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… the sweet history of honey

21 February 2023
Food for the Gods, honey has a high symbolic value. In the Western Wold it has been the sweetener most used for centuries, until sugar overshadowed its glory and put it back in its quasi-divine role of aromatic ingredient.

The oldest representation of the fact that honey was hunted by mankind is found on the walls of a grotto near Valencia, Spain: a woman, surrounded by bees, is collecting wild honey, 7 000 years ago. Nearer to us and around 5 000 years ago, Egyptian bas-reliefs and Sumerian record tablets tell us that it was used in pharmacopoeia. Its intrinsic qualities, such as being rot-proof and extremely pure, make it immediately edible, without shedding blood and honey has therefore become a universal panacea, with very high symbolic value. In the Promised Land, that is to say in Paradise, milk and honey flow freely and are the source of utmost bliss... For honey is a nectar, the nectar of flowers, carried by bees to be stored in the honeycombs of the hive after having levied a small tax… for food.

Over long periods of time and around the Mediterranean basin, honey remains the sole sweetener. Sugar is introduced in the Western World by the Arabs, who get their supply from Persia, and it remains a high luxury product. The attempts to grow sugar cane in Sicilia are not very convincing and, in the Canary Islands, production was insufficient. Only the fifteenth century will provide an answer… in the Caribbean. The price of sugar then decreases and the status of honey changes to that of an aromatic ingredient.

As for the pleasures of the palate, it is only during the Renaissance that interest became high for the many varieties of honey flavours, which then becomes less of a utility. But let’s not forget that it was considered the basic ingredient for the nourishment of the Gods for a long period of time. The nectar of flowers being the carrier of their scent, the nature of honey itself allows us to bring to our table the subtle fragrances of their varieties, from eucalyptus to mountain spring flowers or from a summer linden to the arbutus of the guarrigue. And this is true throughout the year as the virtues of honey abolish all seasons. It is the same virtues that chefs and pastry chefs are interested in today, taking into consideration not only the type of plant it originates from, but also the terroir.

from Benedict Beaugé

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