The world of honey
Honey is an extremely ancient food: in fact, it was the very first high energy sweet foodstuff to appear in our diet. Used in religious rites and to preserve foods, honey, and other bee products such as wax and propolis, have been part of our everyday life for many centuries.
Over time, the technology used to extract honey from honeycombs has changed, but only as regards the invention of new equipment to facilitate the basic operations. The operations themselves have remained simple and unchanged: removal of the honeycombs, extraction of the honey, filtering, decanting, packaging and conservation. The honeycombs, which were once removed and pressed, are now centrifuged, leaving them virtually intact, ready to be returned to the bees. After the honey has been extracted, it is filtered to remove any impurities, primarily pieces of wax. It is then decanted in cylindrical vertical containers called honey ripeners which bring the smaller impurities to the surface in the space of a few days, together with the air taken into the honey when it is centrifuged. The last phase is packaging, in containers of various sizes. Honey is not damaged by cold and, in fact, storing it at higher temperatures speeds up the ageing process which leads to it losing enzymes and fragrances. Honey is ideally stored in cold temperatures, in the dark, and away from sources of heat and humidity.
Honey contains around 80% simple sugars (glucose and fructose), around 17% water and the remaining 3% is mineral salts, vitamins, proteins, amino acids, enzymes, aromatic substances and so on.
Sugars dissolved in such a small quantity of water, above all glucose which is relatively non soluble, soon return to a solid state and the crystallisation process thus begins. Over time, all honeys may crystallise and the quicker the process the more the crystals which form will be numerous and small. Some beekeepers are familiar with the ‘secrets’ of the crystallisation process and can obtain creamy honeys or especially fine and attractive crystallisations simply by mixing it at controlled temperatures.
Italy is a botanical garden packed with biodiversity, partly thanks to its geography, which ranges from Alps to Mediterranean macquis. Nearly fifty different single flower honeys are made every year, primarily from a single flower type. These are supplemented by a multitude of mixed flower honeys, true mirrors of the local area, encompassing nectars from all the flower species present in a given area in a specific collection period.
Some honeys are produced on an ongoing basis, such as acacia, sulla clover, sunflower, citrus, eucalyptus, chestnut and mixed flower honeys. Others vary from year to year on the basis of the weather or crops: dandelion, heather, asphodel, rhododendron, rosemary, lime blossom, honeydew, spruce honeydew, alfalfa, coriander, apple and cherry. There are also one-off local specialities such as strawberry tree honey, Veneto lagoon sandbank honey, Iblei mountain thyme honey.
How to choose a good honey? Just one tip, look for the provenance on the label and go for ITALIAN HONEY!