Purple Honey in the Sandhills NC: How Does It Taste?

October 26, 2022 A bear-shaped, labeled purple honey jar from the Sandhills of North Carolina.

October 26, 2022 A bear-shaped, labeled purple honey jar from the Sandhills of North Carolina.

kcataudella@newsobserver.com

Purple honey indeed does purple taste.

Last month I saw a viral Reddit post claiming that bees in the Sandhills of North Carolina do not produce purple or blue honey.

In my report, I learned that beekeepers of the region definitely see purple honey, but only occasionally and under mysteriously unknown circumstances. As they know, it’s a North Carolina phenomenon.

The beekeepers I spoke with described the taste of such honey as “fruity,” “grapey,” and “purple” (whatever “purple” tastes like).

But I have to find out for myself.

David Auman, president of the Richmond County Beekeepers Association, has been beekeeping specifically to make purple products, and his bees have been coming and going for years. He invited me to be a guest judge at the club’s annual Honey Tasting Competition this week in Ellerbe – about two hours from the Triangle – with the promise of a spoonful of violets.

And he delivered. He handed me a jar that looked like a bear with “Sandhills Purple Honey” written on it. He said he was five years old.

Then I went to the Rod & Gun Club in the back of the building, at the end of a dirt road with animal heads hanging on the walls, and tasted 15 jars of liquid gold that had recently been collected.

But I didn’t know that one of those jars was actually purple. Auman secretly entered more freshly harvested purple honey into the contest by covering the top of the jar to hide the purple color. My co-judge, state apiary inspector Shirley Harris, and I found this honey surprisingly sweet.

(Harris, who has about 100 beehives at home, taught me how to taste honey properly. Put it on your tongue, let it melt, and let the taste fill your entire mouth. Sit with the pleasure for a moment, even then you swallow.)

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News & Observer reporter Kimberly Cataudella’s notebook at the Richmond County Beekeepers Association Honey Tasting Contest on October 25, 2022 in Ellerbe, NC. The jar on the far right is the current purple honey, covered to hide the purple color. Kimberly Cataudella

I only learned what I tasted purple honey the next morning, when I texted Auman to ask why he hadn’t entered any contests from his purple major.

“I went purple last night. I put paper over my stickers,” she replied, punctuating the message with a bee emoji.

Surprise! I had my first taste of purple honey and it didn’t have the fruity, grapey taste I thought it would have.

What does purple honey taste like?

Not realizing that I had already tasted some purple honey, I drove home wondering how I should try my new treasure – Sandhills Purple Honey in a bear container. Since honey is a daily staple for me, usually eaten in my breakfast and afternoon pick me up, I thought I’d wait until the next day for my long awaited sample.

But I couldn’t stand it. I walked in the front door, pressed a spoonful onto a teaspoon and swallowed it in one gulp. After downing a few glasses of honey for dinner at the tasting competition, the sugary taste sent a tingling up my spine, my stomach begging me to reheat the rest of the pizza. I sealed the jar and put it on the shelf, ready for the real taste the next day.

The taste was clear, though: grape cough syrup, medicinal and all.

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A screenshot of a viral Reddit post posted on September 10th. It says, “In the North Carolina sand dunes, bees produce purple honey. This is the only place on Earth where it is found.” Screenshot from Reddit.com

After a full night’s sleep and a belly ready for honey again, I repeated my taste test in the morning. Observing that this honey tastes different from the taste test, I tasted it three ways.

  1. Peanut butter drizzled over banana toast.
  2. It is mixed with black tea.
  3. A big spoonful.

Here’s what I thought:

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October 26, 2022 Purple honey drizzled over peanut butter banana toast. Kimberly Cataudella

Purple honey on toast: My first bite was crunchy toast, silky peanut butter and squishy banana pickled in purple honey. It tasted distinctly different from my usual clover honey (which has a light, clean taste), but it wasn’t bad.

After a few more bites, the flavor just melted away…honey. I eagerly ate my breakfast, happy to add another drizzle of purple to tomorrow’s open-faced meal.

Purple honey in tea: The black tea masked the flavor of the honey, so it tasted no different than a cup with any other honey.

I thought of all the teas I’d had at my friends’ houses, sweetly mixed into my glasses with their supermarket or faraway honey. I personally have never tasted the difference. Now, I don’t go out of my way to get that extra matte finish or shine. Honey tea is universal for my taste I guess.

Simple purple honey: Medicine. A clean injection of grape-scented medicine. But now it’s not the sour cough syrup I take when I’m sick. It was more like the extra sweet kind I had as a kid.

Have you ever sucked a lollipop from a doctor’s office, barbershop, or even a bank? All the purple ones taste the same. And they taste like purple honey.

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Kimberly Cataudella (o) is a service journalism reporter for The News & Observer.

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