MAHWAH, N.J. — Ed and Heather Mika of Wood-Ridge won this year’s coveted annual Honey Cup competition at Ramapo College in Mahwah Friday night.
The couple, who run Mika’s Backyard Beehive , beat out some 30 other beekeepers in the event to win best of show.
Brian Eromenok of Clifton placed second and Richard DeKoyer of Emerson, third.
More than 100 taste testers turned out to sample and vote on the season’s bounty.
The Honey Cup, a kind of People’s Choice award, is staged by the Northeast New Jersey Beekeepers Association.
What is the winners’ secret?
According to Ed Mika, who’s been beekeeping for four years, it’s two plants that grow wild in the Meadowlands, which is close to his house — Japanese knotwood and goldrenrod.
“The product I get is almost like a blood red honey. It tastes like liquid flowers,” Mika said.
Right before the contest, he extracts the darkest frames he can get from his hives.
“Usually, they’re brought in from the Japanese knotweed, a plant that blooms late in the summer,” Mika said. “The veins are dark red. The bees take the nectar from it.
“They also go for the goldenrod,” he added.
Other contestants, though hoping to win, were happy to have a table at the event and sell to or educate the public.
One was 29-year-old Katie Driscoll of Rutherford, a biology teacher. Last year, her dark honey took third place.
Driscoll is intrigued by the idea that honey is the only natural food that doesn’t expire.
“They found it in ancient Egyptian tombs and tasted it, and it was still edible,” Drisoll explained.
“It will crystallize,” she noted, “but that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. Crystallization happens because of the sugar in honey.”
To get rid of crystallization, Driscoll recommends putting a bottle of honey in warm water until it returns to normal.
Mona Segal of Teaneck, whose husband has a hive, enjoys taste testing.
“The environmental impact of the bees is invaluable,” she said. “They’re so necessary and it’s something humans can do to help ourselves and the bees and the environment.”
Segal said she voted for a dark honey with a lot of flavor as the winner because it was different from the others.
“All honey is delicious,” she said, “but some are more generic. The dark honey stands out.”