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Purple honey: the real thing from North Carolina

I thought pigs would fly before I ever tasted purple honey. But here’s the funny thing: last week a small jar of the precious liquid arrived in my mail box, compliments of Flying Pig Apiary in Durham, North Carolina. So either I was wrong or it’s time to wear pig shields!

A week earlier beekeeper Michael Morrissey left a comment on one of my previous posts about purple honey. In that post I speculate on the source of purple honey, and why it seems to appear only in the southeast in especially dry years. Everyone seems to disagree on the source, but many people have seen small amounts of it on rare occasions. The very idea of purple honey enchants honey lovers, and I get dozens of emails every year from people wanting to know where they can buy it.

Found by accident

It turns out that Michael sent his honey frames to Matt at Hawfield’s Honey House in Mebane, North Carolina. Matt does extractions for local beekeepers, and while he was working on Michael’s order he discovered a few frames of purple honey. He took the time to separate those frames, photograph them, and extract the honey separately. How incredibly thoughtful!

In his comment to me, Michael wrote that he did indeed have purple honey and he had photographs to prove it. He said, “We extracted about 2 liters of deep purple honey from one hive last week, here in a rural part of Durham, NC. It has the color of blackberry syrup (not blue Kool Aid) and has a nice, slightly sour, berry flavor to it.”

The color varies

When I hold the jar up the sun, it looks like deep red wine, but when I place it in front of a high intensity LED, it looks eerily purple. From that experiment, I suspect that the colors people describe are at least partly due to the light source. Other variables that could affect both the taste and the color include the other nectars mixed with it, as well as the soil and climate of the region where the plants grow.

I tried to photograph the pollen, but I didn’t find very much, so I suspect a fairly fine filter was used. I certainly didn’t find enough to get a pollen identification. Too bad because I would still really love to know where this stuff comes from.

It even tastes purple

To my untrained palate, the honey really does taste purple, in a grape-y sort of way. It’s a pleasant flavor, sweet and carefree. My husband also thought it tasted like grapes or berries.

So there you have it. This was an exciting experience for me because I’ve heard so much about purple honey in the past. If anyone knows for sure what plant actually produces the nectar, I can’t wait to hear from you. And Michael, thank you so much!

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Here is some of the purple honey still in the hive. Photo courtesy of Flying Pig Apiary.
Here is some of the purple honey still in the hive. Photo courtesy of Flying Pig Apiary.
Here is the purple honey immediately after uncapping. Photo courtesy of Matt at Hawfield’s Honey House.
Lit by a high-intensity LED flashlight, the honey glows in various shades of red, purple, and pink.
Lit by a high-intensity LED flashlight, the honey glows in various shades of red, purple, and pink. © Rusty Burlew.
Here is a pollen grain from the honey. Although I have no idea if the pollen and the purple honey are related, I was curious about what I might find.
Here is a pollen grain from the honey. Although I have no idea if the pollen and the purple honey are related, I was curious about what I might find.

Comments

Anna
Reply

I have seen my bees forage on berries when flowers are no longer present. Blueberries are a favorite. But not enough to result in colored honey.

Rusty
Reply

Anna,

Isn’t the juice inside a blueberry kinda green?

harold matthews
Reply

Many years ago I bought some bee hives from a fellow that had his bees out in the desert by Tucson, Arizona. When I went to extract, there were several frames of bright purple honey. I tasted them and it was of very high quality. I should have extracted them separately.

I have never seen the purple since nor do I know of the source.

The only thing that pops to mind is the prickly pear cactus has a very purple fruit. There was a lot of prickly pear cactus around.

So the bright purple honey has been produced in Arizona

Jeffrey
Reply

Rusty,

I noticed that from time to time the buckwheat honey in NEPA will take on a deep red, or at times, a deep purple to almost black coloration to it. As taste is personal preference, not all people like the flavor, in my opinion it has a very wild, deep floral taste to it. The aroma is very sweet with a powerful floral scent as well. I’m wondering if this could be one source of the purple honey?

Rusty
Reply

Jeffrey,

I grew up on Pennsylvania buckwheat honey (the best honey on earth) and it’s not anything like this. This has a different color, different odor, and a totally different flavor. By the way, you need to read, “Cemetery Honey.”

ignasi orobitg gene
Reply

A beekeeper from Sabadell who makes a loud applause for You.

Florence Hill
Reply

I feed my Baltimore oreoles and other berry loving birds grape jelly until they migrate south in the Fall. I notice these days that honey bees are visiting the purple treat. Just maybe, I’ll come across some purple honey when I extract in another month or so.

Mort Matheny
Reply

I experienced this last year and the opinions I received and it’s logic seemed accurate but did not have it tested. The possible was Wisteria which was abundant last year around here.

WALTER PERRIN
Reply

Rusty,
I’ve harvested purple looking honey a couple times here in the south and I assumed it came from Kudzu (Pueraria lobate) which my girls were working when the normal nectar sources had ceased.

Betsy
Reply

How about elderberries? There’s a reference to purple honey in the film “The Secret Life of Bees” where the color is attributed to elderberries. Accurate? Who knows.

Marla
Reply

We have some very longtime beekeepers in this area and they all agree that purple honey with the grape-like taste is kudzu honey. In certain areas, the kudzu (the vine that has eaten the South some say) will flower and this is the result. The flowers are hard to see most of the time but are actually attractive–but not so much so to make kudzu worth saving IMHO.

John (in Cranston RI)
Reply

Before I kept bees, I lived in an apartment that had a huge mulberry tree hanging over the driveway. When the berries fell, the driveway would be temporarily stained purple and swarming with flies, wasps and bees. Here ir RI, the berries fell around the end of June/beginning of July. Dry seasons would leave us to wash the drive ourselves.
So… mulberries?

Ghislain De Roeck
Reply

is there no factory in the neighborhood that uses dyes in sweet products?

Francisco
Reply

Hi
I am told that in France blue and green honey was seen but finally they found bees had access to M&M kind of candy factory….

Mark Booth
Reply

Rusty
I am thinking the purple honey could have came from wild muscadine grapes. I have seen a little bit of purple honey in my hives. I live a few hours drive north Durham NC.
Mark A. Booth
Amherst Va

Dieter
Reply

Two purple honey stories that come to mind:
1. During WW II everything was rationed in England, including sugar. Because bee keepers were producing food they were given a ration of sugar to feed their bees. In order to prevent this sugar to be sold on the black market it was dyed purple. Before long honey turned out to be purple too. The procedure was discontinued.
2. Bees in NYC were producing purple honey and nobody had a clue, how, why. Investigators found that the bees were flying across the river to New Jersey (is there a river between the two states?) to a factory which made additives for the pop soda industry. That’s where the bees found lots of sweet and purple stuff in the dumpsters and “recycled” it.
3. Might such be a potential source? Maybe looking beyond just nectar?

Fred Heim
Reply

We have been feeding our Baltimore Orioles grape jelly between 2 and 3 pounds of jelly per day, and get lots of extra visitors, ants, hornets, black faced hornets, as well as black capped chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Have not seen more than a few honey bees chowing down. Seems lots of critters have a sweet tooth (or beak or tongue). Our beekeeper will be stopping by in a couple of days and we will look for odd colors. The basswood just finished blooming (here in Mid Minnesota).

Claire
Reply

A few years ago (in Sydney I think) in Australia the media reported blue honey had been found in a hive.

It seemed that the hive was located not too far from a confectionery manufacturer and the bees had been taking coloured sugar from the factory back to the hive.
Claire in Melbourne, Australia

Jeffrey
Reply

Rusty,

That was a cute walk through your past, “Cemetery Honey.” “Angel-topped babies,” Yes, I too would pick the buckwheat…lol. I also like the bold rich flavor buckwheat honey has, a teaspoon goes great in a cup of strong coffee. It gives it a kind of floral kick. Small town America, there are not too may places left like that anymore, but if you look hard enough they can still be found. Thanks!

Mark Booth
Reply

Rusty
I am thinking the purple honey came from wild muscadine grapes. I seen a little purple honey in one of my hives I live a few hours drive north of Durham NC . The muscadine grapes grow mostly around the edges of fields and are fairly common.
Mark Booth
Amherst Va

Marla
Reply

Several long time beekeepers in our area attest to the purple honey being from Kudzu flowers. It is a purple hued honey with a grape like taste. The kudzu vine that “ate the South” does flower but the flowers are hard to see because they don’t stick out of the foliage like most flowers. Also, it takes a lot of “just kudzu” flowers to produce the purple honey and most people are trying to get rid of the plant and are not looking for flowers.

Lauren
Reply

I got a small jar from Wagram Apiary a couple years ago. They’re In Laurinburg. It really is grape-y! I’ve been saving it, waiting for a good enough recipe idea or event to use it.

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