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Article: Hayrettin Şengül Photos: Ahmet Bilal Aslan
PLAYING TAG WITH FLOWERS
The art of beekeeping is like playing tag with flowers. And the reward is the honey that has not only provided us with a natural sweetener for millennia but is also used as a remedy for ills of all kinds.
We go wherever the season is spring. Not just spring, but oxygen in abundance, flowers in a riot of colors and colonies of worker bees by the millions. Although our aim is to make money, inevitably we are on intimate terms with the most beautiful aspects of nature. Which flower is going to bloom when, on which side of the mountain and how many meters up? And what happens when the flowers fade? There’s no stopping, no getting tired. We know they are waiting for us, a few meters higher perhaps, in a completely different region we have already identified. When the honeycombs begin to fill up, the color of the flowers, the thorns and the forest suddenly look different. Even the oxygen we breathe starts to smell completely different too. Our intimacy with nature goes way beyond friendship.
A conscientious beekeeper is engaged in a constant quest to produce honey of the highest quality. What then is the situation on the consumer side? What should one do to find genuine, quality honey? What should one look for? We know that the various brands of honey for sale on supermarket shelves have already passed at least one initial screening, because any honey sold under a brand name has to meet the basic requirements for packaging and contents laid down the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
A widespread public misconception is that honey sold without a brand name and claimed to have come from villages or directly from the producer, as well as honey attributed to specific regions and areas of the country, is somehow more ‘natural’. As a consumer, you may say, “This honey came from a relative of mine in the village,” or “I know the producer from a place I went on holiday.” We would however like to issue a slight warning regarding such honey. Good intentions on the part of the producer don’t necessarily make for genuine honey. Besides being honest, a beekeeper also has to know what he’s doing, because incorrect beekeeping practices can keep honey from being good for you and actually result in the production of harmful substances that absolutely should not be consumed. Mothballs, antibiotics, rust, toxic residues and other substances, for example, have been found in samples taken from certain producers. Such substances might still be encountered even if the careless or misguided beekeeper lives in a region of high quality flora. If you ask how such contaminants get into honey in the first place, let me explain briefly: Moth balls are used to protect empty honeycombs from moths, antibiotics are administered to make the bees healthy and strong, and toxic chemicals are used indiscriminately to combat pests. Furthermore, rusty fencing wire around the hives and badly rusted honey cans can cause rust contamination. These are just a few examples that immediately spring to mind.
A second consumer prejudice is that any honey that crystallizes a short time after being purchased is not natural honey. All true honey eventually crystallizes (turns to sugar), but this does not mean that all honey that crystallizes is the genuine item. Honey that comes to the table in its natural state without any additives whatsoever crystallizes sooner or later depending on its nectar content. Cotton and sunflower honey, for example, crystallize quickly, whereas pure gum tragacanth or pine honey (honeydew honey) takes a long time to crystallize. Depending on the ambient temperature, this process can start any time from within a few weeks to up to a year. If you have purchased some honey that has still not crystallized even years after its production date, unless the producer has not added an explanatory note on the label it means that even if it is genuine honey it has undergone some processing. ?
?Finally, some reminders while you are eating honey. In winter especially, we often add honey as a sweetener to herbal teas with the idea that it’s good for us. Nevertheless, the HMF (hydroximethyl furfural) content of honey has been determined to rise at high heat (45° C. and up) and its diastase value to fall. In layman’s terms, what this means is that we have turned the honey into something that, rather than being good for us, is sweet but harmful. I I would therefore recommend that you not use honey in your hot beverages. Besides high heat, light and moisture can also cause honey to spoil. Honey is known to have been stored in tightly closed containers at room temperature for thousands of years without deteriorating, only crystallizing, and the best way to eat honey is actually in its crystallized state. If you like, you can let the jar sit for a few minutes in lukewarm water until the honey returns to its liquid state. It is impossible not to marvel at the natural miracle of bees, who manage to bring us the healthful nectar of a modest flower blooming now on an arid plain, now amidst steep rocks or in a quiet riverbed. We are humbled in the face of their boundless energy, their experiments over millions of years, and their lives, the mystery of which has not been entirely unraveled even today. With advances in technology our admiration for the bee only increases, a phenomenon often attributed to the important place bees occupy in human life. Perhaps it is the bee itself that makes beekeeping so different from the other branches of agriculture. It is not difficult to imagine that we will continue to enjoy healthful honey for as long as there are conscientious beekeepers who know what they are doing. Just knowing that our lovely Anatolia has some of the world’s finest quality flora is sufficient reason for us to be confident of the future when it comes to honey. Bon appetit!?