I f you think you know what honey is, you may be wrong. When you hear the word, you probably picture a familiar golden liquid in a bear-shaped squeeze bottle. But the array of colors, textures, and flavors in Bee Raw’s honey jars prove that the substance is anything but uniform.
There’s California Wild Black Sage Honey—a rare find due to the droughts and mudslides that threaten the steep hillsides where black sage grows—whose peppery finish pairs well with Parmigiano-Reggiano. There’s Washington Buckwheat Honey, an earthy nectar so dark it could be mistaken for molasses. There’s Colorado Sweet Yellow Clover Honey, a thick, milky variety with hints of spice.
But for all their individuality, Bee Raw honeys share a few key qualities: They are raw, single-floral sourced honeys, grown by small family-owned apiaries across the United States. The company, launched in 2005 by Zeke Freeman and based in Brooklyn, partners with beekeepers to place their hives in the middle of single-flowering plant fields—whether it be asters in New York or cranberry blossoms in Indiana—to ensure that bees only collect from a single type of flower.
The typical plastic-bear-bottle honey you see in a grocery store is usually a blend of several wildflower honeys, filtered and heated to a high temperature to make it shelf-stable. “That process basically gets rid of all of the pollen particles and micronutrients, so you’re getting something that doesn’t really have a distinct taste,” explains Freeman. On the other hand, Bee Raw’s honeys are raw and unprocessed, without additives, filtering, or heating. “We basically don’t do anything except make sure there aren’t any bee parts in your honey,” says Freeman. “It’s as close as you’re going to get to straight from the hive.”
Freeman, who grew up on his family’s farm in Pennsylvania, sees Bee Raw’s apiary partnerships as mutually beneficial. It helps beekeepers who face competition from imported honey or do not have enough local demand. “The reason we do this is one, to create a beautiful and delicious product that’s unique and something that people have never tried before, and two, to help the beekeeping community,” says Freeman. “We’re keeping apiaries in the honey business, which is healthy for the bees and healthy for the farmers.”
At the end of the day, Freeman sees single-floral sourced honeys the way some see wine or coffee. “A grape can grow in Washington or a grape can grow in New York, and the wine tastes so different because of the soil and the way it is cultivated. It is the exact same scenario with our honeys,” he explains. “Truly, not a single one tastes the same.”