Monday, July 22, 2013

Protecting Quality Honey

Many of the farmers of Ethiopia rely upon harvesting honey and beeswax as part of their mixed agricultural income. The vast majority of their beekeeping experience involves placing traditional bee hives in trees or high places where they can attract swarms of bees. Once the bees have filled the traditional hives with comb and filled some combs with honey, the farmers drive the bees out of the hives with smoke and cut out the combs. The farmers then crush the combs to separate the honey from the beeswax comb. This technique often yields a low-quality honey. Today's photo shows an Ethiopian beekeeper proudly displaying a comb of honey that she cut from a traditional bee hive. The lower half of the comb contains high-quality, fully ripened honey, capped with beeswax. The upper half of the comb, however, contains brood along with pollen, bee bread, and unripened honey. If the entire comb is crushed together, the honey will be of very low quality, useful only for mead production. Throughout the world, much of the honey harvested in developing countries is used to produce mead honey wine.  Uncapped honey that is not fully ripened and honey containing the protein of brood is suitable for fermenting into mead, however it is not acceptable as honey for storage and consumption. Fully ripened honey lasts virtually forever. By simply cutting apart this comb, this beekeeper can separate the high-quality honey from the lower-quality honey. Each can be sold separately.

It is important that the beekeeper protects the quality of the bees' product. Heavy use of smoke used to drive the bees from traditional hives can alter the delicate flavor of honey. Storage in improper containers can impart flavors as well. Care should be taken to prevent overheating honey in storage, as this can change the honey's flavor and color. Most honey sold to consumers in Ethiopia is packaged as crystallized honey in wide-mouth plastic jars. The farmers deserve a good income for their beekeeping efforts.

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