Light vs Dark Honey: The Differences

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Honey is an increasingly popular commodity nowadays because people are now becoming more health conscious. However, when you go to your local grocery store or farmer’s market, you may have noticed that the honey sold comes in different shades. There are the light ones and there are darker ones. So, what are the differences between light and dark honey?

Lighter honey usually comes with a less intense flavor. Meanwhile, darker-colored honey comes with a flavor profile that is more intense and is richer compared to lighter honey. Dark honey also has more nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants due to the presence of different substances that make it dark.

The thing about honey is that it can come in all sorts of different colors depending on where the bees get their nectar from. As such, honey can be light, dark, or in between. However, while honey is honey, there are some differences that you can point out when it comes to comparing light and dark honey with one another. That is what we are here to discuss so that you can know which one is the better choice for you.

Light Honey – Everything about it

When we think of honey, we often think about it being that golden and yellowish liquid that has a sweet taste that goes perfectly with almost any food or drinks you can find. In a sense, this is quite true as honey can come in a golden color that makes it look rich and tasty enough to make your mouth water 🙂

However, the truth is that honey doesn’t always come in that color because there are plenty of different shades of honey that have their own different appearances and features. This is because the bees produce honey using the nectar they collect from all sorts of different plants or flowers. And because the nectar of different plants can vary, the color of the honey that the bees produce using various types of nectar can also be different. As such, we often have honey that comes in light or dark colors.

Now, let us get to know more about light honey and how it stands out on its own.


So, when we are talking about light honey, this is usually the type of honey that is as close to the golden honey color that we often think about when we are thinking about honey. In many ways, this is what we call the “prototypical” honey because this is what most people think honey should be in terms of its color. And when it comes to its color, it does give you that yellowish hue that comes with a golden shine to it.

There will also be cases where light honey can appear to be quite clear while retaining its golden yellow color. In some cases, it might appear to be golden yellow, but it can have that gooey look and consistency such as manuka. And while rare, there can even be white honey. It really depends on the type of nectar that the bees used to produce light honey.

Where does it come from?

As mentioned, the color and the type of honey are dependent on the flower or plant where the nectar was collected by the bees. That’s because different nectar has different properties and tastes. This is what contributes to the major differences between honey.

Of course, the color of the honey is also dictated by the nectar of the flower that the bees used to produce it. Honey that is lighter in appearance and has that light-amber color can come from plants or flowers such as black locust trees, California sage, clover, linden tree blossoms, blueberry flowers, Canadian flowering plants, manuka trees, and other similar plants that tend to have light-colored nectar.

Because of how varied the nectar sources of most bees are, it can be pretty difficult to pinpoint exactly what kind of plant or flower produces light honey. However, the ones we mentioned above are merely examples of the different plants that can yield honey that is lighter in terms of its appearance and coloration.


This is where people generally base their honey preferences, as the taste of honey can actually vary depending on where the honey comes from and on the actual color of the honey. There are even generalizations regarding which color of honey has a specific type of taste.

Generally speaking, lighter honey tends to have a lighter and milder taste. It still is quite sweet, but the sweetness isn’t too overpowering. Think of it as the counterpart of white sugar in the sense that it is sweet, but the sweetness tends to have a softer and lighter profile.

However, even if this is generally the case, there are some instances where light honey doesn’t have the light taste that people think it should have. For example, honey that comes from basswood tends to have a pretty strong taste even though it does come with a light appearance. As such, the notion that light honey has a milder and softer sweetness is merely a general rule and is not absolute.


Of course, different types of honey are used for different purposes because they differ in flavor profile and color, which can affect the overall taste of the dish or drink you may want to use the honey for.

In that regard, light honey is often used for drinks and for baking because it comes with a sweetness that will not overpower what you are preparing. For example, it generally goes well with coffee or tea if you want to use it for drinks. Light honey also goes well with your early morning cereal because it has a style of sweetness that blends well with milk.

Dark honey – Everything about it

On the other hand, while we may have discussed the fact that people tend to think of the golden-colored nectar when they think of honey, there are also darker varieties that may not be as popular as the lighter type of honey among Americans. Nevertheless, this dark honey is actually widely in use in a collection of European countries.

Similar to light honey, dark honey can vary in terms of its overall appearance, but the reason why it is dark tends to due to the fact that it came from specific flowering plants. In that regard, let us get to know more about dark honey.


As the term “dark” suggests, dark honey comes in a darker shade of gold or may even be close to brownish in terms of its color. There are some amber-like dark honey, but they are in the darker shade of amber instead of the usual lightly colored amber that you often see in light honey.

The darker appearance that dark honey has suggests that it has more “ingredients” or “components” inside it, which allows it to be dark-colored. As such, it is widely believed that dark honey has more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which all contribute to its dark color.

In fact, the buckwheat honey variant actually comes with a darker molasses-like color that may look like burnt sugar. However, it has been proven that this very dark honey has 20 times more antioxidants than some of the lighter honey variants.

Where does it come from?

Similar to light honey, the reason why dark honey tends to have a darker color can be attributed to the fact that it comes from certain types of nectar from specific plants and flowers that allow it to have a darker color due to how there are more components inside the nectar.

That said, dark honey can be made from all sorts of nectar coming from plants such as New York and Ohio buckwheat flowers, chestnut tree flowers, coffee, cotton, maple tree, and tulip poplar. However, there are many more flowering plants where dark honey can come from, and they are usually found in places in Europe and in certain regions in the United States.

Again, it can be quite difficult to completely pinpoint which plants produce dark honey, but there are some plants that are specifically used in select apiaries so that the beekeepers can produce darker variants of the honey. As such, this is why buckwheat tends to be quite popular when it comes to producing dark honey. And there are also plenty of different European countries that use native flowering plants to produce dark honey, which is quite popular in Europe.

However, keep in mind that there are some dark kinds of honey that are only dark because of how the sugars end up burning and producing that dark color. This can happen when the honey ends up getting heated too much due to wrong storage conditions or maybe due to how the beekeeper applied heat to it during the extraction process.


As mentioned, people tend to differentiate different types of honey based on how they taste, and that is an area where dark honey actually stands out due to how its taste tends to differ in comparison to other types of honey.

Dark honey almost tastes exactly as it looks, as it generally has a richer and fuller flavor that is sweet yet sometimes overpowering. Think of it as the honey counterpart of brown sugar, as the latter also tends to have a richer and bolder flavor.

However, this is merely a general rule because there are some types of honey that may be dark but have a milder taste. An example of this is honey that comes from tulip poplar, which has a pleasant and soft sweetness that is quite unlike the usual bolder flavor that you can find in dark honey.


Of course, dark honey can be used for a wide variety of different purposes, but there are some people who tend to only use it on specific types of foods because of how the bolder flavor of dark honey can be quite overpowering.

That said, dark honey is popularly used for sauces, salad dressings, bread, and oatmeal. Dark honey is also the best choice for making barbecue sauces and for marinating meat because of how the bolder flavors go well when infused into the meat. In fact, honey made from buckwheat is quite popular among barbecue enthusiasts.

Meanwhile, in Europe, regardless of what kind of dish or drink dark honey is being used on, it is the top choice among the people there because the Europeans tend to favor the richness and bold flavor that comes with dark honey.

What does it mean if honey is dark?

Let us go back to the fact that the color of honey depends on where it comes from and on what kind of nectar the bees used to produce certain types of honey. That is why the color of honey depends largely on that factor. But what does it mean if your honey is darker?

Many people tend to think that darker honey actually is better in terms of its overall quality. In a sense, that actually is quite true. Many years ago, a study done at the University of Illinois showed that dark-colored honey is actually healthier than light-colored honey due to how there are more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in it. The study compared dark-colored buckwheat honey with light-colored California sage honey and found out that the former has about 20 times more antioxidants than the latter.

So, the reason why dark honey is as dark as it is can be attributed to how it has more components and ingredients that contribute to its color. These components and ingredients we are talking about are the different vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can be found in dark honey. In other words, the darker the honey is, the better the quality is.

However, the reason why we said that dark honey doesn’t necessarily mean better is that there are some dark kinds of honey that are only dark because of the burnt sugars in them. These types of honey may have originally been light but wrong storage conditions and heat may have burnt the sugars a bit and caused the honey to go dark. As such, it is important for you to know where your honey was sourced from and what kind of plants or flowers were used to produce the honey so that you can really tell whether or not it actually is a legitimate dark honey variant.

What are the differences between light and dark-colored honey?

So, now that you know more about light honey and dark honey, you should already know what makes them different from one another. However, let us quickly summarize what makes these two types of honey different so that you can tell which one is the better variant for you.

In terms of where they come from, there is no certainty as to why some plants end up producing light honey and why there are some other plants that produce dark honey. It may have something to do with the region and the season, but the fact of the matter is that different types of nectar just seem to produce different types of honey. That’s why we cannot conclusively say what makes light honey and dark honey different from one another in terms of their sources, but we can say that there are specific plants such as sage and buckwheat that specifically produce light honey and dark honey, respectively.

As to taste, this is where the color makes a world of difference. Generally speaking, light honey has a milder and softer sweetness, while dark honey comes with a bolder and richer sweet flavor. Think of it as similar to comparing white sugar with brown sugar wherein white sugar is just plainly sweet while brown sugar has a more complex flavor profile. However, again, the color isn’t always the best indicator of what honey tastes like because there are certain light variants of honey that come with a bolder flavor while tulip poplar, which produces dark honey, has a mild sweetness.

Due to how different light honey and dark honey are in terms of taste, they also differ in their uses. Light honey is often used as a healthier and more natural alternative to sugar when people want to sweeten up their drinks and anything that they bake because of how the milder sweetness of light honey doesn’t overpower their food. Meanwhile, for those who are looking to incorporate a bolder kind of sweetness with their food or dishes, dark honey tends to be the better option. That’s why bread, which has a very light taste, and barbecue sauces are often made using dark honey instead of light honey.

And the most glaring difference between light honey and dark honey is in their overall health benefits. Light honey is still very much healthy, especially when you compare it to sugar. However, when compared to dark honey, light honey just cannot match up because of how dark honey has more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. That said, dark honey is generally healthier than light honey.

Is lighter or darker honey better?

At this point, you already know what makes light honey different from darker honey. However, is one better than the other? Generally speaking, and if you look at it from an objective standpoint, darker honey should be better than lighter honey because of the fact that it is healthier.

Still, personal preferences and tastes come into play when determining which of the two is actually better. Those who prefer a milder kind of sweetness tend to go with light honey over dark honey, and that is why Americans usually favor light honey. Meanwhile, Europeans prefer the boldness and richness that comes with darker honey.

In the end, while darker honey should be the superior type of honey, it still boils down to preferences and to how the honey is being used. After all, no one wants dark honey to overpower the natural taste of coffee or tea. Meanwhile, barbecue sauce made with light honey just doesn’t have that boldness and richness.

So, if you are after the health benefits of honey, go with dark honey regardless of what you are planning on using it for. However, if you are after the flavor of the honey, then you may want to take into consideration the type of food or drink you are planning on preparing so that you can tell which between light honey and dark honey is the better option for you.


About Grampa Beekeeper

Having spent a lifetime tending to bees, I now want to pass my knowledge onto the next generation of beekeepers. Beekeeping may not be fashionable, but it is my life long passion! From entrance excluders to packaged bee handling, I've got you covered! I'm not the best at writing, though, so bear with me!!