So You Think that Honey Is Honey…
By Menachem Lubinsky, CEO Lubicom Marketing & Consulting
Yes, all honey is sweet, but that’s where the similarities end. It was in the summer of 2018 that I watched a 61-year-old beekeeper in Boltashan, Romania make gourmet honey. Gourmet? In broken English, he explained the certain elegance of the flowers, though all the while I was thinking about how to avoid being stung by one of what seemed like a million bees. In the gift shop directly above where the beekeeper stood, his honey stood in beautifully designed narrow mouthed bottles tied with silver bows. Once I saw the bottles, I recognized that they contained more than just your ordinary honey.
Nowadays, there are many artisanal honeys from some of the best honey-producing regions in the world, but watch out – if they are flavored or include any other ingredients, they need kosher certification. I learned the hard way that even organic honey might need a kosher certification, especially if the stingers were not ferreted out.
Not all honey from around the world is high-end. In fact, China represents 40% of global honey production, but its products are of very low quality. So, while in Romania, I learned about sunflower honey, rapeseed honey, linden and acacia honey. The gift shop also sold fruit-flavored honeys, which I can imagine people might use in meat and fish dishes like a sauce or topping. The Romanian beekeeper gave me an intricate lesson about pollen and the different flowers that were before me.
In 2015, Romania exported 50% of its total honey production. It produces on average 20,000 tons of honey annually, ranking fourth in Europe, and last year there were around 40,000 beekeepers with 900,000 bee colonies. Yes, a small country, but a nation of beekeepers. I hadn’t driven a quarter of a mile when I spotted some more beekeepers, seemingly in clusters. I even met a couple from Bucharest, the big city, who owned a bee farm in the suburbs.
In the last few years, the world market has stepped up its consumption of artisanal honey, and there are many products on the market, with a hechsher, that are decently priced. Artisanal honey is simply delicious. Gourmet chefs combine lavender honey with cheese and frequently add beer or wine to honey that they use as a topping to meats. They might use pear honey on top of chicken. And all kinds of herbs are also added to honey (not a bad idea for those who like herbs as a way to stay healthy).
So, think of honey as a great ingredient that does well as a replacement for sugar – in moderation, it’s even good for diabetics. Tupelo honey is prized for its unique taste and purported health properties, and nowadays honey is even added to cannabis. My mother used to give me honey with tea when I had a bad cold, swearing that it would make me better faster than I could spell the word h.o.n.e.y. As sweet as it was, it was the hot tea that turned me off. More recently I tried some kosher honey from Honey Ridge Farms and it was absolutely delicious. By the way, Amazon also sells some kosher artisanal honeys online.
There are an estimated 300 varieties of artisanal or gourmet honey on the market. Despite a common belief that all honey is kosher, once the honey is not of the pure variety – and sometimes it is hard to decipher that there are no additives – it needs a hechsher. I even found some in a farmers’ market in Manhattan that the proprietor swore was kosher, but he couldn’t produce a certificate. Ouch!
For those that use honey at home, not only to make honey cake, but as an ingredient in biscotti or cookies, try adding some flavor like pear or pineapple juice for a boost of sophistication.
Artisanal or gourmet honey is a great gift for Rosh Hashanah or any time of the year. It will no doubt make the “dip the apple in the honey” even sweeter. Can’t wait to hear my grandkids sing the tune even as I will be thinking of the lavender and other beautiful flowers I saw in Romania. How sweet it is.