Lamb’s Ear Honey—More than Just an Ingredient
Picture a field full of one type of flower. It is a sea of color with its myriad of repeated beauty. Honey bees fly from flower to flower collecting pollen and nectar, taking the pollen and nectar from these flowers back to the hive. The result of their labors is a varietal honey. Varietal honey is made primarily from the nectar of one flower type (Varietal). There are many different honey varietals that can be collected in the state of Pennsylvania, one of the most unique being Lamb’s Ear honey.
Lamb’s Ear honey is very rare. Ernst Conservation Seed, in Meadville PA, has planted a 51-acre field of Lamb’s Ear, Stachys byzantine (Vorisek). This is unusual because Lamb’s Ear is usually planted in small quantities in a landscape. In fact, there are only three large plantings of Lamb’s Ear in the United States (Vorisek). Charlie Vorisek of Vorisek’s Backyard Bee Farm has been working with Ernst Conservation Seed and has been granted permission to put hives in this field. His honey has been tested by Texas A&M to be sure of its authenticity (Vorisek). Texas A&M analyzes the pollen content in a honey and identifies the plant species that the pollen came from (Schneider). Testing the pollen content of the honey allows the beekeeper to market the honey as a varietal truthfully.
Not only is the honey of Lamb’s Ear uncommon, the plant itself is unique. The leaves are white or silver and velvety (Still 632). This feature is comparable to the ears of a lamb, hence the name Lamb’s Ear (“Lambs Ear”). Lamb’s Ear, Stachys byzantina, blooms from May to July (“Stachys byzantina”). This is different from many other honey varietals because it blooms for an extended length of time instead of just a week or two. The long blooming season of the Stachys makes it much easier to collect the varietal because of how much longer the bees can collect nectar and pollen from the plant. The flowers of Stachys byzantina are purplish-pink and are usually 1/2” – 1” long (632). Bees find the flowers of Stachys byzantina very attractive because the nectar and the violet flower color are irresistible (Noonan 3 & Barbercheck).
Lamb’s Ear honey is good for cooking. Lamb’s Ear honey is a light honey and it has a mild flavor (Vorisek). Usually, light honey has a milder flavor as opposed to dark honey (“Honey”). Having a mild flavor makes a honey good for replacing sugar without overpowering other flavors in a food. When cooking with honey in place of sugar there are steps that you must follow to make the recipe successful. This includes reducing the liquid, using less honey than you would sugar, reducing the oven temperature and increasing the baking soda (Buchmann 143). According to Buchmann, “Cooking with honey can make a big difference in your enjoyment of many foods. It adds to and brings out the flavor of the other ingredients it’s mixed with. It keeps breads and cakes moist and flavorful and extends there normal shelf life” (142). When a food is cooked with honey it does change the flavor, but it does not make the food taste like honey (Kimball).
In order to better understand the way that honey affects a recipe I conducted a couple of experiments. In the first experiment, I made oatmeal cookies with three different honey varietals. The varietals that I used were: Japanese Knotweed, Goldenrod, and Lambs Ear. Japanese Knotweed produces a dark honey, Goldenrod honey is a medium honey, and Lambs Ear honey is light. The conclusion to this experiment was that Japanese Knotweed honey added the most flavor to the cookies. The Goldenrod and Lamb’s Ear cookies were very similar. In the second experiment, I made my family’s traditional chocolate chip cookie recipe with honey instead of sugar. The end result was cookies that had more flavor and were moister. They also cooked in less time at a lower temperature.
Beekeepers must be observant and knowledgeable of the plants growing in their local area. They need to realize when a flower is blooming and if the bees are attracted to it in order to collect a varietal honey (Smithers 62). These observations allow them to gain knowledge of the plant so they can inform the customer. Beekeepers also need to observe what products consumers like the best and be creative to successfully market their honey.
Mr. Vorisek sells honey varietals in a six-pack of 8 ounce honey bears in a small wooden crate. He creatively markets these six-packs as “Beewizers”. The consumer is able to try six different kinds of honey varietals with one purchase. He also provides sheets of information about each of the varietals that he sells to help educate the consumer about the flower from which the honey was produced. When a consumer shops at a farmers market and they go to the honey vendor the first sight they see is an array of different colors of honey. They are greeted by a friendly beekeeper who eagerly answers questions, provides information about the honey product, and offers samples for the consumer to try before buying. This consumer-beekeeper interaction makes the difference between buying local varietal honey and buying honey from a grocery store.Lamb’s Ear honey is not just a cookie ingredient; it has a story. The story starts in a field of blooming Lamb’s Ear and ends on the shelf in the consumer’s kitchen. There are many events along the way and each one contributes to the final product, a honey varietal.
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Vorisek, Charlie. E-mail interview. By Gretchen Kellar. 21 Jan. 2019.