Global honey tasting

It’s almost a year since I attended the Honey Sensory analysis course in Bologna, Italy, with 14 other bee people from around the globe.

Honey tasting at Babylonstoren
Honey tasting at Babylonstoren

I’d attended with no agenda as to how it may be of interest in my world, let alone how it would have influenced my career.

The trip was my first abroad alone since recovering my health and began a honey adventure which includes a ‘bee’ trip to Bhutan this coming November.

I soon realised that by learning to develop taste sensitivities to various honeys, I would be able to help save the bees by raising awareness on what exactly the bees feed on and the importance of that diversity in their diet.

Here in the UK, our no 1 ‘weed’ is dandelion, yet it turns drab brown and green fields into a sea of yellow each spring, not to mention offering nectar and pollen to a vast selection of other solitary and bumble bees, their first spring feast of the year. How could this beautiful flower, related to the african gerbera, become the target for so many toxic chemicals and industries dedicated to its demise?

Dandelion honey is for me the first sign each year that the bees are and will be ok. A field of dandelions allows me to remove surplus honey from the hives, knowing that they’ve survived the winter and there is an abundant feast for them to carry them through the next few months, whatever the weather throws at us on this tempestuous isle.

Some of Paula's honey collection
Some of Paula’s honey collection
field of dandelions
field of dandelions

Dandelions are also a magnificent herb for human health too, rich in vitamins and minerals and used for hundreds, and even thousands of years to boost the health and immunity of those who would drink it’s tea, eat the leaves or take the roots in the forms of tinctures and creams.

As I have travelled the world in the past 12 months, to Oman, Bulgaria, Spain and South Africa, I have tasted the honey from each region and learned about the health and wellbeing of the bees that produce it, and the keepers who take it from the bees.

…”A product to be valued and savoured, valued for the difficulty and skill needed to extract it safely from the care of the bees.” 

In South Africa, I ran three honey tasting workshops at Babylonstoren ( gardens and hotel in the Cape)  for staff and visitors wanting to learn more about the varieties of honey sources. I found it particularly interesting that the local Fynbos honey was by far the most popular for the locals. Could this be due to the ‘Ratatouille’ effect? The wonderful tear jerking moment when the food critic is taken back to his childhood the instant the ratatouille dish tingled his taste buds. Do our first tastes of honey as a child, as a treat from a neighbour or relative straight from the hive, or with lemon and honey to aid during sickness, remain as positive associations keeping us loyal to that first taste?

watch a honeybee on dandelion

I strongly believe that honey is our medicine, I love the passage from the Quran which states ” Set up hives in the mountains, and in the trees, and in what they construct… from their belies emerges a fluid of diverse colours containing healing for the people. Surely this is a sign for those who reflect’

The emphasis there is the last words, ‘for those who reflect..’ There are so many references in ancient religious and traditional medicine documents that talk about honey as a medicine, to be taken as prevention and cure of ailments, but in small quantities. A product to be valued and savoured, valued for the difficulty and skill needed to extract it safely from the care of the bees.

In Oman I noticed how particularly treasured and respected honey and bees were. The price reflected this value with some honeys selling for £100 a litre!

‘…from their belies emerges a fluid of diverse colours containing healing for the people. Surely this is a sign for those who reflect”

In less populated and more abundantly floral countries where the chemical route has not been trodden with farming, the bees have a plentiful diet and are happy to share their bounty, particularly as their carers are people who reflect and don’t abuse their relationships with the bees. Where land is vast and free it is also easier to have honeys made from one main source and so the distinct flavours and properties of that plant are identifiable.

Harmal honey on wild comb
Omani Harmal honey on wild comb

This Friday I am holding a honey tasting evening in my home town of Castle Cary. With honeys from New Zealand, Oman, South Africa and across Europe including flavours such as coriander, sidr, chestnut, clover, heather and sunflower I can share some of the knowledge learned in Bologna last November, and stretch the varieties from the Italian apis mellifera honeys to the apis florea ( stingless asian bee), Apis mellifera capensis (South African Cape bee) and our own native apis mellifera mellifera (the black bee).

Maybe getting a taste for our own native hawthorn, wild flowers and borage honey  will pave the way for a taste of dandelion honey, not only saving the flowers but the bees and ourselves in the process!

 Join me on the honey tasting evening

If you’d like to know about future events or book me to run a honey tasting for your group, then please get in touch!

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