produces exceptionally “clean” honey from fields untreated with pesticides and other chemicals. I’ll keep searching diligently for domestic and locally-sourced organic honey, and I promise to keep my chocolate fans updated!