Honeybees produce tupelo honey from the flowers of the white tupelo tree, Nyssa aquatica, which is found in southeastern swamps bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Tupelo honey is light-colored and has buttery undertones and a fresh, slightly lemony finish to its flavor.
Honey begins as nectar from flowers. Worker bees collect the nectar and pass it to the hive's honey producers. These bees swallow and regurgitate the nectar over and over, adding digestive enzymes and evaporating water. The finished product is about 20 percent water and very rich in sugar.
Honey varies in color and flavor depending on the primary kind of flowers the bees harvested. Popular varieties available in the United States include alfalfa, clover, orange blossom and wildflower honeys. Tupelo honey is one of many regional varieties. For the U.S. Department of Agriculture to certify honey as tupelo honey, pollen analysis must show at least 50 percent of the sampled product to be from tupelo nectar.
High-grade tupelo honey is expensive compared to other honeys. Its forage plant has a relatively small geographic distribution, and honey producers must strip their hives of other honey just before putting their beehives into the swamps where tupelo trees bloom. They must then monitor the hives daily until the tupelo bloom starts. Even a few days' worth of other honey in the comb destroys one of tupelo honey's valuable characteristics, its resistance to crystallization.