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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » August 29, 2014
Polska…tastes good!
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Growing Taste for Honey
August 29, 2014   
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Poland is one of Europe’s top producers of honey, but in terms of consumption it still lags behind many other countries. However, demand for honey has grown visibly in recent years.

Beekeeping in Poland has a tradition dating back centuries. And although the golden era of beekeeping is over, honey is still perceived as a natural and very nutritious product. Honey provides the body with vitamins and enzymes not found in any other natural product. Honey is also a symbol of healthy food, because wherever the environment is clean, bees will be present as well.

Natural honey is produced by bees from flower nectar or honeydew (a substance secreted by aphids as they feed). Nectar or honeydew turns into honey in the bee’s body and then becomes a honeycomb. This involves water evaporation and many biochemical processes such as the enzymatic decomposition of sucrose into glucose and fructose. The properties and chemical composition of honey depends on the type of nectar or honeydew, the way the honey is extracted from the honeycomb (cold or hot pressed) and its maturity. Nectar (flower) honey most often comes from the nectar of different plants, but beekeepers can obtain varietal honey that has a predominance of the nectar of a single plant variety. This kind of honey is gathered from the beehive as soon as a honey-yielding plant sheds its blossoms. The names of such honeys are derived from the main plant involved, for example rapeseed, heather, buckwheat, acacia, linden, clover and raspberry honey.

At present Poland has about 50,000 registered beekeepers and over 1.2 million swarms. Beekeeping is developing with every year, leading to growing honey production. In recent years this has stood at 18,000 to 20,000 tons annually. Though Polish beekeeping ranks high in Europe in terms of swarm numbers and honey production, average honey consumption in Poland is lower than in most other countries on the continent: about 0.6 kg annually per capita, compared with 3.5 kg eaten by the average Greek, 2.5 kg in the case of Austria and 2 kg in Germany. On the other hand, honey consumption in Poland is increasing, having almost doubled over the past 20 years.

One obstacle to Polish honey becoming more popular is its relatively high price (depending on the variety, it costs from zl.15 to zl.50 per kilogram). Imported honey is usually cheaper because it comes from places like China and Ukraine where production costs are lower. However, the quality is not always good.

National beekeeping programs have been set up in Poland in recent years, the aim being to improve production conditions and increase trade in bee products in Poland. These goals are being achieved through measures such as technical assistance for beekeepers and combating varroa mites, which attack honey bees. European Union programs enable Poland’s Agricultural Market Agency (ARR) to offer beekeepers assistance. From 2004 to the end of 2013 the ARR spent almost zl.150 million on support for the bee product market. EU funding can be used for things such as drugs to combat diseases caused by varroa mites, moving hives to different plantations or purchasing bees.

The uniqueness of Polish honey is confirmed by the fact that several varieties are on the EU list of protected traditional and regional products. They are: heather honey from the Lower Silesian Forest, Drahim honey, honey from the Sejny region, honey from the Kurpie region and honeydew honey from Podkarpacie.

Poland also has a mead-making tradition going back over a thousand years. Mead is a traditional alcoholic beverage made by fermenting bee honey (mainly linden honey) with water. Mead is a natural product made without preservatives, stabilizing agents, artificial coloring or flavoring. As production methods were developed and improved, many different kinds of mead appeared. The special character of Old Polish mead is the result of using and strictly following set ratios of water and honey in the fermentation process. Półtorak, the most refined mead, contains one unit of volume of honey per half a unit of water in the end product. Czwórniak is a mead in which the ratio is one part natural honey to three parts water.

According to traditional Old Polish recipes, for the product to have the proper quality, strict rules of maturing and mellowing have to be followed. For Old Polish Półtorak mead this is at least 18 months. As of 2008, Polish meads have been registered by the European Commission as a Traditional Specialty Guaranteed. This has made the popularity of Old Polish meads grow substantially. According to producers’ estimates, mead consumption in Poland is growing by about 8 percent annually, while exports are increasing by 15-20 percent.
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