What’s old is new again.
Timberlake, NC-based co-owner Whitney Barnes’ company Zombiees Honey first saw purple honey in 2017.
“North Carolina is so funny that what people think is fascinating and new, actually is [a] it’s a really old, best-kept secret,” Barnes said. “What do you mean you didn’t know?
“By this we know you are not from here, because you did not know. “To me, purple honey is the personification of North Carolina.”
However, Barnes insists he’s not an expert on purple honey.
Donald Dees, owner of Dees Bees Apiary in Aberdeen, explained what it’s like to find sweet things in beehives.
“It’s like finding a little gold nugget or a little piece of jewelry on the beach,” Dees said. “It’s something special that you find in your beehive that you know the bees put there, and whatever conditions or environmental conditions created the environment for the bees to make that honey, happened in your area and they brought it to your beehive. “
What causes a purple or blue puppy?
Beekeepers do not know what causes honey to turn purple or blue. The late John Ambrose, a former North Carolina State University beekeeping professor and past president of the NC State Beekeepers Association, conducted a series of tests in the 1970s to try to find an answer.
There is still no definitive answer as to the cause of purple or blue honey.
“I think one of the reasons it’s mysterious is that the bees’ digestive juices change the nature of the pigment and/or the substrate they’re brought in,” Dees said.
Dees offered his best guess as to the cause of the purple honey. He noted that bees don’t have many flowering plants to feed on from mid-June to mid-September. However, he said that during that period, honey bees will collect blueberries, blueberries and blackberries on the vine.
“I think the bees go to that fruit, chew it, get the juice, go to the honey stomach, and bees have a separate stomach from their digestive stomach,” Dees said. “They have a honey stomach to carry nectar and it contains enzymes.
“When the bees collect that fruit juice and it’s changed by enzymes in the bees’ stomachs. And it goes back into the beehive, where it’s concentrated as honey. It’s passed from bee to bee, which enriches the fruit-like flavor. So it (blue or purple honey) doesn’t really taste like blueberries, blackberries or berries, but it has a fruity taste.”
The Sandhills’ hot, dry summer helped nectar plants dry up faster than usual, Dees said.
Barnes said his apiary determines its nectar source based on the “preponderance of the evidence” at its location. He said that its main source of nectar is the tulip poplar. Also, Barnes said, trees are the main source of honey for bees, not flowers and plants on the ground.
In June 2017 and June 2018, Barnes said there was purple honey in hives in Granville and Person counties.
“A big misnomer that I hope we can get out to the public is that it’s not kudzu,” Barnes said. “And the reason I know it’s not kudzu is because when it shows up in the hives, it’s before kudzu blooms.”
Dees mentioned two other theories he had heard, but explained why he didn’t think they made sense:
The first were granite outcrops, but Dees said they were not found in the Sandhills.
He also points to the reduction of aluminum in the soil as a cause of purple honey, saying that if it did, his apiary would produce honey every year.
Barnes said he would like to see a DNA-pollen database developed to perform chemical analysis on nectar sources.
“We can’t figure out what the purple honey is,” Barnes said.
Dees and Barnes agreed that the purple honey was accidental and that its color was natural.
Barnes noted that honey comes in a variety of shades, from light to black.
“It definitely has a different sauce flavor that’s not like any other honey … it’s definitely different from other types of honey,” Barnes said of purple honey.
Dees said he gets questions about whether purple honey tastes like regular honey.
“It kind of does,” Dees said. “It’s cute. It is produced by bees, but it has a fruity color.
“It kind of goes with the unusual nature of honey being purple. It’s a fruity taste that no one can recognize.”
Where to buy purple honey in North Carolina
Barnes said he is an advocate for trying to solve the mystery of the cause of the purple honey.
“North Carolina isn’t the only place in the world with weird honey,” Barnes said. “There’s a place in the Middle East with red honey.”
“I’m trying to find people and connect with more people so I can try to connect people when that happens,” Barnes said.
Barnes said he keeps a small amount of purple honey for himself.
“I feel like if I don’t keep it at least a little bit, I’m still going to always have people insisting it’s not real,” Barnes said.
“I put it on hold,” Diz said of the purple honey orders. “I have a few orders left to fill.”
When in stock, Dees packages purple honey in 1.9-ounce and 3-ounce jars. He said he ships custom honey orders to Italy and several states, including California, Texas and Nebraska.
“I couldn’t fill the orders there for three or four days,” Dees said. “I mean, I had to shut down the site so I could deal with my orders to make sure I wasn’t overselling.”
WRAL News will add apiaries that sell blue or purple honey to this story.