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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » July 29, 2011
Polska… tastes good!
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Honey Made in Poland
July 29, 2011   
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Even though Poland is a top producer of honey in Europe, Polish people eat less honey than many other nations. Still, demand for this sweet and healthy product has increased markedly in the past several years.

Poland’s rich beekeeping tradition dates back many centuries. Poland used to be called a land of milk and honey not without a reason, but even though the most prosperous times for beekeeping, or apiculture, in Poland are long over, honey is still regarded as a natural and valuable food product. It contains vitamins and enzymes that are not found in any other natural foodstuffs, fresh or processed by living organisms.

Bees produce natural honey from flower nectar and honeydew, which is a substance secreted by aphids feeding on trees. Nectar or honeydew starts turning into honey, or maturing, inside bees and then the process continues in honeycombs. Honey maturation involves water evaporation and a string of biochemical reactions, such as enzymatic hydrolysis of sucrose into glucose and fructose. Fresh honey has the thick consistency of syrup and crystallizes in storage.

Mature honey is a highly nutritive and dietary product. While it is not very rich in vitamins, it contains large quantities of easily digestible simple sugars, organic acids, enzymes, mineral salts (salts of calcium, potassium and magnesium) and inhibin, a substance that hampers the growth of microbes. All these components give a therapeutic quality to honey, honeydew honey in particular.

The flavor and smell of honey and its chemical composition depend on the type of nectar and honeydew it originated from, the method used to extract it from honeycomb (cold and hot methods) and the stage of maturity. Flower honey is usually made from the nectars of many different plants, but apiarists are also able to obtain varieties where the nectar of just one plant species is in prevalence. This kind of honey is collected from beehives as soon as a given honey plant ceases to bloom. Such varieties are named after the plants they are made from. These include spring rapeseed, heather, buckwheat, acacia, linden, clover, raspberry and so on.

Most honeydew honey in Poland is made from fir and spruce trees, while honeydew honey from broad-leaved trees is a rarity. Honeydew from coniferous trees contains therapeutic substances used to treat respiratory diseases. Honeydew honey is usually dark with a hint of green or gray and seems a little dusty. It is almost black when liquid and brightens up when it crystallizes. Honeydew honey from broad-leaved trees tastes unpleasantly, while varieties obtained from coniferous trees have a mild flavor with a slightly resinous quality. Honeydew honey varieties have a high content of a complex sugar called melezitose, which is almost completely absent from nectar honey.

There are over 40,000 apiarists in Poland and the number of bee families has been recently estimated at around 1 million. Poland produced around 18,000 metric tons of honey in 2009, while in the following year the production volume declined to 16,000 tons. Although with so many bee families and high production Poland ranks among top honey producers in Europe, the annual consumption of honey in Poland is lower than in most European countries at an average of 0.6 kilograms per capita. In comparison, Greeks eat 3.5 kg of honey a year, Austrians 2.5 kg, and Germans around 2 kg. The figure in Poland is on the rise nonetheless and has almost doubled over the past two decades.

The popularity of honey and apicultural products was certainly augmented by a nationwide campaign called Honey-Sweetened Life from 2007-2009. Funded by EU funds in 50 percent, the campaign aimed to encourage Polish people to eat more honey and stop treating it as a seasonal product eaten mostly in autumn and winter. The campaign highlighted the taste and nutritive values of honey and advised consumers about the beneficial properties of all apicultural products.

A considerable obstacle preventing honey from being more popular are its relatively high prices. Depending on the variety, honey costs between zl.15 and zl.50 per kilogram. Imported honey is usually cheaper, as it mostly comes from China and Ukraine where it costs less to produce. The quality of such honey is not always up to scratch. Imported honey is also sold as blends of honey from different countries, usually labeled as “a blend of honey produced in EU and non-EU countries.” Sometimes honey of inferior quality imported from the Far East is mixed with Polish honey and marketed as “made in Poland” or “made in the EU.”

No article about Polish honey could be complete without a mention of mead, which is a traditional alcoholic beverage obtained through the fermentation of honey wort, usually linden honey wort. Mead has been made in Poland for well over a millennium. The special character of traditional Polish mead stems from a strict adherence to proportions between water and honey in the wort. The finest variation, the półtorak, contains two units of honey for each unit of water in the final product.

In 2008, the European Commission registered Polish mead among products covered by the Traditional Specialty Guaranteed label
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