It used to be that just about the only choice you had when purchasing honey was whether to buy it in a glass jar or a chubby plastic bear. But today, things are different.
Now, buying honey is a little like purchasing fine wine, says David Westervelt, assistant chef of apiary inspection for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Like wines, honeys come in varietals from boutique producers. And each has its own special flavor and bouquet.
While commercial producers are commonly designated as ones keeping more than 200 hives and produce much of what you see in supermarkets, there are hobbyists or backyard beekeepers who provide niche products.
There are about 2,000 of these small producers statewide, according to Westervelt.
These are people like Rigoberto De La Portilla, a computer tech who keeps hives in the Flagami area near Miami International Airport.
If people worry about where honey comes from and they want to save the bees, I tell them to grow their own, says De La Portilla, who harvests wildflower honey from his half-dozen hives.
Maria and Leo Gosser founded the Broward Beekeepers Association about seven years ago with four members. Today it boasts 70.
Living in a designated agricultural area in Parkland, the Gossers can keep eight hives next to their chickens, turkeys, sheep and peacocks.
Leo also keeps about five hives in a community apiary thats much like a community garden set up through the beekeepers association.
The couple gathers honey from their hives to use themselves, to offer to friends or to sell at the Parkland farmers market.
Since Ive existed, Ive been eating honey, says Maria, who grew up in Israel. Today she reaches for the honey jar when making everything from cakes and cookies to marinades and salad dressings.
You can do a lot with it, she says.
Leo has been pouring honey on his pancakes since he was a child on a farm in Ohio where he helped his father keep bees.
The Gossers, like most small producers, work under Floridas cottage food law that applies to anyone who makes less than $15,000 in gross annual sales. According to the regulations, the beekeeper himself must sell his product directly to the customer. There can be no middleman.
So when you buy local honeys at farmers markets and stands, chances are you are dealing with the producer himself.
And this, like all honey sold in Florida, has to conform to the state standard: Anything labeled honey must be a natural food product resulting from the harvest of nectar by honeybees and the natural activities of the honeybees in processing the nectar.
In other words, if a product is labeled honey it has to come from the comb just as the bees made it, says Westervelt, who lives in Gainesville but was recently in Davie to teach beekeeping seminars.
To understand why good honey is a gift from nature, you have to understand bees. During the last two weeks of a worker bees short life, she flies through the neighborhood gathering nectar. Flowers produce nectar in order to attract the bees, which then pollinate the flowers. Its a win-win situation.
A honey bee will gather only about 1/16 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. A beehive typically produces 40 to 60 pounds of surplus honey a year. And bees may travel as far as 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers to accumulate enough nectar to make one pound of honey, according to the National Honey Board.