Ever since I ventured into the world of honey, its's been a continual process of discovery. If you ask an average person what the difference is between a monofloral and polyfloral or multifloral honey is the answer is liable to be " well one is from a single flower source and multifloral honey is from many flowers".
Unfortunately that is an oversimplification which is inaccurate to the point where it is simply untrue.!
It is extremely rare to get a honey that is 100% from a single flower source alone, its not how nature is and it's not what bees do (or even like to do). Monofloral honeys are supposed to be predominantly from one source, but what does that even mean ?
Well scientists and regulators tend to get involved and try to determine uniflorality by certain minimum percentages of flower pollen as a prime indicator of botanical origin.
The study of flower pollens to determine the botanical origin of honey is called Melissopalynology. This kind of analysis is useful up to a point and will provide you with relative percentages of the pollens present. It does not give you absolute amounts of pollen for which there are other kinds of testing. Honeydew of course is not a nectar foraged honey.but a an insect secretion foraged honey. so no pollen there!
Unfortunately the premise here is quite flawed. Honey is made of flower nectar, honeydew or combinations of the two not pollen. It may contain traces of pollen but it is not primarily pollen. Some plants like Eschium Plantagineum (very common in the wild in Portugal) are extremely pollen rich not nectar rich. You can find honeys which have a predominant quantity of Eschium pollen but they are not Eschium honey. Conversely with a plant like the Carob tree, carob flowers contain very little pollen at all and are a combination honeydew and nectar plant. It is actually possible to have a Carob honey with almost no Carob pollen at all. Technically according to EU rules it is supposed to be above 37%, I've tried that kind of Carob honey and its anodyne and boring.
Sometimes climate can play a very big part in the content of pollens. Pollen is delicate, If a flower is of a shape and size that means it has a small amount of pollen which is entirely exposed to rain, the rain can wash off pollens but the honey may still have the nectar from that flower source. This can happen to Heather honey. Where the obvious distinctive taste of Heather is not accompanied by any Heather pollen.!
The other technical factors used are conductivity ( the main technical indicator of a honeydew), sugar composition, color and even water content.
However for us the primary and most important factor is what is called "Organoleptic" its a fancy way of saying taste and smell and appearance. When we select honey, (after determining provenance and quality), we select it on the basis first and foremost of taste and smell. It's easy to forget with all this science that honey is a food and medicine-its about taste !!!. Very often we come across monofloral honeys with high percentages of a single flower source (proved by all this analysis) and find them to be one dimensional and frankly uninteresting. In the case of a honey like Chestnut honey, actually quite unpleasant quite unlike our Raw Chestnut honey
We've all heard about honey lasting 1000's of years and of course its true, particularly of certain honeys like European honeys, but take a tropical honey and its water content is typically higher, especially for rain forest honeys. the problem with this is fermentation. Enough water content and temperature and the fermentation process begins. But why is that a bad thing ? Because It means the flavour and composition alters not because its bad for you. In fact fermented honey is pretty amazing. Much of our food chain is now regulated against flavour natural processes and complexity in favor of safety, sterility, shelf life and standardization. The pendulum has swung from quality control to stifling regulation, a little adjustment is necessary.
HMF or Hydroxymethylfurfural is a compound which occurs when sugars are heated or dried. The european codex alimetarius standard requires HMF levels in honey to be less than 40mg/kg to prove that honey has not been heated. 80mg/kg for tropical honeys. Above that it i consigned to being "bakers honey" HMF levels can rise easily in even ambient storage conditions of 18-20 degrees centigrade and at 30 degrees centigrade even while the honey is still raw, (42 degrees to alter that status and diminish enzyme activity) HFM levels can rise to hundreds of times the legal limit.
According to Wikipedia a piece of bread might have 14.8mg/kg just after toasting and come in at 2024.8 mg/kg an hour later. This is quite frankly a really useless and misleading indicator of quality. It is worth noting that there is no suggestion that HMF is in any way harmful to humans otherwise the next time you eat a dried plum 2200mg/kg or a piece of toast 15 mins after making it you would have a health crisis ! I myself have come across honey cold extracted and properly stored which when tested immediately after has HMF levels higher than the legal limit. At one point the UK had a derogation from these regulations and had the limit at 80mg/Kg. Personally I think it should be at least this high if not higher.
There is another really insidious side to this. If a honey, because of its HMF level, gets designated a "bakers honey" or industrial honey, the price of course drops hugely. So the net beneficiary of this idiotic and misleading indicator and very low legal level is really the pharmaceutical and cosmetic and other industries which buy up vast quantities of good honey at knock down prices. One more case of big business protection dressed up as consumer safety.
A notable quote from the dreaded Mr Gove, used to dismiss expertise when it was pertinent and inconvenient. I'm not suggesting that we throw out expertise but instead trust our own expertise as food consuming humans, trust our own sense of taste, smell, intuition and desire and our own evolutionary instincts and good old fashioned common sense. If you like something and it feels good for you, it probably is. The white coated humans in a lab can be supportive to this but don't leave them in charge of your decision making.
- caution beginning of minor rant-
In case I seem to be suggesting something contrary to my own interests, let me say this, it takes skill and patience and commitment to make monofloral honeys but simply making honey which has one source to the exclusion of all others leads to an uninteresting honey. Just like humans. Expecting scientists and technicians to be the final arbiters of what we consume or don't leads to an abrogation of human instinct and responsibility, makes people fearful and ends up in public health crises. After nearly 30 years the bad science and public health advice which gave us sugar, carbs and veggie oil instead of saturated fat has finally been debunked but only after a diabetes and heart disease and liver disease epidemic which was avoidable if you'd just stuck to the lard and the butter in the first place.
-end of rant-
Bee consciousness is a highly evolved form of collective consciousness, when bees are left to forage in the wild they gather what they need for food and medicine. As master alchemists they take all these complex phytochemicals and transform them into what they want. We help bees by placing them close to food sources and as a consequence we can get monoflorals. Getting fetishistic about the particular amount of certain pollens is not the point, Its about helping to identify the botanical sources. We like Raw complex honeys. wild foraged, obviously monofloral in origin, but polyfloral in character, produced by talented ethical bee-keepers and we're pretty sure if you're reading this you do too.
As the end of summer approached. an extended, very late, hot summer of forest fires and drought, the springs were running at a mere trickle and the moisture we come to expect, especially the heavy nightly dew simply failed to materialize. Disquiet turned to foreboding. Raw Carob honey,our most popular honey, comes at the end of the summer months and there was not going to be any Carob honey. I called every beekeeper I know, and they all did the same but the result was no different. No Carob honey to be found anywhere. It is a very rare honey, and limited to the central and eastern Algarve. Carob honey is possibly unique in that it is both a flower honey as well as a honeydew (also called "Melada" in Portuguese) The bees forage both on the nectar of the strange carob flowers as well as aphid secretions on the carob pods, but all of this requires moisture and warmth.
October came and went and there was not a jar of it to be had. Nature after all is not a factory. Complex, mature ecosystems are delicately balanced and easily upset by dramatic changes.
Here was a big disappointment for us as well as many of you who've grown to love this unique dark,rich, honey. So we resolved to find some new honey to take its place. A tall order.
My first thoughts went to Chestnut honey, but Chestnut honey comes from the other end of the country, the far North. I began to ask around but it seemed that it wasn't a great year for chestnut either....until on a slightly deflated afternoon, whilst browsing some of the agricultural listings i saw an advert for chestnut honey in bulk. A series of text messages with this unknown beekeeper resulted in first a sample, (and it was a lovely chestnut, with just the right amount and diversity of other flowers to be sweet and floral and nutty and complex.) then a honey analysis and finally an agreement. I had agreed to buy a 1000kg of Chestnut honey from someone I'd never seen. A first for me. We arranged for half of it to be shipped down, but the other half we resolved to collect it ourselves so that we could meet the man and see where his honey came from. Both the dogs came too. Roadtrips are a family affair.
Travelling North we stayed at a little inn, Quinta do Seixo, sitting in an idyllic valley on the eastern edge of the Serra de Estrela run by Ofelia and Adolfo an elderly couple, sweet and generous to a fault. (and the makers of very fine Olive oil) They love honey too so Ofelia called up a local beekeeper friend of hers to introduce us
Sometimes you just get lucky...
Jose arrived promptly the next day, with two samples of exquisite honey, one was a lavender which was pure and light and exquisitely delicate and the other was viscous, aromatic, malty and dark, with a hint of fruit, utterly sublime. It turned out to be an Oak and chestnut honey, with woodland flowers and wild berry flowers. We have called it a Serra de Estrela mountain honey. Needless to say, I was sold and I know that for all you Carob honey fans you wont be disappointed.
The New Talent..
The next morning we set off for our Chestnut rendez-vous and on a very wet and rainy afternoon we pulled into a small village an hour further north and met Pedro. I was shocked at how young he looked,. He's actually 30. ( I must be the one getting older). Pedro is not a multi-generational beekeeper, he took a beekeeping course at 20, loved it, got two hives, slowly built up to 200 and at 30 years of age is now an experienced beekeeper. He has the gentle soul of a good beekeeper. At a time when the craft is seeing an older generation die off, it's really heartening to see new young talented beekeepers who love what they do. He makes good sausages too..
Meeting with the Master.
One long drive down, was followed two weeks later by another one back up to spend some time with Jose, the producer of the Mountain honey, Jose is a teacher of Apiculture and Master of his craft. Driving to his village, its easy to understand the nature of his honey, Its mile after mile of the colour of Oak trees in the autumn. We stopped at his home and farm, met the family, including the pet wild boar, raised from a foundling, ate things we'd never had before and drank things we probably shouldn't again, namely distilled grape alcohol with fresh grape juice. Now there's a drink. Abstention was not option.
And so with deep thanks to the majestic Serra de Estrela mountains, Ofelia and Adolfo, Pedro and Jose and all the family, we have returned with our gifts from the North. We are well pleased and we have a suspicion you might be too.
Raw Chestnut Honey and Raw Serra de Estrela Mountain Honey will be available next week. Happy waiting.
firstly thanks for visiting this site and continuing to buy some of the best honey available anywhere. As we wrote earlier in the year, post the referendum, the predicted calamitous drop in the value of the pound would force us to raise prices.
A very bad year ( weather wise ) for producers has also pushed up costs further.
So unfortunately that day has now come and we have had to raise our prices. We have applied the least possible increase we can given the current situation. We hope you understand. We will of course keep doing the best we possibly can to bring you the very best raw heritage honey that Portugal has to offer.