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  • Writer's pictureMaggie James

The National Honey Competition and Honey Profiling

The Apiculture New Zealand National Honey Competition has become a staple part of the national conference, which this year will be held in Christchurch June 30 - July 1. We take a look at what goes into the search for New Zealand’s top honeys.

By Maggie James

The Competition, established in 2010, evolves every year and 2022 is no different, with conference attendees to have greater opportunity to sample the honey entries. Further to that, a new “People’s Choice” award will be doled out to the honey attendees are most impressed with.

Exhibits to the competition are judged to international standards, with entry open to all registered New Zealand beekeepers, packers, and exporters. Each entry is subject to sensory analysis or profiling of the honey – a research activity in the study of characterisation and promotion of honey. It is a discipline similar to that applied to wine, culinary oils, cheese, and malt barley (used in beer making).

Chief Judge Maureen Conquer, with vast international honey and mead judging experience, is assisted by South Island-based scientist in botany and honey analyst Claudine McCormick, plus North Island-based Alessandro Tarentini, a food scientist and previously Hawke’s Bay commercial beekeeper.

So how do the judges make their decisions?

“The first thing we do with each section is assess colour for each category with entries lined up in a straight continuous line, light through to darkest,” Conquer explains.

The National Honey Competition will bring together honey of all range of colours in Christchurch. Photo Dinsdale Honey, Hamilton.

“The baseline for that category becomes the middle colour. If we are of the opinion it’s too dark in that category, we downgrade it. Sometimes we might up the entry to get it in the right category.”

Pfund colour international guidelines are used.

“Then each judge lifts the lid, smells, then closes, then re-smells. With this process a judge will often pick up on faults immediately. Then we roll over on our tongue, checking for viscosity, textures and aftertaste. We are particularly interested in aftertaste and its longevity,” the judge explains.

Next up, it’s presentation and cleanliness.

“There are no pollen counts in the competition, but we do sometimes check moisture content with a refractometer. It must come in below 18.5%.”

Because lighter coloured honeys are generally milder on the palate, these are usually judged first.

If anyone does have a honey sample they deem unique, the judges welcome them bringing it forward, as they are always on the lookout for additions to the New Zealand honey library.

“Judges often detect how some varietals can taste differently from various parts of New Zealand. It is thoroughly satisfying to be able, without reference but just through experience, to make the call as to the location of production,” Conquer says.

“This Competition, from the top of the north to the bottom of the south and outlying islands, attracts New Zealand’s best honey. The judging team are delighted to give positive feedback to the industry, confirming to beekeepers, whether they work in isolation or as part of a team, that their product is high quality, and with due accolades enabling promotion of their products domestically and internationally.”

Competition Details and Changes

Due to the large number of entries received last year, and popularity of many attendees wishing to inspect and taste honey exhibits, things will be run a bit differently this year:

· Judging takes place two days prior to Conference. Therefore, all goods must be delivered prior. Full details are outlined in the National Honey Competition rules

· Winners announced: Midday Thursday 30 June (Day 1 of conference).

· Afterwards, the judging room will open to attendees for the opportunity to sample winning entries. Judges will be present to meet conference attendees and answer questions, except at 3pm.

· 3pm the same day, judges’ discussion panel on tips and insights on what makes a winning honey.

· Running through the entire conference, attendees will be able to help select the People’s Choice Award. For this category honey will be submitted in amber jars and this award is purely on taste. People don’t get the ability to see or smell the honey, and it is sampled through a small hole in the jar. This winner to be announced at the conference dinner.

· Full competition details can be found here.


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