WCBA & Industry News

Honey of every Hue

Reg Morgan, Chairman of the Honey Judges’ and Stewards’ Guild of South Africa, presided over the WCBA’s recent honey competition, held in conjunction with the Cape Honey Festival and was very impressed with the overall standard of the entries. Chris Nicklin asked him to reflect on his judging experience here in the Western Cape.

Reg Morgan in judging mode at the Honey Festival held at the Spice Route near Paarl.

What were the stand-out honeys? 

For me a good number of varieties were a new experience. The buchu from the West Coast stands out. The ficifolia with its strings and ropes was fascinating. Several of the gums were excellent although new tastes to me.

What did you think of the fynbos entries?

The range of Fynbos was a surprise. Most select classes, in other words all from one floral type, are much closer in both flavour and colour. The range from light to dark was lovely and it should certainly be a select class next time.

What were the common mistakes and how do we avoid them? 

A number of the entries had a low density. There are a number of causes:

  • Extracting from frames which are not fully capped. If the bees are still driving off moisture and the honey is still ‘green’, the honey will be very runny. It may ultimately ferment.
  • Harvesting in a wet period can also result in low density. Honey is hydroscopic and therefore absorbs moisture from the atmosphere.

The fill line on the bottle marks the 500gm level. So below the line is under-filled, over the line is over-filled.

A few bottles had a little dirt on the top or in the neck. It is always wise to do a final straining through mutton cloth which removes most odd bits.

Some honey was granulating which loses points in the liquid classes.

As a honey judge, what are you personally looking for in a particular honey?

In open classes of liquid honey, light, medium and dark, a judge is looking for the most outstanding honey to be the standard for the rest.

Firstly, does the honey ‘shine’? In a line-up of quality honey some bottles seem to have a shine. This comes from extracted honey which has been well strained and then left in the settling tank for 24 hours or more. Then carefully bottled.

Tip the bottle and run the honey in down the side of the bottle and gently straighten the bottle. Honey poured straight into the bottle creates a vortex of bubbles which are difficult to eliminate.

Secondly,  the colour. Sometimes the light class will have colours which range from very light to the medium range. The judge must then decide whether to award points on how light the honey is. On the other hand, if all fall in the light range, then full points for colour may be given to all the entries.

Thirdly, the aroma. The aroma sits in the gap between the honey and the lid. It is released by aromatic oils in the honey. You only get one chance here! The colour gives a clue to what maybe in the honey, but until the lid is opened you do not know. So, the judge is always ready for a surprise. Some honeys have a light aroma and others much more intense. Some have a single or mono aroma  others much more complex. The source of the honey determines the aroma. One of the reasons for entries of six at the Royal Show,  or three for Honey Judges’ and Stewards’ Guild sponsored events, is to be able to check aroma again in a new jar.

Fourthly is the flavour. The flavour is again always a surprise and the standout flavour is used to determine where the other flavours come in the class.

The flavour should obviously compliment the aroma. The one informs the other.

Fifth is the density. Matured honey is the product of the hive where the bees have driven off 70% of the moisture from the nectar and through a complex process determined the honey can be stored. This results in the honey being capped.

In most cases this honey will be fairly thick and will run slowly. In contrast uncapped honey will fly out of the combs in the extractor and run quickly. When a judge tests for density the honey in a jar the surface layer is lifted and the time taken to return to the flat is counted. For low density the count is one or one, two. For mature honey the count can go above 10 especially in some gums.

What is better – single bottle honey competitions or those where you have to enter up to three jars for a single entry? 

An interesting question: the single entry which WCBA has just run certainly raised a lot of interest and 25 entries. Meeting some of those who got involved, it was clear a new energy was at work and great enthusiasm.

The reason for three, the new national standard (also international), is to let the judges assess consistency in filling, To see the overall impact of the entry along side the others in a class.

Then the chance to check the aroma on unopened bottles is very important.

Just as important is training new judges, and the extra bottles can then be judged alongside and experienced judge.

Beekeepers, in general, are quite reluctant to participate in competitions….why do you think it is beneficial to do so?

I think it is to do with changing a mindset. Honey competitions have often been seen as complicated and for the select few. In reality, everyone involved in the industry should be aiming to improve all aspects of producing honey.

When preparing honey for a show or competition there is a need to evaluate all aspects of the process. Finding the best frames, making sure the honey is capped, extracting in clean facilities, straining the honey from the extractor, straining into the settling tank, letting it stand for a full 24hrs, then using clean, defect free bottles to bottle. Finally at the competition cleaning the neck of the bottle and putting on new clean lids. A final polish with a dry clean cloth to leave the bottle free of sticky marks and finger marks.

This may sound complicated but it is simply following the usual process carefully.

The best way to learn is to do!

All those who win prizes started somewhere and built up their experience over the course of competitions. The judge/s comments are designed to give feed back on how to improve.

What do you think of the Western Cape as a honey producing region? 

You have a wonderful range of honey, in many cases unique to your region.

Seeing the 25 bottles lined up gave a very important view of the different colours and textures around.

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