Bill Huser steps in front of a wall of honey and pauses for a moment.
He scans the floor-to-ceiling shelves, packed full with hundreds of jars in every shade of amber and golden brown. After he makes his selection, he sets the jar on a counter, twists open the lid and grabs a sampling stick from a box. He swirls it around before putting a few drops on his tongue.
It’s smooth and has a slight citrus taste — it’s made by bees that were collecting the nectar of orange blossoms — but Huser can tell you much more about this jar of honey. He knows what part of the country the honey came from, how the texture and the color compare with the other varieties, how it’s likely that it was produced by a third- or fourth-generation beekeeper.
After nearly 40 years at the Sioux Honey Association — the place that makes Sue Bee, along with several other familiar honey brands — Huser, the association’s vice president of research and development, knows his honey. At the headquarters of the world’s largest honey cooperative, it’s hard not to become at least a bit of an expert on the sticky stuff.
The cooperative that was founded 90 years ago by five Sioux City-area beekeepers with 3,000 pounds of honey now has more than 300 producers and processes about 35 million pounds of raw honey each year. Most of it — about 20 million pounds — goes through Sioux City, while the rest is processed and packaged at plants in Anaheim, Calif., and Elizabethtown, N.C.