Maltese honey & its history.

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The importance to protect the bee and its honey.

Traces of humans hunting honey goes back to stone-age, cave painting are found in Eastern Spain dating 8000 B.C, men claiming a rope to reach a bee nest, are well illustrated in paintings that indication the importance of honey in human culture. The reality is that the bees are essential for the pollination of flowers, fruits, plant and vegetables that feed humans and animals. This comes to no surprise that different Religions mention honey, some of which as an offering to their gods (Hinduism), Christianity symbolize bees as wisdom, Prophet Muhamad recommended honey as a healing possessions. The Hebrew Bible displays the ‘’The Promised Land’’ as ‘’a land of flowing milk and honey’’. Curiously Arab historians Al-Bakri, Ibn Hauqal, Al Himyari and Ad-Domashqi all describe Malta ‘Galita’ know as a totally uninhabited island after the assault of Tunisia in 870 AD, an island full of donkeys, sheep, goats and excellent honey. Was Malta ‘The Promised Land’? Surly not for the Arabs as Malta was left inhabited for the next 100 years as indicated by Arab historians. This is not the first time that Maltese honey is mentioned in history.

Evidence of earth-ware jars still found in stone apiaries shaped by the Phoenicians that introduced the art of beekeeping 800 B.C. Since than Malta has been associated for its high quality honey. The Greeks named the island ‘Melite’ the Romans renamed ‘Melta’ from the Greek word meli, meaning honey. ‘Cicero’s Verrines’ A Roman Governor in the 70 B.C states the evidence of a predominant industry of honey production in Malta. Malta was surely famous for its honey through Maltese history and probably it was one of the few if not the only local product that was priced higher that other Mediterranean honey as it was considered of better quality. Is honey still as pronounced in today’s culture? In Ancient times production of honey was much less than today’s there was only one harvest season, wild thyme honey season. In 1992 most of the local bee population has been wiped out with the arrival of a mite of Asian origin ‘Varroa’ which lives in hives. Modern beekeeping techniques started to be practiced locally with the introduction of removable frame hives. The end of traditional techniques that was replaced by modern bee keeping that consisted of movable frame hives, the introduction of seasonal honey was introduced.

The 3 seasons of local honey.

Maltese bee the Apis mellifera ruttneri a sub-species of the Waster honey bee, of which scientist are still trying to show if unique, relatively black in colour that has well adapted for high temperature, dry summer and cool winters, broods all year round with a good respond to the seasons.

First season of the year is spring honey harvested in May. A multiflora honey, golden yellow with a green dazzling colour it is considered the lightest and has a tendency to solidify in a few months.

Second season of the year is the summer honey harvested in July and August. Thyme honey unique to Malta and the world as little else flowers are found in the hot summers forcing bees to feed just on thyme, dark umber in colour with a viscous consistency. The Malta Chamber of Scientists Journal published a study that states Maltese thyme honey has the heights percentage of thyme pollen at 85-90% surpassing the Greek honey at 45%.

Third season of the year is autumn honey harvested in November. Eucalyptus & Carob honey, varies in colour from dark amber to dark brown, with the most intense aroma and flavour.

The heights percentage of honey is sugar 77% a mix of glucose which is the main cause of crystallisation and fructose, water 18% and the smallest is 5% that make up of vitamins, enzymes, & pollen that gives its flavour and health benefits. Autumn honey crystallises the most rapidly with small, regular crystals, followed by spring honey crystallising in winter, thyme honey hardly ever crystallising. North-west of Malta, Gozo and Comino are found to be the best areas to produce honey. Beekeeper Ray Sciberras mentions in an article by Dr Edward Duca that is takes 50,000 bee to produce 90 kilos of honey a year. Dr Duca says that a bee needs a radios of 3 miles of flowers as it can travel from 100 to 1500 of flowers to fill up. Due to the increasing urbanisation of green areas reducing nectar regions causing a threat to local bees and beekeepers. Intensive agricultural practice, pesticide and climate change are decreasing large quantities of colonies. Apart of all this the Maltese bee Apis melifera rutneri is in danger of becoming extinct due to large quantities of foreign bees that are imported causing a dilution of the genetic purity of the local bee. We have already lost several indigene corps and animals such as the strawberry and the Maltese sheep. We need to show off more our unique produce so it can sustain the future. In a press release Clint Camilleri Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry for Agriculture, said that a Products of Quality scheme “Marka ta’ Kwalita’’ has been launched to guarantee that the product was truly produced in a transparent manner.

The need for ‘’Marka ta Kwalita’’ in honey.

It’s a guarantee that the product not only meets European standards but also contains certain qualities that defines and protect the autunitic of the product from the farm to the table. More than that it’s a step forward in sustaining bee keeping future. Camilleri added that “for the very first time in our country, we have managed to establish a quality scheme for agricultural products which farmers and herdsmen can now apply for, currently, the dairy, honey, pork and tomato-processing sectors are being consulted’’. Camilleri added that EU funds are being ensured to anyone participating in the scheme ‘’Marka ta Kwalita’’ which will be recognised by the European Commission,” This will guarantee the consumer that the product purchased is ensured of the autunitic of product process behind it.

In response to calls from beekeepers, Mr Camilleri confirms that local honey will be recognised as part of the scheme. It would really be significant that beekeepers participate together with the Ministry to form standards that would enhancing the delicacy attributed to honey trough Maltese history. Since the 800 B.C till the 16 century Honey was the only means of sweet in food after the introduction of sugar that easily replaced honey in most of our traditional sweets like ‘’Ghaqa ta l ghasel’’ where honey is being replaced with treacle. Can this ‘’Marka ta Kwalita’’ include some of our traditional foods that are being lost as time and culture changes.

Chef Owner Byron Zarb
Marina Club Valletta Waterfront

 

 

 

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