Falling in Love with Honey and Local Flavors


Traditional Greek products. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Yiorgos Kontarinis)

Dating back to ancient times, bees and plants evolved together to make our world more complex and beautiful. Storytellers can write the most unique love story, with coincidence and sometimes conditionally, giving and taking. Like a real-life love story, on a popularized science level, if plants and bees were the parents, honey will be their favorite offspring – a child which looks like both parents and has inherited the best characteristics of both. According to the famous Nobel prize winner Karl von Frisch, the ‘five senses’ are totally different in humans and bees. In bees, they ‘leads’ them to fall in love with specific flowering plants. Some bees are in love with thyme, and some with clove.

In the same hive, some bees bring nectar of thyme, the main ingredient for making thyme honey, and some will bring the substances of other plants. This is why in each batch of honey; the beekeeper cannot find 100% thyme honey. If most of the nectar collected is thyme, according to legislation (and specific protocol) it can be characterized as thyme honey. But each batch of honey in each hive is unique, even if the hive was in a field with oranges in full bloom, different flowers will be represented.

Each jar of honey you buy from your local beekeeper reflects the history of a place. The beekeeper, the hive ‘profile’, the climate, the geography. In nature, weather conditions change what number of each one plant species will bloom. And this is different for each batch of land. Imagine the Earth as a huge mosaic, hiding in its ground a plethora of seeds, hundreds of thousands of different species, waiting for their best conditions to thrive. Each corner of our home, Earth, is hiding the secrets of plant diversity, a history of hundreds of millions of years. Honey is one of the most diverse products when it comes to locality and ingredients. This diversity makes its presence known in both aroma and flavor. Honey connoisseurs are the rarest to find but for some honeys you do not have to be an expert to understand their flavor. The most characteristic Greek honeys are pine honey from the forests of Greece, and thyme honey, usually from rocky places like islands. Honey is much more than a sweet taste. Pairing honey with cheese is an adventure in not only honey flavors but also in travel and culture. If you choose cheeses and honeys from the same region, they will reflect a mutual terroir and a mix of history and traditions. A great feta cheese or Greek yogurt is ideally paired with thyme honey, with the deep warm fruit scent and a pine resin aroma. Pine or chestnut honey has a bittersweet, woody, pungent, and tannic aroma and flavor. Therefore, a combination with a very savory cheese like kefalotyri, gives you the combination you need!

Evropi-Sofia Dalampira is an Agriculturist-MSc Botany-Biology and PhD Candidate in Agricultural-Environmental Education and Science Communication.