Honey. That gorgeous, golden, sticky-sticky sweet thing. We all know it, and many of us love the stuff as much as Pooh and Baloo do – but how did it come to be a global favourite?
Honey has a rich history. We know (thanks to Mesolithic cave paintings found in Spain) that humans in many parts of the world have been collecting it for at least 8000 years… eight thousand years. That makes it an ancient material, and honey has been used not only for eating (originally in rudimentary sweetcakes) but healing too (teas, poultices and ointments) and even in embalming the dead. In fact, the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Mayans and Chinese were big fans, cultivating honey prolifically and giving us the taste for it that we still enjoy today.
In the UK, our edible history of honey includes honey mead, honey wine and honey bread, recipes which have been present and practised since medieval times. The arrival of the Romans (also honey lovers) brought yet more methods, which have extended and evolved throughout the centuries to see us mixing it up with mustard, squishing it into our powerballs and drizzling it over… well, everything we possibly can. On top of that, we put it in our skincare, dab it on burns and drink it. From crumpets and camembert to Kourtney Kardashian’s ‘love potion’ (32 drops in water), for many of us, honey is the ultimate sweet ingredient.
Unless you’re vegan, that is. To make honey, bees collect sugar-rich nectar from flowers and, once back at the hive, repeatedly eat, digest and regurgitate it (sorry, but these are the facts!) until honey is produced. This makes the sugary substance an animal product, an increasingly controversial topic as concerns continue to grow over the health of our planet and the ethical nature of how we produce our food. The vegan trend is one of the current issues impacting the honey trade, with conscientious consumers choosing maple syrup (a plant-based product with sustainably restricted harvest) and/or other alternatives over bee-produced honey, which is technically taken without the animals’ consent and from the hive’s stores. On top of that, British honeybees are in decline from pesticides and parasites, deforestation and disease.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though! Several London hotels (St Ermin’s Hotel, Ham Yard Hotel, Lancaster London, The Ritz) are doing their bit to house bee hives in urban spaces and raise population numbers, and an increased awareness in conscientious consumption could mean huge efforts to save bees, seeing honey evolve into a responsibly-produced, sustainable product and ensuring it stays a big part of British food culture.
What do could other current trends mean for the future of honey?
- Increasing demand for monofloral honey – distinctive-flavoured honey produced from one flower in particular, such as Orange Blossom or Lavender, are high in demand. We could see increased efforts to protect hives as well as orchards, meadowland and herb plantations as a result. Manuka honey, in particular, is hugely popular for its anti-inflammatory and antiviral health benefits.
- Increasing demand for beneficial foodstuffs – a ton of intrinsic antiseptic, antibiotic and antioxidant properties mean honey is full of the good stuff. Its versatile liquid structure makes it easily integrated into trending products like protein shakes and salads-to-go, and local honey is widely said to help with hayfever.
- Increasing demand for natural sweeteners – although honey does contain sugars and should, therefore, still be eaten in moderation, high quality honey is considered a better substitute for cane and granulated sugar, which is bleached and processed.
- Increasing demand for sustainable food – it’s tough to say how this will swing for honey. Hopefully farming will adapt to provide for and protect hives, saving these essential crop pollinators and producing honey sustainably.
- Increasing demand for botanical spirits – Gin is still very much the sip on everyone’s lips, with producers like www.britishhoney.co.uk mixing hedgerow ingredients and British honey pastoral concoctions. Should producers choose to follow brands like Seedlip into non-alcoholic spirits, honey could prove a key ingredient.
And just because we love honey so much at Jellybean, here are a few fun facts to end on:
- Nearly one million tonnes of honey are produced worldwide every year.
- Honey never goes off. 4,000 year-old honey found in Tutankhamun’s tomb was apparently still delicious!
- In Hinduism, honey is one of the five elixirs of life. Judaism too gives spiritual importance to this wonderful stuff.
- Honey, lemon and hot water can soothe stomach-ache. Add tea and whisky to that and you have a cracking hot toddy for a sore throat.
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