Amina Harris: You're Tasting Honey All Wrong


Yahoo! Food  By Amber Turpin  June 18, 2015

Amina Harris has a sweet job. Literally. As Director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC Davis, her day-to-day tasks involve curating a honey library and hosting honey tastings. But this “sensory scientist” would prefer we move away from the word “sweet.”

In fact, a primary focus of Harris’ recent work has been creating the Honey Flavor Wheel, a thorough tool for understanding the wide range of flavor characteristics present in honey, while expanding vocabulary we use to describe it. Now, instead of simply describing the 300-plus varietals of honey as  “sweet,” we can contemplate their sassafras, ash, baked bread, or cassis elements.

The new flavor wheel is just one entry point into Harris’ world. It’s also a way for honey lovers to become more engaged in their consumption, and to be able to pinpoint authentic honey, versus the treated, altered, and fake stuff. And ultimately, with this deeper knowledge comes an understanding of the shrinking population of our pollinators.

Colony Collapse Disorder, and the simultaneous rise in home beekeeping, have made honey a hot topic. This might explain the impetus behind the Honey and Pollination Center, which was founded in 2012. Harris took a breath after hosting the Center’s inaugural Bee Symposium to talk to us about her work.

How did you get started working in the food system?

In the 1970s I began an investigation into eating better. I was hardly the first. As a member of our local food coop, I began to take my New York Times Cookbook and slowly but surely turn my favorite recipes into something healthier. I would pick strawberries each June in the u-pick fields south of Buffalo (my home town) and bring them home to eat, to turn into jam, and to make pie. I began experimenting with honey as the sweetener of choice. In the early 1980s, I married my husband, Ishai Zeldner, who had started a honey business called MoonShine Trading Company. We were one of the first honey packers to sell varietal honeys. The rest is, as they say… (And yes, I am that old!)

What inspires you to do the work you do?

I love honey. I love the honey bees. I am more and more fascinated by bees, insects, pollinators–you name it. I love learning and I keep learning. Working at the university has broadened the people I meet and what I can learn. Then I get to share my enthusiasm for this amazing product with the rest of the world. I like to say that I had to get ready to retire to be offered the job of my dreams. But here it is. I get to investigate honeys from around the world. I get to teach other people how amazing each and every honey is. I can create programs for mead makers and have the entire Department of Viticulture work with me. What could be bad?

Honey Flavor Wheel published by the Honey and Pollination Center at UC Davis.

 What have been your most difficult challenges in your work so far?

[One challenge in this industry] is non-GMO and organic labeling, which mean next to nothing.These labels need to be removed from honey. Meaningful labels and descriptors need to come into play. However non-GMO and organic now have such a strong, visceral following (often misunderstood) that it will be very difficult to make any real headway.

For example, no honey in the United States is certified non-GMO. Limited honey from Hawaii is certified organic. But almost all honey with these labels is being imported from South America, India, and other countries. The home country creates their rules and guidelines and the U.S. Department of Agriculture accepts whatever that country’s officials have declared. We do not really know if the honey is non-GMO or organic, but it has been certified. Why? Because bees fly over a vast area. Essentially they can travel up to 5 miles in any direction of the hive. What is the chance that this forage area of, let us say, a minimum of 78 square miles has no pesticides and no GMO [crops]–especially in places like Brazil?

More: Ballard Bee Company is Bringing Pollinators Back to Washington State 

And the rules for beekeepers are onerous. Let’s say you want to make an organic non-GMO cookie. All of your ingredients are locally sourced. You go to your local beekeeper and find out his honey is not certified organic. You can’t use it. Instead, in order to label that cookie non-GMO and organic, the manufacturer will purchase imported honey that has been heated, filtered, and blended from somewhere offshore. The honey will, in general, be handled by only the largest packers in the country since they are the only ones that can purchase quantities large enough to import. These appellations should be removed from honey as soon as possible.

What do you think is some of the most exciting work going on in our food system at large?

Watching young people learn how interesting and tasty food can be–food at all levels. In order to make change happen, it needs to happen with our youngest eaters. If we are taught to love sweets and fried foods at an early age, there is a great chance we will love them as we grow older. If we are taught to love terrific cheese, hearty breads, etc., hopefully we will love those into our future, too.

What is the most important change you would like to see in the food system in the next 5-10 years?

I need to restrict this to honey, because the subject is too broad for me to answer easily. I would like to see labeling for honey become much more specific. Most of the honey sold here in the U.S. is blended in one way or another. At the present time, if a varietal is listed, it need only be the predominant floral source. Essentially a honey can be 28 percent orange blossom, 24 percent alfalfa, 24 percent cotton, 24 percent wildflower and it will be labeled orange blossom honey. Switch the orange for clover and you can now label that honey clover!

More: Follow the Honey: 7 Ways Pesticide Companies Are Spinning the Bee Crisis 

What needs to happen for that change to occur?

It will take interested honey packers, mostly small packers, to come together to make this change. This is an unorganized group throughout the country.

Do you see yourself as part of a food movement?

I love to eat good food–cheeses, produce, jams, ice cream–just good, fun food. Is there a movement for that?

What would you want your last meal on earth to be?

Lamb chops made by Nancy Oakes at Boulevard.


https://www.yahoo.com/food/amina-harris-youre-tasting-honey-all-wrong-121832235971.html

A Taste of Honey!

Bug Squad - Happenings in the Insect World!  By Kathy Keatley Garvey    August 14, 2014

Honey connoisseur Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center, opens the jar of lavender honey from France and sniffs the aroma. She breathes in deeply. 

The "miel de lavande" produced by "apiculteur Marc Agnel" is creamed, as most lavender honeys are, she says. It arrived in San Francisco from France last week via my relatives (who love it).

"Honey from a specific plant doesn't always taste like the plant," Harris is saying, as she turns the wheel of the center's newly published Honey Flavor Wheel, a project benefitting bee health research at UC Davis. "Sometimes there is a bit of a surprise."

"Have the honey at room temperature, or slightly warmer, and covered," she advises. "This keeps all the volatiles inside the jar or cup."

Her observations about the honey and the procedure:

Aroma:  The first scent is very floral with a touch of lilac. The next, overwhelming smell is fruit! Something very juicy.

Next: take a taste. Let the honey sit on your tongue and dissolve slowly. Try to assess all the flavors that might be occurring. floral – lilac; fruity – cherry

Primary taste: This honey is simply sweet.

Texture: This is a smooth and creamy honey. Quite unusual.

Finish: Notice how the taste lasts. This honey is delicate – that is, it has a very light and very distinct flavor. It has a short duration with a lasting aroma that is filled with a bit of cherry, lilac and the first taste of lavender!

The Honey and Pollination Center produced the Honey Flavor Wheel after six months of research and development. “We brought together a group of 20 people--trained tasters, beekeepers and food enthusiasts--who worked together with a sensory scientist to come up with almost 100 descriptors,” Harris recalled.  “This wheel will prove invaluable to those who love honey and want to celebrate its nuances.” 

“I have always been astonished by the range of flavors in honey. And its aromas, too. Developing the wheel has been an astonishing learning experience at all levels. I now truly pay attention as I taste many different kinds of foods. I notice flavors from beginning to end.  

“I had one wonderful surprise during the tasting series," she recalled. "The sensory scientist we worked with, Sue Langstaff, had been to New Zealand and brought back several honeys. One was a wild flower called Viper's Bugloss. What an amazing aroma! Imagine sitting in a garden. The sun has just set. And the heady aromas of jasmine and  orange blossom together crowd the air. This is the scent of Viper's Bugloss. An astonishing honey. Now I want more!” 

The front of the colorful wheel lists the descriptors, including fruity, floral, herbaceous, woody, spicy, nutty, confectionary, caramel and earthy. No longer can you just say “sweet” when you taste honey or “sour, salty and bitter.”  If it's fruity, can you determine if it's berry, citrus, dried fruit, tree fruit or tropical fruit? If it falls into the confectionary category, can you pinpoint marshmallow, vanilla, maple, butterscotch, toffee, molasses, cotton candy, crème brûlée, burnt sugar or brown sugar? There's even an “animal” category” where you may opine that your sample of honey reminds you of a barnyard.

The back of the Honey Flavor Wheel tells you how to taste honey and shares four honey profiles (Florida tupelo, California orange blossom, Northwest blackberry and Midwestern clover) “so the consumer can get an idea of how to use this innovative product,” Harris said. 

(Check out the Sacramento Bee's YouTube video on Amina Harris's demonstration of the Honey Flavor Wheel.)

The Honey Flavor Wheel, measuring 8.25 inches, sells for $10 each, with all proceeds supporting bee health research at UC Davis. The product is available online and at several locations: the Honey and Pollination Center, located at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science on Old Davis Road; at the UC Davis Campus Bookstore and at the downtown Davis Campus Bookstore; and online.

Honey! I Hardly Know You!

Bug Squad...Happenings in the insect world    By Kathy Keatley Garvey  August 1, 2014

Every time I see a golden jar of honey, I'm reminded of the Cordovan bee (Italian subspecies) that visited the Garvey bee garden back in 2010.

I managed to capture a photo of her and labeled the image "Golden Bee Nectaring on Lavender," because that's what she was doing. Nectaring on lavender. And she was golden, the most beautiful bee I've ever seen.

Other bees have almost lived up to the "gold standard," but not quite.

So when Amina Harris, director of the Honey and Pollinator Center, located in the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science, today announced the publication of the Honey Flavor Wheel, I immediately thought of my favorite golden bee and my favorite honey varietal:  starthistle. The starthistle is an exotic, invasive weed that farmers hate (and rightfully so) and beekeepers love (and rightfully so).

The flavor is exquisite. And the color is golden.

What's the Honey Flavor Wheel? Well, have you ever sampled wine and overheard the comments about it? You'll hear about the color, the clarity, the swirl, the aroma,  the taste and "the finish."

I've heard folks comment  "I taste a little corn...Oh, that's a puzzle to my palate."

A puzzle to me, too. I've never tasted "a little corn" in any glass of wine.

Now with the UC Davis Honey Flavor Wheel, you can describe the honey you're sampling.  
“I have always been astonished by the range of flavors in honey,” Harris said. “And its aromas, too. Developing the wheel has been an astonishing learning experience at all levels. I now truly pay attention as I taste many different kinds of foods. I notice flavors from beginning to end. 

“This gives a huge lexicon to the tastes and aromas we find when tasting honey,” Harris said.

The Honey Flavor Wheel production involved six months of research and development. “We brought together a group of 20 people--trained tasters, beekeepers and food enthusiasts--who worked together with a sensory scientist to come up with almost 100 descriptors,” Harris said. “This wheel will prove invaluable to those who love honey and want to celebrate its nuances.” 

“I had one wonderful surprise during the tasting series. The sensory scientist we worked with, Sue Langstaff, had been to New Zealand and brought back several honeys. One was a wild flower called Viper's Bugloss. What an amazing aroma! Imagine sitting in a garden. The sun has just set. And the heady aromas of jasmine and  orange blossom together crowd the air. This is the scent of Viper's Bugloss. An astonishing honey. Now I want more!” 

Harris' favorite honey?  Sweet clover, not to be confused with clover. “Sweet clover is a tall, five-foot wildflower that grows in profusion in Montana, the Dakotas and elsewhere in the high plains of the United States,” Harris said. “It is light in color, spicy with a wonderful cinnamon hit!"

“When we tasted it, one of our analytical panel members said: 'There is really only one word for this. Yum!'

 "And that is how I feel, too!” Harris said.

The front of the colorful wheel shows the descriptors, including fruity, floral, herbaceous, woody, spicy, nutty, confectionary, caramel and earthy. No longer can you just say “sweet” when you taste honey or “sour, salty and bitter.”  If it's fruity, can you determine if it's berry, citrus, dried fruit, tree fruit or tropical fruit? If it falls into the confectionary category, can you pinpoint marshmallow, vanilla, maple, butterscotch, toffee, molasses, cotton candy, crème brûlée, burnt sugar or brown sugar? 

There's even an “animal” category” where you can opine that your honey sample reminds you of a barnyard.

Retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who has coordinated and conducted the annual honey tasting at the UC Davis Picnic Day for 38 years, remembers tasting buckwheat honey in Oregon that reminded him of “goat.”  

“Maybe the honey bees drank goat pee,” he said, smiling.  “Actually, the environmental conditions where the plants are growing can have quite an effect on the odors and flavors of some honeys, while others just seem to be the same everywhere.  The ‘goat' honey that I tasted was buckwheat.  In many cases, buckwheat honey seems more similar to blackstrap molasses than anything else.  It is normally quite robust, but can be mild.  In some cases it has been described as having a ‘barnyard' odor and flavor--goat?  A search of websites suggests that the mild-tasting samples can become more pungent, with off-flavors developing if it's left sitting around for some time or if it's been heated.”

The back of the Honey Flavor Wheel relates how to taste honey and shares four honey profiles (Florida tupelo, California orange blossom, Northwest blackberry and Midwestern clover) “so the consumer can get an idea of how to use this innovative product,” Harris said. 

The Honey Flavor Wheel, measuring 8.25 inches, sells for $10 each with all proceeds benefitting bee research at UC Davis. The wheel is available at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and soon will be available online, at the UC Davis Campus bookstore and at the downtown Davis Campus Bookstore.

This will be a definite conversation piece for all honey enthusiasts.

However, when I taste wine, I don't get "corn." When I taste honey, I don't get "goat."

Now what if a honey enthusiast tasted both corn and goat...and a wine aficionado tasted both honey and goat?

And maybe a little starthistle thrown in for good measure...

Read At... http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=14865