In 1904, the great American Chestnut tree was found to be infected with a fungus, and the disease eventually wiped out a majestic species that once made up nearly 30% of the forest canopy from Maine to Georgia. Luckily, the U.S. is home to a healthy chestnut species that provides the nectar necessary for honey bees to manufacture the dark syrupy liquid favoured by so many.
Europeans and Asians have been enjoying chestnut honey for centuries, and people all over the world who are familiar with it have touted its unique taste and extraordinary health benefits.
What Is Chestnut Honey?
Chestnut honey is monofloral honey with a dark colour and bitter aftertaste. It’s produced by honey bees extracting and converting nectar from the chestnut trees into honey.
What makes Chestnut honey stand apart from other honeys is its dark colour and slightly bitter aftertaste. You may have heard about tannins in red wine and how they are responsible for the tart taste found in that beverage. Well, the tannins within the chestnut tree give this type of honey a colour that can range from a golden brown to nearly black and impart the bitterness.
Chestnut honey is perfect for those who appreciate a less sweet and more complex taste. It’s been described as smoky, leathery, spicy, and mysterious, and it is often paired with aged cheeses, fresh pears, and hearty meat dishes.
The taste of the honey can vary from region to region. One fan reported that after having tried chestnut honey from several Italian producers, no two tasted alike. Furthermore, chestnut honey is slow to crystallize because it contains a relatively high percentage of fructose.
Where Does Chestnut Honey Come From?
Thousands of years ago, the sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) was first introduced to the mountainous Mediterranean region from an area that is now known as Turkey. This species of chestnut tree produces most of the chestnut honey in Europe.
In Asia, the Japanese Chestnut (Castanea crenata) is grown primarily in South Korea, and in China, there are three dominant honey-producing species: Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima), Henry Chinkapin (Castanea henryi), and Sequin (Castanea seguinii).
In the United States, the primary source of chestnut honey comes from the Allegheny Chinkapin (Castanea pumila), and those are grown in the Southeastern part of the country. The American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) was a species of chestnut trees native to the United States, but it was wiped out by a fungus during the early 1900s.
It’s assumed that this tree produced nectar, so its demise was a huge loss for the local pollinators. The American Chestnut Foundation is currently working to create a blight-resistant chestnut tree. Fortunately, the Allegheny Chinkapin is less vulnerable to the fungus.
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How Do Bees Produce Chestnut Honey?
The moment the honey bee collects the chestnut nectar, it is mixed with an enzyme within the bees mouth. The enzyme itself is known as invertase or the “bee enzyme” which is secreted from the bee’s glands. When the honey bees return to the hive, they will pass the chestnut nectar they have collected between themselves further mixing the nectar with the “bee enzyme”.
This will reduce the water content converting the nectar into honey. They will then deposit the chestnut honey into wax cells, but at this point, the water content may be too high. To reduce the water content, the honey bees will fan their wings above the wax cell, this, in turn, will evaporate some of the water.
Once they’ve finished the process, the honey will have a water content roughly below 20%. It will then be capped, and the honey bees will repeat the process all over again.
The Best Environment for Producing Chestnut Honey
The honey-producing species of chestnut trees prefer a soil that is well-drained, slightly acidic, and loamy. These trees must be planted in full sun or partial sun, and once they’re established, they are very tolerant to drought. The European chestnut trees are not as cold-tolerant as the Chinese varieties.
Bees do not have much time to collect the nectar from the various species of chestnut trees. The bloom period is from twelve to eighteen days and begins late June to early July. Although chestnut trees are a good source of nectar and pollen, they also produce honeydew, which is the sweet, sticky substance excreted by insects like aphids.
When the bees are collecting nectar, they may also bring back honeydew as a source of food. Chestnut honey is made from approximately 84% blossom nectar and 16% honeydew.
Benefits of Chestnut Honey?
|Healing Wounds and Burns||There has been positive effects of using raw honey on wounds & burns reported.|
|Reducing The Duration of Diarrhoea||According the NCBI consumption of raw honey has been shown to reduce the severity & duration of diarrhoea.|
|Preventing Acid Reflux||Research has shown that with honey lining the oesophagus and stomach, it actually can reduce the upward flow of undigested food and stomach acid.|
|Fighting Infections||Scientists in 2010 reported that honey through its protein (defensin-1) has the ability to kill bacteria.|
|Relieving cold and cough symptoms||Its been proven that honey may prove beneficial in relieving cold and cough symptoms. The World Health Organisation actually recommend honey as a natural cough remedy.|
|Rich In Antioxidants||High quality raw honey contains many helpful antioxidants. These include phenolic compounds like flavonoids and organic acids.|
|Can Lower Triglycerides||Triglycerides are associated with insulin resistance and are a major driver of type 2 diabetes. Multiple studies have linked regular honey consumption with lower triglyceride levels, especially when it is used to replace sugar.|
|Vitamins and Minerals||Chestnut honey is rich in mineral salts like manganese, iron, and copper, as well as Vitamins B and C.|
|Good Source of Pollen||Chestnut honey is a good source of pollen.|
|Fructose Dominant||Of the sugars in chestnut honey, fructose is dominant, and averages close to 40%.|
This is based on raw honey. Filtered or pasteurised honey will break down and diminish these benefits.
Chestnut Honey as an Antiseptic and Antibiotic
The hydrogen peroxide in chestnut honey, as well as a low moisture content, can reduce bacterial load. Some studies have shown that chestnut honey can inhibit the growth of bacteria that leads to staph infections, E. coli, and Candida.
Those who consumed chestnut honey had a faster recovery time following respiratory infections.
Chestnut Honey vs Regular Honey
In the Journal of Food Biochemistry (2019), researchers wrote that the phenolic contents of chestnut honey were present in levels significant enough to ward off DNA damage in cells. The particular chestnut honey they examined was from the Black Sea Region coast of Turkey.
Darker honeys often contain more polyphenols, and these act as antioxidants to reduce the harm that free radicals can do to the human body. Chestnut honey is often recommended for cardiovascular disease and is considered beneficial to the circulatory system.
Dark honeys also contain more nitrate (NO3-) than lighter honeys and may be protective against gastrointestinal ailments. Chestnut honey holds a more complex taste and darker colour. It’s often described as smoky, leathery, spicy, and mysterious.
In comparison, regular honey will hold that somewhat industrial standard taste and tends to be missing crucial benefits and nutritional properties of raw honey. This is typically due to “regular” mass-produced honey being fine filtered and pasteurized which, unfortunately, destroys many of the antibacterial and active elements.
Research shows that the processing of honey can reduce antioxidant levels by up to (and even more than) 30%. The reduction of these antioxidant reduces linden honey’s effectiveness as an antibacterial and antimicrobial agent.
When You Should Avoid Chestnut Honey
Those who are allergic to chestnut pollen or bee enzymes should not consume chestnut honey. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid eating honey, and it should never be given to children under 1 year in age. This is due to the possible presence of botulism spores that an infant’s underdeveloped digestive system cannot handle.
People with diabetes, pre-diabetics, and people who suffer from high or low blood pressure should consult with a doctor or dietitian before consuming honey
The Chemical Composition of Chestnut Honey
Source: Main European Unifloral Honeys: descriptive sheets (2004)
Other chemical substance analyses showed alcohols, aldehydes, aliphatic acids and their esters, carboxylic acids and their esters, ketones, and flavonoids were present in chestnut honey.
Is Chestnut Honey Vegan?
The Vegan Society do not consider honey vegan, this includes cornflower honey. They believe that because some honey farmers replace honey with a sugar substitute when harvesting, it will naturally lack the essential micronutrients of honey, thus being detrimental to the honey bees.
Furthermore, they believe that in beekeeping, honey bees are specifically bred to increase productivity. Which they believe leads to a narrowing of the population gene pool and increases susceptibility to disease and large scale colony collapse.
They also believe that some beekeepers may cull their hives post-harvest and clip the queen bee’s wings to stop them from leaving to start a new colony. However, most beekeepers do not practice this method. Thus the Vegan Society does not consider honey vegan. That, of course, doesn’t stop some vegans from arguing it’s fine if they source their honey from reliable sources that do not practice the above.
Is Chestnut Honey Expensive?
The rarity of the chestnut tree makes chestnut honey more expensive than some other varieties. You’ll find that the cost of a jar of this dark, slightly bitter syrup is entirely dependent on the region where it’s sourced and the unique environments involved in its production.
Online in the U.K., you can typically find it at £2.50 to £4 per 100g and in the USA its roughly $4 to $6 per 100g. For the most part, raw chestnut honey is priced at a premium due to low production volumes. Because most chestnut honey is imported into the U.S., the prices for American consumers are higher than if there was an abundant supply in the States.
The Popularity of Chestnut Honey
Chestnut honey is very popular in Europe – especially in Italy. Every August, there are festivals themed around chestnuts since it was a main nutrient of Italians for many centuries. There are also annual festivals in Switzerland, France, and Greece. In Italy, you can find fresh chestnut honey everywhere from late spring through mid-summer. Italian and French chefs love to use it in their fine cooking.
Whether drizzled over strong cheeses or tart fruits – and even spread on buttered toast – chestnut honey is a staple in Europe. It’s also the unique, eclectic taste of chestnut honey that gives it a popularity boost. Many around the world rave about it and treat it like a delicacy, and that increases its cool factor.