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TheStreet Open House

How Sweet It Is

To those most familiar with that sticky, squeezable plastic bear, it may come as a revelation that there are countless varieties of honey, each with a distinctive flavor.

There are more than 300 types of honey produced in the U.S. alone. The difference between them stems from the source of the nectar -- which type of blossom the bee alights upon. The name of the varietal (such as blueberry, sage, saw palmetto) is also derived from the flower.

Much like wine, the taste profile and availability of these honey varietals can shift from year to year, depending on rainfall and other seasonal weather conditions, says Bruce Wolk, director of marketing for the National Honey Board .

But that rareness just makes these honeys all the more precious, and not just to sweeten your tea .

The Oldest Woman-Owned Business

If this doesn't get your mouth watering, consider the significant health benefits of honey. It not only contains antioxidants, but also has been used for centuries to help heal wounds and burns. Its success at this is due to honey's antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. While we may rely on prescription drugs for these ailments today, honey still can be quite effective in soothing a sore throat or even helping battle allergies.

Although there is not yet any conclusive scientific research to prove so, it's reputed that eating a local honey (made from the flower whose pollen is triggering the allergy) can alleviate symptoms.

Unfortunately, beekeeping is a dying industry in the U.S. Since the 1950s, the number of domestic beekeepers has dwindled for three main reasons.

  • First, the American wild bee population has been attacked by mites (small parasites) that have effectively decimated bee colonies nationwide. That's significant, because two million flowers must be visited to yield just one pound of honey and the average worker bee produces one-twelfth of a teaspoon in her roughly 45- to 60-day lifespan. (Yes, all worker bees are female; the sole purpose of males, or drones, is to mate with the one queen bee.)
  • All in a Day's Work
    The average worker produces one-twelfth of a teaspoon in her 45- to 60-day lifespan
  • Second, price competition from cheaper imported honey -- mainly from China and Argentina -- has further pressured domestic beekeepers. As for any farmer, tending bee colonies is difficult work with a minuscule profit margin, so it's not surprising that people aren't flocking to the hives.
  • Finally, because of the paucity of wild bees and the flood of cheap imported honey, beekeepers can make significantly more money renting their colonies to farmers vs. making honey. Since there are no longer enough wild bees to do the job, farmers must import bees to pollinate, and thus produce, their crops. Almonds, blueberries, tomatoes and even alfalfa cannot be grown without bees. "Every third bite of food is a result, directly or indirectly, of pollination," Wolk says.
  • But one company is attempting to reverse the decline of U.S. beekeeping -- by marketing varietal honeys as the premium product they are.

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