All about honey
Folks have been abuzz over sweet, nutritious honey since earliest recorded history -- indeed, cave drawings and Egyptian papyrus depict honey collecting. It seems for most of us, though, honey has been relegated to morning toast. But thanks to creative chefs and a growing appreciation for things local, natural and sustainable, honey is enjoying a well-deserved renaissance. From Canadian canola, cranberry and blueberry to exotic Javanese coffee blossom and Tasmanian Leatherwood, nowadays flavoured honeys, blends and monoflorals (those made from a single type of bloom) are sharing shelf space with good old Billy Bee. And you don't have to look any farther than the nearest supermarket. Maria Charvat, vice-president of product development at Loblaw Companies, is stocking a new line of honeys from all over the world in upside-down squeeze bottles. She says consumers are looking for healthier sweeteners, and "honey is more natural than refined sugar."
To appreciate honey, do think beyond the toasted bun. Strong in flavour and not too sweet, French chestnut honey pairs beautifully with charcuterie, and aromatic truffled honey adds a touch of luxury to a cheese board. At OddFellows in Toronto, chef Matthew James Matheson tops a silky duck liver pâté with runny honeycomb to spectacular effect. And high above Toronto, from hives on the roof of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, 10,000 hungry honeybees fan out across the city, visiting gardens and parks, then return with nectar for executive chef David Garcelon's Royal York rooftop honey. In 2008, his first year of production, he harvested over 300 pounds and took home second prize from the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto.
lexicon of love
Mark Morton, author of Cupboard Love: A Dictionary of Culinary Curiosities, says that the word honeymoon dates from the mid 16th century. It arose from the idea that marriage is as sweet as honey at the beginning but, like the moon, wanes and becomes less sweet over time.
a whole lotta honey
According to the Canadian Honey Council, hardworking Canadian honeybees produced 62 million pounds of amber goodness in 2008, with the Prairie provinces leading the way, turning out 80% of the sweet stuff. For more about Canada’s beekeeping industry and links to provincial sites, visit honeycouncil.ca.
Honey is treasured around the globe, and as with wine, the terroir of a country or region imparts distinct characteristics. Look for these and other types in supermarkets, specialty shops, or through e-tailers like honeyworld.ca, wedderspoon.ca and epicureal.com.
miel de sapin (France)
Dark amber with a hint of burnt maple and pine. Fantastic with meats, especially game, in a braise or marinade.
manuka (New Zealand) Strong, distinctive flavour and dark colour. Prized for its medicinal properties -- antiviral, antibacterial -- as much as for its unique taste; try a spoonful in your tea if you have a sore throat.
attiki (Greece) From wild thyme blossoms, and light in colour and flavour. A great all-purpose honey. Drizzle over thick Mediterranean-style yogurt and toasted nuts for a healthy, natural dessert.
blueberry (Canada) Warm amber in colour, with notes of citrus and taffy. In a joint effort to bolster low Maritime hive populations, Ontario honeybees make the long commute by truck down East to pollinate blueberry crops, creating this special honey as a byproduct. Serve it with fresh blueberries over ice cream, or use it to sweeten a smoothie.
himalayan (India) Dark, with a rich molasses taste. Use it in baking (think gingerbread or honey cake), to sweeten spiced chai, or in warm milk for a soothing bedtime drink.