Honey, could you pass me the honey?

Food Issue 119 Sep, 2011
Text by Anubhuti Poudel / Photo: ECS Media

Maybe its literal counterpart had something to do with how the word “honey” became a popular term of endearment.

The best things in life are free. Honey was probably meant to be too, if only the best kind didn’t require the skill to scale 300 meter-high cliffs to get to the good stuff. The luscious, pale gold, viscous liquid has at its own pace, become an important part of our staple diet. It goes well with bread, beaten rice, milk, lemonade, confectionaries and everything in between that requires a sweetener. In different cultures and eras, honey has been around for a long time.

If it were a mere sweetener, honey would not have been as important. Its health benefits are what lend it its importance. It melts in the mouth and has a flavor that words cannot describe fully. The smell of honey has come to define foods but not vice versa. Honey is known to have antibacterial, anti-microbial, antiseptic and antifungal properties. In Ayurveda, it is supposed to bring back balance between the three main elements within the body that promotes a healing process. While general research shows that honey works as a natural immunity booster, many associate it with a remedy for just about anything, from cuts and burns to hangovers. The most common medicinal use however, in our society, is for sore throats. Most of us should remember our parents asking us to suck on a mix of ginger and honey syrup.

The abundance of honey is credited to the introduction of a new species of bees in Nepal in the mid 1990s. Until then, Apis cerana was the only species used for honey production. It is still used in rural areas, and abundantly so, for its low hive construction cost. The production however is very low, about 10 kg a year. The low production was the main reason behind honey being considered an indulgence until the mid 90s when only the affluent people enjoyed its taste. With the introduction of Apis mellifera – a new species of bees, production increased markedly to allow commoners access to it.

What we look for is unadulterated honey, pure to its core, in color, texture and taste; something that is increasingly difficult these days. There are numerous brands available today, making it harder for the consumer to differentiate between the good stuff and the bad. Honey, with impurities like bee waxes, splinters or dust can be detected easily. The trickier part is the addition of any other form of inverted sugar. Addition of sweeteners like corn syrup or merely water could decrease the purity and the positive effects of honey. In the city, buying honey of a trusted brand could be our best option.

The next time you spread the amber nectar on your bread, remember its journey. Honey is more than a sweetener or even medicine. It is an ingredient of the holy Panchamrit. It is our childhood, in the form of ginger and honey. And as an ingredient in Nepali cuisine for years now, it is also a way of life.