All About Tupelo Honey

Updated: Aug 31

Tupelo honey is produced when honeybees collect nectar from the blossoms of the white Ogeechee tupelo (Nyssa ogeche) tree. Produced in a small section of the Southeast United States, it highly sought after for its smooth buttery flavor.

A Honeybee Visiting Blooms on the Tupelo Tree
 

THE TUPELO TREE


Tupelo trees are distributed along the borders of rivers, swamps, and ponds that are frequently inundated, mainly in the remote wetlands of Georgia and Florida. Tupelo honey is said to come from trees along just a few rivers, the most prominent being the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee rivers. Tupelo trees have clusters of inconspicuous greenish flowers, which later develop into berrylike fruits. The bloom lasts a mere 2-3 weeks in April and May.

Sourwood Tree Range Map, Southeastern United States
Tupelo Trees in swamps in the Southeastern United States
 

Pure tupelo honey is light amber in color; some note a green cast. It has a pear-like and hoppy aroma and a coveted flavor that fans describe as mild, delicate, buttery, floral, like cotton candy and rosewater. Because of its unusually high fructose content (versus sucrose), tupelo honey will not granulate. A granulated tupelo honey indicates an impure tupelo honey.


MAKING TUPELO HONEY


The white tupelo tree grows naturally in southeastern swamps. Because of the trees’ brief flowering time, beekeepers must be precise about getting bees to the trees; often this is accomplished by housing the bees on remote docks that are only accessible by boat. The strictly regional nature of tupelo honey dictates that its production exists in a tiny subculture.

Sourwood Honey Being Poured Into Wooden Spoon with Rosemary In the Background on a wooden surface
A barge anchored in the swamp where beekeepers have to take a boat to check on their honeybees
 

A variety of elements contribute to the limited production and possibility of extinction of tupelo honey: first of all its short (2-3 week) harvest season, which can be further reduced by poor weather conditions, then its labor-intensive and stressful harvest requiring precise timing and special equipment—beekeepers must manage bees continually, usually from boats in hot and remote areas, during the harvest. Before the harvest, bees must be stripped of any other honey.


CELEBRITY STATUS


Not only is Tupelo honey rare but it has a great narrative packed full of celebrity and lore. Despite the fact that Tupelo honey has been harvested in Georgia and Florida for centuries, it was relatively unknown regional delicacy until 1971 when singer-songwriter Van Morrison released his album Tupelo Honey which reached number 27 on the Billboard charts that year. As a result, the name and brand of Tupelo honey now reached a national audience.

 
 
 

Even though Tupelo now had national name recognition, the honey was still very much a niche product. In 1996, Tupelo honey once again claimed the media spotlight with the release of the major motion picture Ulee's Gold starring Peter Fonda. In 1997, Ulee's Gold was the "Centerpiece Premier" at the Sundance Film Festival. In addition, Fonda won a Golden Globe for his performance in the film.


FINDING TUPELO HONEY


Hive & Honeybee carries one of the rarest of all our raw Florida varietals in partnership with Bee Friends Farm, our pure Tupelo honey comes primarily from the blossom of the White Tupelo tree in Northeast Florida. If you've ever had the pleasure of trying Tupelo honey, you'll recognize ours as some of the best. Honey lovers around the world say Tupelo honey is the most delicious of all kinds of honey, but you will have to decide for yourself.

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