What Is Tupelo Honey?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Tupelo honey

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Tupelo honey is one of the rarest honeys in the world, and for centuries it was an under-the-radar delicacy eaten only in certain areas of Georgia and Florida, where the white Ogeechee tupelo tree blooms. That is, until the 1970s when the rock star Van Morrison released his album, Tupelo Honey. Ever since this flash of stardom the expensive sweetener has been sought out by eaters and prized for its butteriness and floral spice.

Fast Facts

  • Place of Origin: Southern Cypress Swamp in Florida and Georgia 
  • Distinct Flavor: Sweet butter, light cinnamon and floral notes
  • Other Names: Swamp honey, southern gold

What Is Tupelo Honey?

Prized for a buttery sweetness with hints of cinnamon and fresh flowers, tupelo honey is a unique honey with a greenish hue found in a small pocket in the southeast region of the Untied States. There are only two places to source tupelo honey from, the Apalachicola River basin in the Florida panhandle and the Okeefenokee Wildlife Refuge along the Georgia-Florida border. These areas are part of the Southern Cypress Swamp, which is why tupelo honey is sometimes called swamp honey. Aside from the flavor, color and rarity of tupelo honey, this sweetener also has a high fructose-to-glucose ratio, which makes it stand out from other honeys. 

Tupelo honey gets its proper name from the white Ogeechee tupelo trees that provide the nectar for the bees in the region. These trees, which are also called white gum tupelo and Ogeechee lime, only blossom about 10 days out of the year. There are other locations of the tupelo gum trees, but it's in this swamp where they grow in abundance. It's also where the most expensive and rarest tupelo honey is sourced, and it's special enough that the honey gets certified by pollen analysis in order to note the purity of the substance. 

Another reason this honey is so expensive is due to the labor it takes to reach the location of the hives along the river. In itself, beekeeping in a swamp can be challenging, but here the beekeepers often must place their hives on platforms or floats above the murky water. 

While tupelo honey has been cultivated in the Apalachicola River basin for centuries, it didn't get much recognition until Van Morrison created a hit record called Tupelo Honey in 1971. This drew interest to the honey for a short period of time. Tupelo honey got another public boost in 1997 when Peter Fonda won a won a Golden Globe for his roll as southern beekeeper harvesting tupelo honey in the film Ulee's Gold.

Tupelo Honey Vs. Wild Flower Honey

The thing to note about wild flower honey is it can come from any place in the world; the name simply denotes that the bees took nectar from local flora. On the other hand, tupelo honey can only come from the blossoms of tupelo trees, which grow in specific areas along the Apalachicola River in Florida and Georgia. Tupelo honey also has a higher fructose-to-glucose ratio than other honeys, which means it crystalizes slower than wildflower honey and offers the eater less of a sugar crash. 

Then there's the taste. Tupelo honey has a distinct buttery flavor laced with notes of cinnamon and fragrant flowers. Wildflower honey can pick up the nuances of whatever blossoms are around, and it's rarely made from a solo flower. Both honeys are created by honey bees that gather the nectar from the flowers and bring it back to their hives, and both types are a tasty way to sweeten drinks and food. 

Tupelo Honey Uses

Tupelo honey can be used like any other honey, though it's prized for a floral profile laced with rich buttery notes and a bit of spice. Because this honey is rare and expensive, it's best to use it in places where the nuances of the ingredient can shine. Serve it raw with fresh bread, aged cheese, dried fruits and almonds on a charcuterie board. Or, drizzle some of the tupelo honey on a slice of ham to enhance the natural rich sweetness of the meat. This honey is also good on ice cream or garnishing slice of cheesecake. Tupelo honey has a slight green tinge to the gold, which can surprise the unsuspecting eater. 

Tupelo honey

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Tupelo honey

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Tupelo honey

Savannah Bee Company

Tupelo honey

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Tupelo honey

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Tupelo honey

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What Does Tupelo Honey Taste Like? 

Tupelo honey is known to be a rich, buttery honey that has traces of cinnamon and a light floral essence. There can be a juicy fruitiness to the honey as well. When served raw, tupelo honey has the same consistency of other honeys, though the color is slightly green. 

Tupelo Honey Recipes

Because of the complexity and rarity of tupelo honey, it's best served straight up. Try it on a charcuterie board, drizzled on dessert or even as an accoutrement to meat.

Where To Buy Tupelo Honey

There aren't many places to buy tupelo honey, especially outside of the Georgia or Florida. The main company that sells tupelo honey is the Savannah Bee Company. Find this honey at the company's stores in Georgia, or order from the website and have it shipped. Tupelo honey can also be bought from other distributors online. The key to buying tupelo honey is to make sure it's 100-percent from the hives in the area and not mixed with other types of honey.

Storage

Because it's resistant to spoiling, honey is one of the easiest foods to store. All it needs a container, preferably with a lid to keep out pests and prevent accidental spilling. It's best to keep honey at room temperature. Too much heat can make honey runny, and if the honey is too cold it can crystallize (which can be undone by heating the honey). However, because tupelo honey has a higher fructose-to-glucose ratio crystallization doesn't happen as quickly as it can with other honeys. 

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