Greek Honey, Health Benefits, and a Melopita Recipe

Jars of honey. Photo: Marcobeltrametti, via Wikimedia Commons

Honey is well known for its health benefits since ancient times. Aristotle wrote about the health benefits over 2,000 years ago, believing that honey prolonged people’s lifespan. Raw honey contains antioxidants and phytonutrients, and has antibacterial and antifungal qualities. It also contains probiotics which help with digestion. The natural sweetener comes in a variety of flavors, depending on the types of flowers in the area. Greek thyme honey, flavorful and fragrant, is perhaps the best-known of Greece’s honeys, and depending on the region, the flavors vary widely.

The Greek Kitchen, which includes Wild Thyme & Multifloral Greek Raw Honey among its products, notes on its website, that, “Our honey is produced by artisan beekeepers on the Lasithi planes of Crete, an area full of diverse flora and fauna. Each spring, the bees are moved to the coastal planes to forage on wild plants. The resulting honey is cold extracted with zero heat treatment, therefore maximizing the flavor and health properties of the nectar and pollen.”

Odysea Pine & Fir Tree Honey harvested by hand in Ilias, Greece, with traditional cold extraction techniques to draw the honey from the honeycomb. The subtle pine taste gives a unique, slightly woody flavor which might not be to everyone’s liking.

Honey enthusiasts in Halkidiki can take a tour of “honey routes” from Vrastama to Arnea, Olympiada, Stratoni, Ierissos, and Ouranoupolis. Visitors learn about the process of creating and producing honey, with tastings of varieties of local honeys, and their use in cooking and baking, which is followed by gourmet courses focusing on honey.

The recipe for honey pie, melopita from Sifnos, includes Greek honey.

Melopita (Honey Pie)

1 1/2 cups soft Zea flour, or unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon Greek sea salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1/3 cup unsalted butter

1 egg, separated

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons cold water

For the filling:

2 cups soft myzithra or ricotta cheese

1/2 cup Greek thyme honey

1 tablespoon sugar

A pinch of Greek sea salt

3 eggs

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons cinnamon

Greek honey, for topping

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolk with lemon juice and cold water and add to the flour mixture. Stir together until the dough forms, knead lightly until smooth. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In the bowl of a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the cheese until smooth. Add the honey, sugar, and the pinch of salt and continue beating. Beat in the eggs one at a time, and the lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch round. Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan and line with the rolled out dough. Lightly beat the egg white and brush the dough. Add the filling and smooth top with a spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Then, reduce temperature to 350 degrees F and continue baking for another 30 minutes. Allow the melopita to cool and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon. Drizzle with honey and cut into wedges or traditional diamond-shapes and serve.