Nature’s healthy sweet Liquid Gold: Honey
Greeks, on the island of Crete, were the first ‘bee-keepers’ – to keep bees for the purpose of domestic honey making – and have been doing so continuously since Minoan times – the oldest western civilisation. Cretan Beekepers are renowned throughout Greece for their skill and the respect with which they treat their precious bees. But their reputation extends beyond Greece. Crete’s thyme, pine and sage honeys are justifiably famous. But as with so many precious things, these honeys are made in limited quantities, and are very hard to find outside Greece…
Greek Beekeepers use organic traditional methods and allow their bees to feed only on 100% natural and wild flora.
In nature, bees collect nectar from different types of flowers – whatever they come across – and in Crete the bees feast on an array of wild plants such as sage, the endemic ‘throumbi’ plant, the super-healthy thyme, and pine resin. These wild mountain herbs and conifers are strongly aromatic and the intensity and richness of the resulting honey reflects this. But collecting nectar from these wild herbs is very hard work for bees, and the amount of honey produced is comparatively small….
Due to the pressures of global demands, many beekeepers around the world have turned to ‘helping’ the bees by feeding (or overfeeding) their bees sugar in order to increase honey production. However, as one might expect, this artifical sugar feeding is reflected in the quality, taste and aroma (or lack of) of the honey. Eating and producing sugar honey however is not the bee’s destination in life. Sugar-based honey is merely a glorified syrup which triggers an instant energy high and add calories.
As one of our local beekeepers remarked, when discussing modern beekeeping practice for the mass honey market:
‘If you feed the bee sugar, it will only give you sugar back’.
We obtain all our honeys from traditional bee keepers; most of our honeys come from Crete (thyme, pine, wild flower, sage, orange blossom), but we also have honey from Taygetus mountains in the Peloponnese and Attiki (Fir Tree) and Reiki honey from Mani. Our Greek beekeepers really are the “keepers of the bee” – and they have a full understanding of the health of the bee itself – and therefore treat their bees well. Their bees roam and feed on the finest wild landscapes the island has to offer; they relocate the bees to wherever the flora is best for any given season, even if this means moving them to the most remote inhospitable parts of the island, and camping out whilst their bees feed. What matters is that the bees can flourish naturally and collect for the hive without detriment to their own health, or to the quality of the honey. Traditionally, Greeks rely solely on honey for all their culinary sweetening (just as you never see butter in a Cretan’s kitchen nor do you ever see sugar!)
The honey is obtained directly from the honey comb, it is never warmed or filtered orprocessed in any way. For this reason our honeys vary in colour, viscosity and transparency: you may find bits of bees wax, propolis, pollen and even the odd fragment of a bee! All pure natural goodness.
The honeybee delivers energy to us in a concentrated form through honey. Although there are other sugars contained in honey, they are all converted into two forms through the secretions of the bees’ enzymes – fructose and glucose. The way these to energy boosters work is quite a miracle: glucose gives us immediate energy whereas fructose builds reserve energy in the liver. Fructose performs a sort of magic trick of nature by converting glucose not into fat but into a food reserve in the liver for our body and brain to use as and when it needs it.
Honey also contains vitamins, amino acids and minerals which are vital to the upkeep of our immune system especially throughout the winter months when cold and flu attack us daily. Apart from these necessary components the other ‘trick’ honey has up its sleeve are the incredibly important bioflavonoids found in the plants and flowers they pollinate. These are plant nutrients responsible for colouring in plants such as oranges and carrots making these important bioflavonoids. Apart from pigmentation these are also potent antioxidants and help our immune system by helping vitamin C work more effectively. The colour spectrum of pollen and honeys indicates how high they are in bioflavonoids and this explains why it is of the utmost importance to seek out raw, unfiltered honey with all the good bits left in!
WHY CHOOSE CRETAN HONEY
Cretan honey is the honey produced on the island of Crete, an island with enormous biodiviersity in vegetation with a significant amount of endemic (plants which are only found on the island of Crete and nowhere else in the world) plants which the bees can collect pollen from to create the finest thyme and pine honey. Cretan honey is raw and unfiltered and seldom found on supermarket shelves.
The honey one finds on supermarket shelves is usually filtered, super-filtered or in some cases ultrafiltered leaving every bit of goodness out of the jar! According to Gloria Havenhand in so doing: ‘The precious enzymes, vitamins, antioxidants and antibacterials in the pollen are eliminated – all the extra-nutritious properties for which honey has been celebrated since ancient times.
Pollen has an unbelievably high vitamin C content – far higher than fruit or vegetables – and this goes into decline during storage…When raw, unfiltered honey was tested containing plenty of pollen, it was found to be high in vitamin C.
The climate on Crete varies with mild winters and large periods of sunshine which in apiary (honey) terms is a small haven for the honeybees. Moreover, the geographical landscape of the island changes from valleys to hills to mountains creating a perfect mosaic of environments in which thyme and endemic plants flourish throughout the year.
The infrastructure on Crete also means that it is particularly difficult to reach some of the wilder areas of vegetation where the bees can pollinate as in the case of our Cretan lady beekeeper family who travel to the wilderness of the Kapetaniana area for the best pollination of thyme and other wild plants.