If you asked some people in South Georgia and Northwest Florida, they might tell you that Van Morrison spilled the beans on a well-kept secret: Tupelo Honey. Before Van Morrison’s 1971 studio album Tupelo Honey, not many people knew about the now world-renowned mono-floral honey varietal. That was quite alright by the lucky people that lived in the areas surrounding river banks and swamps lined with tupelo trees. Tupelo honey is world-renowned and rightfully so. The honey is smooth, buttery, and incredibly rare. For many, it’s the gold standard of honey and it’s often referred to as Southern Gold.
On any given night in a bar known for blasting oldies, one-hit wonders, and long since charted songs, you’re all but guaranteed to hear Van Morrison’s enigmatic classic hum from the speakers. It’s a scene we’ve all been party to at least once in our lives: the clinking of glasses, the dull roar of the increasingly inebriated crowd, the ever-sticky floor and, of course, that one guy, Rick, in the far off corner after one-too-many plugging the jukebox with quarters just to hear “She's as sweet as Tupelo honey...Just like honey, baby, from the bee” one more time. But if you asked Rick what Van Morrison was singing about, he’s just as likely to tell you it’s a honey from Tupelo, Mississippi as he is to drop more quarters into the jukebox to hear Tupelo Honey for the eleventeenth time (read: extremely likely), and he would be wrong! So, what’s the skinny on tupelo honey and why is it regarded so highly by beekeepers and honey connoisseurs alike?
While there are several types of tupelo trees, the real prize is produced from the nectar of the Nyssa ogeche, or the white-gum tupelo tree. This particular tree requires an incredibly moist environment to thrive, and it can often be found on the banks of rivers and scattered throughout swamps. Tupelo trees grow in a natural range from South Carolina through South Georgia and Northwest Florida. While the tree can be found in areas throughout South Carolina, in particular in areas surrounding the lowcountry, the tree does not grow densely enough to produce the true single varietal or mono-floral tupelo honey that is prized for its rarity and delicacy. The tree grows most densely through the Ogeechee Valley in South Georgia and in the areas of Northwest Florida. Along the Apalachicola River, beekeepers have created thousands of acres of beeyards to produce the mono-floral tupelo honey during the tree’s bloom cycle between March and May. Some years, the tupelo trees bloom for as little as three to ten days making the tupelo crop incredibly rare.
In order to source the best tupelo honey available, we work with beekeepers in the heart of the Apalachicola river basin where the trees grow most densely and the tupelo honey produced is the most pure. In addition to its incredible buttery flavor, tupelo honey is known for its incredibly slow crystallization rate. Most, if not all, honey will crystallize over time. This characteristic is because honey is an unstable oversaturated sugar solution of 80% sugar and 20% water. While there are several types of sugar in honey, the two predominant types are glucose and fructose. Glucose has a lower solubility than fructose, so the first sugar to fall out of solution is the glucose, resulting in tiny sugar crystals. Because of this, honey that is predominantly glucose will crystallize at a faster rate; the opposite is true too: the more fructose sugar, the slower the honey is to crystallize. This is the case with tupelo honey, which is almost entirely composed of fructose sugar. With its higher solubility, the fructose is less likely to crystallize, and the honey will remain in a liquid state for a longer period of time.
Next time you see Rick bee-lining for the jukebox to play/belt his favorite honey-inspired tune, drop some tupelo knowledge on him. If anything, it’ll stall him just long enough for your friends to swoop in and intervene with a few jukebox favorites of your own. The whole bar will thank you.