A Look at NY Honey, From Chili to Red Currant

By Amelia Pang
Amelia Pang
Amelia Pang
Amelia Pang is a New York-based, award-winning journalist. She covers local news and specializes in long-form, narrative writing. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and global studies from the New School. Subscribe to her newsletter: http://tinyletter.com/ameliapang
August 15, 2013 Updated: August 15, 2013

NEW YORK—In a bee thriving area such as New York, honey bees gather nectar and pollen from street trees, public parks, backyard gardens, and even the High Line. But what is the distinction between the different kinds of honey made in New York?

Most local honey sold is wildflower, which is made from the nectar of many types of flowers.

But local beekeepers are producing flavors as unique as red currant honey, chili honey, and scarce batches of seasonal honeys.

Beekeepers from the five boroughs, as well as bee product makers, swarmed to the High Line on July 31 to showcase the multitude of uses for bee products, as well as honey’s plethora of flavors.

A Marriage of Bees and Red Currants 

Red Bee founder, Carla Marina Marchese, is currently selling honey made from bees who pollinate in red currant wine vineyards.

“When the bees gather the nectar from flowers, the honey tastes a little bit like red currant. It’s very interesting,” she said of her New York State Red Currant Honey brand.

Marchese also sources her honey nectar from limited harvests such as a rare early spring honey—her New York State Apple Honey.

“Even though the flowers are blooming, the early spring weather can be too cold or rainy for the bees to go out and get the nectar from the apples,” Marchese said. “So having an apple blossom honey harvest is actually very, very rare.”

Red Bee mostly caters to chefs and restaurants looking for these unique sources of nectar.

“Our honey rotates seasonally—it depends on what’s in bloom and the harvest,” she said. “Normally, you’d have 12 kinds at most, but we don’t sell in bulk.”

Another seasonal flavor Marchese is selling is made from the blueberry blossom, which is rich in antioxidants. And her dark buckwheat honey is high in iron.

Aside from honey, there is beeswax, candles, facial scrubs, and skin care products. The products are made in small batches as orders come in.

“We don’t stock them because there’s no alcohol,” she said. “They’re fresh and you have to use them in one year or they will go bad. It’s very artisan.”

Marchese is also the founder of the American Honey Tasting Society, and she holds honey tasting workshops at venues such as Mario Batali’s Eataly or on The Food Network.

Her recently published book The Honey Connoisseur, is about the 30 most important honeys harvested in the United States. It goes into detail about tasting honey and learning how to detect adulterated honey, as well as which kinds of honey one can find in different regions.

Honey Infused with Chili Pepper 

What do you eat chili honey with?

Squash, biscuits, Brussels sprouts, kale, fried chicken, and even oatmeal, according to Michael Kurtz, founder of Mike’s Hot Honey.

“Personally, I really like it with ricotta cheese and bread,” he said. “It’s one of my favorites.”

Kurtz inspiration for chili-infused honey came from a trip to Brazil, where he discovered a pizzeria with spicy honey condiments.

He began experimenting and making chili honey sauces upon his return to the States, using his friends and family as taste testers.

In 2011, he opened Mike’s Hot Honey. Kurtz purchases honey from apiaries such as Draper in Northern Pennsylvania, and mixes it with chili peppers. The apiaries he sources from vary by the season.

To Kurtz, spicy honey is a part of nature.

“If you go to New Mexico, where some chili pepper plantations are, the bees in that region produce a naturally spicy honey,” he said. “Although it’s not as hot as this.”

His chili honey pizza condiments are used at Paulie Gee’s pizzeria in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.


Queens Apiary, An Accidental Honey Love

When a friend asked Kazumi Terada if he could use her Astoria rooftop to keep beehives, she thought ‘why not?’ Little did she know he would end up moving to Seattle and leave her with the hives.

“It’s all his fault,” Terada joked. 

“I didn’t think I would be so fascinated by bees, but as I learned more about them I became completely absorbed by how fascinating they are,” she said. “I fell in love with them by accident.”

The two hives on her roof became Queens Apiary, after a successful Kickstarter project launched in 2010, to promote beekeeping in Astoria. Terada used to be a project manager at Panasonic, but is now a full time beekeeper.

“My neighbor has a huge garden. He gets a huge harvest because [my] bees pollinate his crops,” she said. “We have this symbiotic thing—I give him honey, he gives me his crops.”

Terada said she hopes beekeeping can make a difference in the local food movement in Queens.

After three years she finally has her first harvest and an opportunity to give honey to her backers. She extracted her first three gallons of honey at the end of July.

“The bees survived the hurricane and the snow. We’re finally able to harvest wildflower honey this year,” she said.

In addition to honey, Terada makes Propolis Tincture, a medicinal anti-fungal cream harvested from the hive.

“It’s made from bee glue, a substance that bees produce to glue everything together in the hive,” she said.

Its antibacterial qualities are good for bruises, cuts, and cold sores.

The Queens Apiary also sells salve, a medical ointment that serves as an anti-itch cream.

Terada makes salve with molten beeswax, coconut oil, almond oil, mint, lavender rosemary, black walnut, Indian herb neem, and tea tree oil.

She also sells lip balm and candles made from dipped beeswax.


Light Honey Versus Dark Honey

Stone Barns Center sells fall and spring honey.

Due to the different flowers and crops that bees pollinate in different seasons, the fall honey has a darker shade than the spring honey.

“Fall honey is more rich in antioxidants, it comes from nectars such as aster,” said Dan Carr, beekeeper at Stone Barns.

“Spring honey is good for you too, especially if you’re allergic to some of those pollens,” Carr said. “Spring honey has trace amounts of pollen. It’s a homeopathic remedy for allergies.”

Stone Barns Center is an 88-acre working farm and education center, just north of city by the Tarrytown stop on Metro North rail.

It’s a non-profit that has food educational programs for children and families. The center is open to the public from Wednesday through Sunday.

Brooklyn Grange Honey

The Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, has 35 beehives.

“The bees go to anywhere between Queens, Long Island City, Manhattan to Brooklyn,” said employee Mike Denshan. “We’re based in Brooklyn but the bees feed from flowers all over New York.”

Denshan said studies on New York City rooftop air quality found that the air at that level does not pollute beehives and crops.

Mohamed Hage, founder of Lufa Farms, said at a panel discussion for rooftop farming techniques that air quality is not an issue on rooftops because “pollution tends to stay low.” 

Twice a week, Brooklyn Grange sells fresh wildflower honey as well as other crops—at the Navy Yard Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays, and in Long Island City on Saturday mornings.

Amelia Pang
Amelia Pang
Amelia Pang is a New York-based, award-winning journalist. She covers local news and specializes in long-form, narrative writing. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and global studies from the New School. Subscribe to her newsletter: http://tinyletter.com/ameliapang