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A honey dipper serves honey with a twist

At Christmas, my daughter gave us a ceramic skep-shaped honey dish with a wooden honey dipper. Oddly enough, this was my first experience with a honey dipper. Although I never paid much attention to them, I thought they were weird. After all, what can a dipper do that a spoon can’t? And now that I’ve used one for a month, I’m even more mystified by this strange utensil.

You must remember that I’m a fan of comb honey, something which requires cutting and spreading, so a regular kitchen knife has always been my weapon of choice. Honey extracted from the comb is even more perplexing than a honey dipper, but that is a subject I’ve already covered in excruciating detail.

My husband never used a honey dipper either because he grew up with creamed honey, something which also requires a knife. Together, the two of us knew zilch about the art of dippering.

The physics of dippers

Upon examining the Christmas dipper, my husband began to speculate, and that’s when I began to take notes. He said, “Wooden dippers were probably turned on a lathe beginning whenever lathes were commonly used. The lathes could be hand-turned or, later, motorized. The design probably arose in India, China, Germany, or Mesopotamia.” Mesopotamia? I have no idea where this came from. Never in my life has he mentioned Mesopotamia.

He twisted the dipper into the honey and ruminated. “The dipper is easy and natural to use. Honey is viscous. On a dipper, honey separates into a glob due to gravity. When the force of gravity exceeds the force of cohesion, the glob separates from the dipper and plops into your oatmeal.” Oatmeal? This is another subject he’s never mentioned, at least not to me. I’m transfixed.

“The adhesion between the honey and wood is increased due to the parallel grooves around the circumference of the dipper.” He compared it to the way high voltage insulators impede the path of a spark. Really? And this is relevant?

“If you hold the dipper horizontally and rotate, the glob never accumulates because Fg<Fc. As long as you keep spinning it, there is no issue of the honey falling off the dipper. This is unlike a knife, where it slides off, or a spoon, where it drips from the bottom. Compared to most utensils, you can deliver the honey with precision. For example, with an English muffin, you can fill all the little holes individually.”

He concluded by saying, “The honey dipper was an advanced device first made by people who hadn’t studied flow dynamics and physics.”

A honey dipper for everyone

A bit dazed, I decided I should do an Internet search. First I learned that dippers are also called honey wands, sticks, spoons, and drizzlers. Next, I learned that honey dippers are, indeed, a favorite project of woodworkers who don’t know what else to do with their lathes. You can find websites and YouTubes with precise instructions for dipper manufacture. Popular species of wood for dipper workers include olive, maple, walnut, beech, and bamboo.

But wooden dippers are just the tip of the iceberg. You can also find dippers made of stainless steel, silver-plated brass, plastic, silicone, ceramic, and glass. Even so, wooden dippers are considered superior because they won’t chip your teacup. Good to know. You don’t want to be a dipper chipper.

Others claim that wood absorbs the flavor of honey, while metals or plastic impart a flavor to honey. In addition, wood has antibacterial properties that will protect the honey even after multiple dips. Apparently, wood is king in the dipper department.

Controlling the goo

Experienced dippers get high on controlled drizzling. You hold them vertically to avoid drips and horizontally to encourage drips. The angle you choose—somewhere between vertical and horizontal—displays your artistry. The controlled descent of your honey onto the substrate reveals a lot (I’m told) about your personality. Some say it’s all in the wrist.

The shape of the dipping part is variable, and the shape together with the size determines how much honey is delivered and how fast. Popular shapes are cylinders, spheres, skeps, tear drops, pears, and points. Each shape presents its own control variables, so different shapes require different skills. The problem is so complex that those who wish to apportion an exact measurement into their tea—say a teaspoon—are better off leaving dippers to the pros.

Dipping protocol

Apparently, there is much dissension among dippers about protocol. For example, when having tea, do you dribble and simply replace the dipper in the bowl? Or do your swirl the dipper in the tea before replacing it in the bowl? Or do you drizzle, lick, and wash?  I suppose there’s even a fourth choice. Much to my amazement, I even found a survey on dipping protocol. The overwhelming majority swirl the honey-laden dipper into their tea and then stick it back in the jar. Eew.

It appears that the honey dipper is a one-trick pony that essentially disappeared after the plastic squeeze bear made its way into modern kitchens. But aficionados of dipping say it’s the experience rather than the utility that makes it special. The dipper makes honey an event rather than just a condiment. A dipper is romantic, an artifact of times gone by, a conversation piece, and an art form.

The last stop

But even art has its downside. When our honey was about half gone, the remainder crystallized into something akin to concrete. The honey dipper itself became affixed to the bottom of the jar and I feared breaking it as I chipped away. This event solidified our discussion of the physics of dipping, and the dipper is now in the kitchen drawer that corrals orphaned utensils. I get the feeling that most dippers, regardless of material and design, end up in the very same place.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

A honey dipper dripping into a pot of honey.
Honey dippers are popular gifts and they photograph well. But how often are they used? Pixabay photo.

Comments

Alun Thomas
Reply

I got my bees in 2016; when I first began to sell honey, I gave away a wooden dipper with each sale. They’re magic and I’d never encountered them before. My dipper lives in the spoon drawer!

Rusty
Reply

Alun,

Good for you! You proved me wrong in the very first comment.

William H N Fleming
Reply

A beekeeper of many years now in his 90th year gosh does not time fly.

Valeria Burrows
Reply

After 2 seasons of some pretty standard slightly solid honey my bees decided to make some very runny honey. Delicious but so hard to use a teaspoon to transfer to my cup of tea and cereals. Then I remembered seeing those funny grooved wooden things and realised that’s exactly what my honey needed. No more drips down the side of the honey pot or on the bench. I now cannot live without my dipper!

Granny Roberta in nw Connecticut USA
Reply

I have disagreed with you on an occasion, but on this occasion you are totally correct. The honey dipper is best used for decoration (or to take up space in the odd utensil drawer).
A knife for the comb honey. A knife for the creamed honey. (And a fork for the delicious cappings wax.)

Granny Roberta in nw Connecticut USA
Reply

Oh and I forgot to say, your husband sounds very smart and highly entertaining.

Rusty
Reply

Roberta,

He’s also good-natured about the things I write.

Michelle
Reply

I loved reading this blog on dippers (well, OK, I love reading all your blogs!!) This one hits home for me though. My brother saw a jar of our honey at my mom’s house. He thought it beautiful, pure, perfect in every way. He couldn’t imagine sticking a metal spoon into it. Being an amazing woodworker, he got busy. He turned many wooden spoons for our honey, claiming “that honey is way too good to ever be contaminated by anything other than wood!!” Much to my surprise one day, a box showed up in the mail. It contained not only the beautifully turned wooden dippers, but the covers for the honey jars. He drilled a hole into the jar lid, then placed a rubber grommet to seal the dipper in the honey when not in use. Honey dipper has no way to make it to the utensil drawer!!

I can’t wait to share your dipper research with him ~~ thank you. Oh, I tried licking the dipper, too. Feels really weird on your tongue, and I don’t recommend trying to get all the honey out of the grooves. Your tongue may revolt.

Rusty
Reply

Michelle,

That’s a cute story. I was surprised to hear that so many woodworkers make honey dippers, but it sounds like it’s all true.

Carol
Reply

Rusty,

You have provided a much needed smile today. For that I cannot thank you enough. With 5”-8” of light blowing and drifting snow and overnight temps dipping to below zero (again) I was almost ready to give up. Don’t feel this needs to be posted since my use of honey dippers have nothing to do with honey dippers. I could easily use rocks but the honey dippers were already there and were cleaner than rocks. I thought I might return the smile.

Since the 1980s, when I got my first hives, I have tried to make sense of honey dippers but never came up with a reason one should take up precious space in my kitchen drawer. For that reason I keep a honey dipper box in the basement except for 3, which all have been assigned “jobs”.

A gift from my daughter, Dipper #1 is made of olive wood and is meticulously smoothed, waxed and polished. It is perfectly balanced and beautiful from all angles. I appreciate that it is indeed a work of art but not functional art. Its job is to remind me that simple beauty is everywhere but I must find it.

Dipper #2 is made of pine with an unusable stubby handle. It is rough and not sanded. If I tried to lick the honey off I would probably get multiple slivers in my tongue. I like it because it’s such a contrast to Dipper #1. Its job is to remind me that it does indeed “take all kinds”. Only because of Dipper #2 do I have a deeper appreciation of Dipper #1. Life is like that, not just dippers.

Last up is Dipper #3 which is made of plastic, white plastic popped out of a mold of who knows how many white plastic dippers just like it. It has never crossed my mind to actually USE this dipper with anything I would eat. It does, however, make a perfect simple slingshot. The thin round handle is flexible and it has a fairly large paddle shaped “finger hold” at the very bottom. It easily bends into an excellent launching pad with enough tension to send a dried pea across the room. The dipping end is large and easy to hang on to while bending back the handle in preparation for a launch. Dipper #3’s job is to remind me it’s ok to think outside of the box as long as you appear “normal” in a crowd.

Rusty
Reply

Carol,

Only one question, if you don’t mind me asking. What do you shoot with your sling shot? In your kitchen? Some strange images come to mind. I shall be more wary of normal-looking people in the future.

Jake
Reply

I never had an appreciation for the design of dippers relative to the fluid dynamics of honey before reading this post, but my take has always been like yours: why bother when a spoon or knife work just fine? My dipper lives in the same drawer as yours.

On stirring tea with the dipper and then replacing in the honey jar…doesn’t honey keep so well in part because the water activity is low enough to prevent microbial growth? It seems that putting a tea-wetted dipper back in the honey would increase the water content and possibly allow the honey to ferment.

Rusty
Reply

Jake,

That was my thought exactly: the worse thing you can put in honey is water.

Todd--PacNW
Reply

Excellent article. It is a generational science, truly—passed down in beekeeping families, sadly replaced by by modern utility. I don’t let non-bee aficionados touch mine. Not only do they dip it into chai and back disrupting social norms, but water ruins honey that I work hard for. These ones get the cutesy bear.

sgrams
Reply

Yep, I tossed mine too. I can lick the spoon when I’m done, the dipper not so easy to lick or clean, I want all the honey!

Nina
Reply

Excellent article. I have 3 hives and a couple of months ago I purchased a wooden dipper to give it a try. I washed it, dried it, placed in a drawer and never used. I think the main reason is because I like honey cold and I spread it with a knife over almond butter on a slice of home baked bread. Since I keep my honey jar in the fridge, which makes honey a bit harder to spread, I was not sure how dipper would be used in such case. I think dippers are made for honey kept at room temperature.

Rusty
Reply

Nina,

Yes, dippers are for room temperature honey. Honey kept in the fridge tends to crystallize, so most people don’t store it there. Optimal storage temperature is around 65 degrees F…unless you like it cold.

Ray
Reply

Terrific tongue in cheek article, thank you Rusty. I’m with Mr Rusty in taking the scientific approach to honey dispensing. For me however it will always be a spoon. With skill one can scoop an infinitely variable quantity, from the half teaspoon to the fully loaded, piled high teaspoon. All that is required is an angled attack which prevents the bottom of the spoon getting coated, followed by a deft ‘swipe’ against the lip of the jar to cut off the flow, and if whisked immediately to ones toast (my preference) none will drip or get otherwise lost. The benefits, as previously mentioned, are that the ‘lick’ is complete and very satisfying! Also, with honey being hygroscopic, being kept in a screw top jar rather than a ‘skep-shaped honey dish’ will prevent the ingress of unwanted moisture!! QED. (I know, I need to get out more.)

Rusty
Reply

Ray,

A perfect description. I like your style.

Brad Raspet
Reply

I have been a beekeeper for over 7 years, and a honey eater for over 63 years. I have discovered a simple silverware spoon works best for me, the twirl, the dribble, the complete control over how much honey to put where; AND as was pointed out earlier I get to lick the spoon. If the honey is partially or completely crytalized the spoon works great to dig out all that goodness. I used to have a fair amount of honey dippers accumulated in the odd & ends drawer, they are gone now because nothing works as well as my spoon.

Rusty
Reply

Wow, Brad. I had you pegged for half that age. The things we learn…

Alan Henning
Reply

Hi Rusty!

As usual, I love reading your articles. Some of the tongue in cheek ones are great.

When we first became interested in bees, of course, we HAD to have a honey jar with a dipper. On obtaining said device, and filling it with honey, we discovered it had a poor design, related to the gap, between the lid and the dipper handle. It seems that earwigs dig honey too.

We opened our jar up, to find several earwigs drowned in the honey. Yuk!

I solved the problem with some plastic wrap, and silicon caulk.

Clean the lid, where you want the caulk to stick, and cover the dipper handle, jar lip, and the lid edge with plastic wrap. Gooblobber the silicon in the offending gap, and let it set up, overnight. Next morning, you can remove the plastic wrap, and refill your, now earwig proof, honey jar. If you accidentally surrounded the dipper handle, just slice a slot in the side of the caulk.

Yes, we are still practicing our honey art form. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, but it’s always edible.

Rusty
Reply

Good solution, Alan. I don’t like sharing my honey with earwigs either.

Carol
Reply

Rusty,

You are assuming I have the ability to aim my dipper slingshot and hit a target. I don’t, but I do have a few no-brainer rules about the dipper-shot:

* Never use ammo that can cause damage. Smart choices include dog and cat treats that will be eaten so I don’t have pick them up.
* Never use anthing that can stain, like frozen bluberries.
* Never use a target (so I will never be disappointed I can’t hit it).

My kitchen is one of three rooms combined, no walls to partition them off (kitchen, dining and living rooms). I have a good size gallery & interested pets to clean up for me.

Also keep in mind this is Wisconsin and this winter has been very cold & windy without enough snow to brighten my views. I don’t use my dipper-shot every day but then again, we still have a lot of winter left. I am one house on 40 acres so I have no close neighbors who could actually see me. No one knows I do this except you and 17,000,000 of your readers …

Thanks for a another chuckle! Wow, 2 days in a row! Just one of the many reasons I adore your website. And, it might be good to define your idea of normal before you become wary.

Rusty
Reply

Carol,

You are two-for-two yourself. I’ve been in here giggling while my poor husband is in the kitchen cleaning up dog puke. This is no joke. I don’t which one to feel sorry for.

Glen Buschmann
Reply

I first encountered honey dippers over 30 years ago — and I don’t have any memory of that first encounter. It is a clever way to drizzle honey onto toast or into a bowl of yoghurt or cup of tea. But I rarely add a drizzle of honey to much past toast and if I have comb, that is my first choice too. When I use honey, more likely I will need half a cup or more to cook with, and a drizzle stick is … well, inadequate.

That being said, I like them aesthetically. The are both ingenious and pleasing to the eye.

Glen Buschmann
Reply

By the way, how is that book review on Our Native Bees coming? GB

Rusty
Reply

Glen,

I’ll email you on that.

Anna S
Reply

“High voltage insulators” and “Fg < Fc" — I love it! Thank you for another good read, Rusty!

Dirk
Reply

I’m working on a speech about things people do and/or believe that are just nuts. As part of my research I looked up “honey dipper” on the net and found this blog. My experience with honey dippers is this: I used them all the time. Then one day, probably twenty years ago, I was washing one of them. I stopped, looked at it, and didn’t finish washing it. No, it didn’t go into a drawer of unused utensils; it went straight into the garbage and I’ve never owner or used a honey dipper since. I suspect they were invented by a beekeeper who wasn’t selling enough honey and came up with a way to get his customers to waste a lot of it. As pointed out by others here, anything you can do with one of those fancy honey dippers, you can do with a spoon, or even a knife. Then you can lick the spoon or wipe the knife on your bread.

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