The Greek honey. Quality, flavor, aroma
Honey is one of the Greek products with high recognition internationally due to its high quality, wonderful flavor and excellent aroma. The dry and warm climate of Greece, the variety of Greek flora and the traditional methods of beekeeping offer a viscous honey, rich in nutrients and valuable to health. Honey is a natural food with high biological value. It is the most important sweetener element in the famous Mediterranean diet. One spoonful of honey contains only 21 calories and has 30% more sweetening power than a spoonful of sugar. The sugars of honey are simple and readily absorbed by the body, allowing quick source of energy. Honey yields 4 cal per gram. It offers greater pleasure with fewer calories compared to fat sweets and snacks.
To produce 1Kg of honey, the bees visit more than 4,000,000 plants. The quality of honey is strongly influenced by the types of plants they visit. According to experts, the Greek honey owes its unique aroma and taste to the fact that most of the Greek land consists of forests and wild ecosystems. The Greek flora includes more than 6,000 species. The endemic plants of Greece are 742, 15% of the flora. Some studies increase the number to 1,275. Many of these species are aromatic and medicinal herbs, carrying their qualities to Greek honey. Scientific studies have shown that the Greek honey varieties are rich in compounds such as polyphenols, phenolic acids and monoterpenes, which are powerful antioxidants, known for their chemo preventive properties.
The Greek honey production is 20,000 tons per year. Today in Greece there are 23,000 beekeepers – 5,000 professionals – keeping 1,400,000 beehives in cells Langstroth, 10.8% of the total in Europe. The Greece is second to beehives after Spain. The density is a world record, as the ratio is 11.1 beehives per square kilometer. Greek beekeepers are organized in 40 cooperatives and 60 associations throughout Greece, as the Greek nature allows honey production almost everywhere. There are also the Consortium of Cooperatives, the Federation of Associations, large corporations and the National Organization of Honey, in which there are representatives of all parts involved in the production, standardization and packaging of honey.
Myth and history
The nutritional value of honey is known since antiquity. In Greek mythology, the first who dealt with beekeeping was Aristaeus, son of Apollo and the nymph Cyrene. When he was born, Hermes took him to Gaia and Hours to raise him. These dripped on his lips of nectar and ambrosia making him immortal. Nectar is the sugar juice of the flowers, which bees collect and convert into honey. In ancient times it was the drink and ambrosia the food of gods. The myth reminds how the worker bee becomes the queen of the flock.
When Aristaeus grew up, he was taught by the Muses the divination and medicine and by the Nymphs the cultivation of vines and olives, and beekeeping. He was honored particularly in Arcadia in the central Peloponnese and the island of Kea in the Cyclades, where, among others, taught the residents the beekeeping. In Kea, Aristaeus and the bee were depicted on coins of the cities Ioulis, Karthaea and Korissía.
Apart from the myth of Aristaeus, many findings and references by writers testify the development of beekeeping in Greece during antiquity. In Crete, in the Minoan city of Phaestos, clay beehives from 3400 BC were found, as well as a gold necklace with a complex of two bees holding a honeycomb. Also, in the Minoan capital of Knossos, they were found a gold pendant in the shape of a bee and a plaque with the inscription “honey is offered to all gods.” References to honey there are in Homer's Odyssey. Among others, it is mentioned the “melikraton”, a mixture of honey and milk drank as fine drink. Also, that food, with which the sorceress Circe captivated the companions of Odysseus, was cheese, honey and wine. Solon (640-558 BC), the great legislator of Athens, introduced rules for beekeeping. One of them regulated the distances between apiaries, stating that “the new flocks of bees should refrain from those already existing at three hundred feet.
The first to study scientifically the bee was Aristotle. The father of medicine Hippocrates recommended honey as a staple food to all people, especially to patients. Democritus believed that honey was necessary for people to be healthy and live longer. Honey was the main food of Pythagoras and his disciples. The poet Hesiod mentions the "simbli", as the hives were called that time. The hive with movable frames was used in ancient Greece. In the island of Kythera, beekeepers used a beehive, which is a precursor of the modern European hive with movable frame, invented by the American Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth.
Types of honey
To safeguard the specific characteristics of the species of honey collected in Greece, the identification of eight types of honey is determined: pine, spruce, chestnut, heather, thyme, orange, cotton and sunflower. In each type there are characteristics from dozens plants – wildflowers, herbs and trees. The name of honey is given by the type of the plant, which excels. Generally, the honey produced in Greece is divided into two major categories:
- Blossom honey or nectar, which is produced from the nectar of flowers (thyme, orange, heather, cotton, sunflower and mixtures of herbs and wild flowers).
- Honeydew honey, which is produced from pine, spruce and other forest plants.
Honey made of pine is produced only in Greece and Turkey. It's not too dark honeydew, not too sweet, with a more pleasant aroma than most honeys of forest. It is very slow to crystallization and has high biological and nutritional value due to the high concentration of trace elements, up to six times more than the honey of flowers.
Conservation and crystallization
Honey is kept for years in a closed container with proper storage. It should be kept away from heat, sun and light. Over time honey has some physical changes. It is crystallized, changes color as it becomes darker, and gets heavier flavor. These changes do not affect its nutritional value. Crystallization of honey is a natural phenomenon and does not cause any change in its nutritional and biological value. It is related to the floral origin of honey and depends on its composition. Therefore, they do not crystallize all types of honey; and honeys which crystallize, do not crystallize at the same time. The time depends on the main plant from which honey is produced. Crystallization shows that honey is pure and has not been any artificial processing. A crystallized honey reverts to liquid form by gentle heating without losing any of its biological properties. We put the vase with the honey in a saucepan with cold water and we heat at temperatures up to 45 degrees. Let's see, when certain major types of Greek honey are crystallized:
- Thyme: intensely aromatic honey, highly palatable, 6 months to 1.5 years.
- Pine: not very sweet honey, rich in micronutrients, proteins and amino acids, 1.5 to 2 years.
- Spruce: honey with excellent taste, 1.5 to 2 years.
- Heath: honey with very pleasant aroma and taste and high nutritional value, 3 to 5 months.
- Orange: honey with light color, wonderful aroma and great taste, 2 to 4 months.
- Eucalyptus: honey ideal for colds, 3 to 6 months.