What makes a GOLD AWARD winning honey? You'll be surprised!! Read on to find out.
I attended a ‘How Honey is Judged’ workshop a few years ago that was presented by those who judge events including the Perth Royal Show and the Brunswick Show in the South West. I was looking forward to learning more about the process and hoping to gain valuable information and insight around flavour profiles and viscosity variances of the different honey varieties that we have here in Western Australia. I was particularly keen to find out where Marri honey, which is my favourite, sits in relation to other varietals at these Shows. I was also interested in gaining a better understanding of how our judging works in comparison to other places around the world.
The presentation, which also included tips and tricks to gain the highest possible score, completely took me by surprise. Where I thought that honey was judged on its flavour, texture and ‘loveliness’, I was disappointed to learn that it was only allocated a total of 10 points out of 100 for flavour and aroma. And these 10 points had nothing to do with the unique properties of the honey. It was allocated on whether the honey’s flavour or aroma had been tainted. But more on this a little later.
I’ll share what I did learn about current judging practices here in WA. Let’s start from the beginning. One of the first things were learned was that it is you that is being judged. Not the bees. They make a perfect product (the honey).
Each entry starts with 100 points. As the assessment of the honey by the judges progresses points are deducted according to the level of undesirables. And apart from the 10 points mentioned earlier, the remaining 90 points have nothing to do with the flavour, texture or aroma of the honey. Let me break this down into their points sections. I might add here, that where there are more points to lose than there are allocated to that section, you only lose up to the allocated points in that section.
Clarity and Suspended Particulates
There are 30 points allocated to this section. Points are deducted from these starting 30 points based on how clear and clean the honey is. If it has a cloudy appearance, it loses 10 points. You can then lose a maximum of 5 points for each undesirable suspended in the honey. These undesirables are lint, wax, pollen, body parts, foreign matter, foam, and air bubbles. There is a maximum of 45 points to lose in this section.
Tips and tricks to obtain maximum points here is to heat your honey and pass it through a fine silk stocking. This removes all the undesirables by fine filtering out the particles. The heating makes it easier to filter, and allows the foam and air bubbles to float to the top more efficiently as the honey is thinner. You can then use a syringe to remove these from the top of the honey.
I found it interesting that 20 points are allocated here. Interesting because unless you happen to provide a sample that is not actually honey (that is, a moisture content of 18.6% moisture or higher), which results in instant disqualification, then the maximum number of points you can lose here is (only) 5.
This means that you are guaranteed 15 points out of the 20.
Ways to ensure low moisture content? Certain varieties will have a higher moisture content, and overwintered honey generally has a lower moisture content. However, the main advice I can give you here is not to harvest your honey too early. We all know that harvesting when the honey is not yet ripe can cause fermentation, so hopefully you have this one in the bag!
There are 20 points allocated to this section. And it is all about the jar! You will lose 5 points each for a non-compliant jar and an incorrect fill line. You will then lose up to 5 points each for handling marks, foreign matter, labels, and damaged lids. There is a maximum of 30 points to lose in this section.
Tips and tricks to follow here is firstly, to make sure you understand what type of jar you are allowed to use. It is most likely going to be a clear round 500g jar with a black, gold, or white lid. Please don’t use a hex jar, or the clasp-lid jars, unless the competition allows it. You will lose points!
Make sure you choose a jar that has a neat manufacturing seam with no bubbles within the glass. Ensure the lid has no dents or scratches. It is recommended that you polish the jar to remove any fingerprints and foreign particles on the outside. This includes residual honey, dust etc. Make sure you use new jars. A jar with a scrappy label that hasn’t been removed properly guarantees loss of points! Always handle your jar with cotton gloves to avoid the dreaded fingerprints. Examine your lids carefully and make sure you choose 2 lids per jar that are scratch and dent free. Why 2 lids? I’ll cover that in the next section.
You will need to ensure you fill your honey to the correct fill line. The recommendation is to fill your jars slightly above the fill line so when you remove the air bubbles and any floaters from the top of your honey you can syringe down to the fill line and not be left short.
Cleanliness of Inside of Jar
Twenty points are at stake here, with a maximum of 30 points to lose. Up to 5 points will be deducted for each type of particle present above your fill line on the inside of the jar (i.e., between the fill line and the lid). These particles are foam, wax, lint, pollen, and air bubbles. You will also lose up to 5 points for having honey on the inside of the lid.
Tips and tricks here include removing the particles as part of your ‘removing down to the fill line’ in the previous section. This is also where your second lid comes in. Just prior to handing over your jar when submitting your entry, swap the lid out with your clean one (remember to wear your cotton gloves!). If your driveway is anything like mine, it can get a little bumpy. And this may result in the jar moving around, or even tipping over, during transit. This is a common way for honey to come into contact with the underside of its lid!
Flavour and Aroma
This for me was the most surprising, and frankly disappointing, points section. Only 10 points are allocated here and, as mentioned earlier, none of them have anything to do with how ‘yummy’ the honey is. There is a maximum of 25 points to lose in this section. You will lose 5 points for using a pre-used jar or lid. You will lose 5 points for having a chemical smell to the honey. You will lose 5 points for having a chemical taste to the honey. You will lose 5 points for having over-smoked honey. You will lose 5 points for having a fermented taste or smell to the honey.
Tips and tricks here a pretty self explanatory. Please don’t use an old pickle jar (or lid) or an old pasta sauce jar. These will taint the honey, both in flavour and aroma, which will result in lost points. Likewise with honey that has been over-smoked. There is never any need to over-smoke your hives. The bees don’t like it, and neither will your customers!. Don’t harvest unripe honey either, which will cause it to ferment, and will cause the loss of further points if you have not already lost the 10 allocated to this section.
This article is in no way intended to discredit or disrespect the role of our wonderful judges that put in a lot of time and effort at these shows. This is just the way our honey has been judged here. However, hopefully, it does provide some insight into the judging process and what it takes to achieve a high score. And also shine a light on what value that GOLD AWARD sticker may have to the consumer.
As a consumer myself, if I purchase a product that has a GOLD AWARD sticker on it (e.g., from the Perth Royal Show) I would expect that I am purchasing an absolutely amazing taste sensation. Unfortunately, it is in no way a reflection on the quality of the honey itself, rather it’s about the presentation of the honey and the vessel in which it was placed.
Here at Carlaminda, as for the majority of other producers, we pride ourselves on the quality of our product. Our customers continue to come back for our honey because it tastes amazing. They don’t buy it because there are no fingerprints on the jar, and no honey under the lid (I can guarantee that the nightfill staff will not be wearing cotton gloves when they are stacking your honey on the shelves!). Nor do we heat our honey to enable us to filter out all the ‘goodness’, just to achieve a nice clear product. Finding bee parts is one thing, and none of us want to be eating bee legs and wings, but this is typically dependent on the harvesting and extraction method used by the beekeeper.
Before and after attending the local workshop on honey judging, I have researched how other countries judge their honey. Countries, such as Italy, place a lot more emphasis on the unique taste, smell and physical characteristics of their honey. Some judges even provide ‘tasting notes’, similar to wines! Earlier this year, I was honoured to be invited to judge the honey at the Harvey Show, at which I made a special point of melding what I have learnt of honey judging here in WA and that from other countries.
While there weren’t as many entries as usual, due to the particularly poor year, the entries submitted were judged on flavour, texture, clarity, presentation, appearance, and aroma. I also provided each entry with individual feedback notes. These notes were intended to share with the participants how their honey was judged and why it received a particular score and, hopefully, will enable participants to improve on their entries next year.
GOLD AWARD HONEY!
Personally, for me, what makes a great honey is having those amazing caramel flavours resting on your tongue. Having these flavours linger, and not disappear as soon as the honey dissolves. There also has to be a nice balance of sweetness and acidity, without it being overpoweringly sweet. And the texture is just as important. I like to chew my honey! I love the winter when you can turn the honey jar upside down and it doesn’t move, and when you grab a teaspoon of honey (just because you can) it is like sticky toffee stretching from the jar. With a few others thrown in, these qualities, to me, are what should be considered GOLD AWARD worthy.
Helen Humphreys Passionate Beekeeper Trainer | Mentor | Producer