The color of honey

The USDA classifies honey into seven categories of color. These are named as follows:

  • Water white
  • Extra white
  • White
  • Extra light amber
  • Light amber
  • Amber
  • Dark Amber

“White” is one of those odd words. In this case it means “colorless,” in the same way that white vinegar is colorless. White honey is no more white than green, so we just have to deal with the naming scheme.

And it gets even weirder. Color is actually graded on a continuous scale, called the Pfund scale. A Pfund color grader is just a standard amber-colored glass wedge that goes from light to dark. The honey is placed in a wedge-shaped container and compared to the scale, and the place where the color matches is measured from one end of the wedge. So honey color, then, is expressed as a length ranging from 0 to 140 mm. Huh?

Other methods are also used to measure color such as the Lovibond visual comparator used by the Association of Official Analytical Chemists. In this type of measurement, a beam of light is passed through the honey and the color is compared to a standard. This is basically the same system used to determine the color of beer.

Although color is not included in the USDA grading system, many producers, packers, and end users of honey are interested in the color. Honey color is a result of the floral nectars that go into it. For the most part, lighter honeys are mild flavored while darker honeys are stronger. However, there are exceptions to the rule. A light honey such as basswood is generally considered strong flavored while the darker tulip poplar is considered mild.

From a human health perspective, darker honey is usually higher in antioxidants than lighter honeys. For example, in a study done at the University of Illinois, buckwheat honey was found to have 20 times as many antioxidants as sage honey.

It turns out that Americans like light honey—the lighter the better—and so water white honey commands a much higher price than the darker honeys. This consumer preference is similar to the American preference for the lightest maple syrup—not the stuff with all the flavor. Go figure.

At any rate, I’ve attached a color conversion chart so you can see how “long” your honey is.

Pfund Scale of Honey Color. From Table 1. United States Standards for Grades of Extracted Honey. USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service. Effective May 23, 1985.

Rusty

Comments

Edward Cipko
Reply

Where can I buy a Pfund grader?

Tambra
Reply

My mom just pulled out a gallon of honey stored in a plastic container for 20 years.
The honey has turned black. The lower half of the container has turned to sugar and the top half is liquid. The honey looks like molassas and has a tang to it.
Is this still edible??

Why would it turn black? It was an amber color when it was first stored.

Rusty
Reply

I don’t know why it’s black. Often when honey crystallizes the part that hasn’t crystallized is darker than the crystallized part, but black is uncommon. When you say it has a tang, do you mean it tastes fermented?

It is possible the liquid part fermented years ago but, seriously, I don’t know what twenty-year-old fermented honey looks like. Some people like the taste of fermented honey, but I’ve never heard any reports on aged fermented honey. I think you are on your own here. It’s probably safe enough. Taste it and decide whether you’d want to eat it or not.

ZAHARI ZAINAL
Reply

Hi Rusty,

My name Zahari Zainal (male) from Penang, Malaysia. I am a seller of honey bees. The information you provide is very interesting and can help me distinguish between Southeast Asia and the honey from your country. Thank you

Abraham
Reply

Hi,

I’m really confused about water white honey . This honey came from where? This colour natural or not. Give me some detail,

Rusty
Reply

Abraham,

“Water white” means the honey is nearly clear; it almost looks like water. Nectar of this type comes from certain plants, such as fireweed and some kinds of clover. Many different plants produce it and it it very popular, especially in the U.S.

roslan
Reply

I wish to a picture of honey in bottles. Can you say that it’s white honey coz the color is cream? How do I attach the photo?

Rusty
Reply

Roslan,

You can attach the photo to an e-mail and send it to me: rusty[at]honeybeesuite[dot]com

Roy Lumapat
Reply

I am Roy Lumapat, 18, Philippines. I have here a green-colored honey. Is there any green colored honey?

Rusty
Reply

Roy,

For sure, I have heard of green-colored honey, but I don’t know what plant causes it. Does anyone else know?

Linda
Reply

Rusty,

I was wondering which type of honey has the most nutrients. I have bought clover, straight from the hive, and wildflower honey. The hive was very light in color but the clover and wildflower kindle d was more dark amber.

Rusty
Reply

Linda,

The darker it is, the more nutrients it contains. In fact, the nutrients are at least part of the reason for the color. The most nutrient-dense honey is buckwheat, which is almost black.

Belinda
Reply

Hi.
We just pulled honey that was so dark you can’t see thru it. It smells wonderful and taste strong. It has a slight bitter aftertaste. Is this common?

Rusty
Reply

Belinda,

Sounds delicious! I love dark honey. What you describe sounds similar to buckwheat or tamarisk. Fairly common.

vynnze
Reply

I’m skeptic of these bottled honey from a farm in china they look translucent white as cream. Are they safe? I wonder….

Rusty
Reply

Vynnze,

I have no idea what’s in the bottle. But if you are uncomfortable with it, don’t eat it.

Linda S Bryson
Reply

What causes honey to be black like sorghum syrup and is it safe to eat??

Rusty
Reply

Linda,

You are lucky! The color of honey is dependent on what flowers the nectar came from. Dark, molasses-like honey can come from a number of different plants. The darker the honey, the more flavor and the more nutrients it contains. I always look for the darkest honey I can possibly find because I think it is the very, very best.

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