Honey for health and money -Teezad Tabriz
Tired of your honey not being sweet anymore? Tired to the extent you’d rather refer to her as bitter gourd (or more commonly known as korolla)? In the age of filters and Tinder, we lack authenticity – when filters and Snapchat stories paint for us selves that contradict with our true essence. Much like the essence of the only honey we knew when we were too young to differentiate. Perhaps, now is the right time to talk about the other honey, the little pleasure of life and one which is used more to mean ‘your loved one’ than itself.
Honey ( Modhu in Bengali) is a rich liquid food, dark golden in colour and syrupy to swallow. Produced in the honey sacs of various bees from the nectar of flowers, it holds a caloric value of about 3040 calories/kg. But in a cold winter morning, when your mother is flipping pancakes in the kitchen and you are almost giving up on waking up and being productive, the smell of warm pancakes and the sweetness of honey remain as your only motivation to push the blankets away.
Worldwide production of honey hit 1.5 million tonnes in 2014 according to statistics conducted by the United Nations. China is the leading nation producing 31% of the world total with Turkey, Russia, US and Ukraine claiming 22% collectively.
Honey, much like the shade and colour of lipstick has a wide variety in flavor and colour. Its colour ranges from nearly colourless to dark brown while its flavour varies from delectably mild to distinctively bold. Generally light-coloured honey is mild in taste and dark coloured honey is stronger.
In Bangladesh, two species of honeybees produce honey that has commercial value; the ApisDorsata and the ApisCerana Indica. The A. Dorsata has never been domesticated but if you didn’t know they produce most of the honey in Bangladesh. On the other hand, the A. Cerana Indica can produce both in the wild and in domestication.
The A. Cerana Indica is vital commercially in this country and is raised in artificial beehives. The A. Dorsata (the wild type) only produces in the forest, on large trees and even produce beehives attached to the cornice. But since the A. Dorsata does not produce most of the honey in our country, professional honey collectors hunt down their colonies and quite unfortunately this is an alarming issue regarding the decline of the population of honeybees in our country – even more so when honeybees are considered one of the most economically important species of insects. Besides honey, these honeybees produce beeswax, propolis and help to pollinate various crops.
Due to the economic values of honeybees, apiculture is one method that started 10,000 years ago. It is the process of collecting honey domestically through manipulation of colonies of honeybees to ensure the production and storage of honey that exceeds their own requirements.
Head touching the skies, 300 feet in the air, the man dangles on a bamboo rope and his heart clinging onto his ribcage. Contemplating all steps of overcoming the section of granite he must climb to reach his ultimate goal: a brimming mass of thousands of giant honeybees guarding their castle. Meet Ali Mian, a humble harelipped man in his early 50s with a strong sense of his surroundings. His age does not bury the fact that he spent most of his life flying around mountains; the locals in Bandarban call him ‘PaharerPakhi’. The bees buzz around, their little structure looks big and intimidating when in great numbers. His arms grow weak with every climb, the bees sting him on every part of his skin left uncovered. But all that is background music because the task at hand is a live performance. He swings his leg over to the rock face above his last step as he can now see the prize right in front of him; golden sweetness and picturesque scenes. The beehives hung onto the mountains with a much stronger grasp than Ali Mia. He must use his special weapon made from bamboo and finely shaped to sharpness at the edge; one strike at the hive and it falls onto his bucket for collection. He named his bucket ‘mishtibaksho’ because the children come looking for sweet surprises inside it every time he returns from these everyday battles.
He says, ‘All these years of beekeeping never took the excitement away; besides the thrill of flying, it’s the children that light up my mind every afternoon when I come back home.’
Ali Mian can only carry so much honey, so by the time the sun starts setting he sets for an uncertain return. Like Ali Mian, there are thousands that join him in this incredible quest of sheer sweetness in these hilly regions.
Beekeeping is now popular in Khulna, Jessore, Bogra, Mymensingh, Tangail and Chittagong. Sundarban (the biggest mangrove forest in the world) accounts for 20% of the total honey production of Bangladesh. The types of honey usually found there are unifloral, goran type and golpata type. Most honey collection is from December to June but peak time for collection is from February to April.
Toxic honey is also another type of honey that contains grayanotoxins which causes ‘mad honey intoxication’. Honey produced from flowers of rhododendrons, mountain laurels, sheep laurel and azaleas may cause honey intoxication.
The process of making honey is quite delicate. And the honeybees are the perfectionists in this form of art. The precisely strategic and industry-like beehive of honeybees is like an enigma of its own; each of these little engineers buzzing away from station to station, with a distinct task at hand and the entire concept playing in synchronized sets of films inside their little minds. Not one domino falls without affirmation in here.
One quick ride from the flower to the hive with one of these little friends and everything is as smooth as the thick honey pouring down from one of the hives dangling on the edge of a tall cliff of one of the mountains of Bandarban. These little troublemakers only gather pollen or nectar. They have their special tongues at work; sucking the sugary substance we call nectar out of the heart of the flower and storing it in their special honey stomach, they make it look effortless. Back at home, the honey-making chefs wait for the arrival of the ingredients and it is a long day at work for the lion hearts. These fiery fighters are not quitters, they can carry a payload of pollen or nectar close to their own weight. They make our technology of airlines look like Titanic when it was sinking; perhaps if Kim Jong Un ever knew about the wicked ability of honeybees to be that airborne with all that weight, first thing that would pop up out of many would be if his planes could do the same with nuclear bombs. Let’s hope for the best, whatever that might be. But the story does not end for the honeybees – they want to make sure we get the very best while keeping some for themselves; a Marxist nation of bees, all for all. When hungry, these hardworking bees open a valve in the nectar ‘sac’ and a portion of their payload passes through to her own stomach for instant conversion of energy. After storage is full, the honeybee flies back to the hive to meet for the final transaction; the nectar is passed onto the ‘delivery man’ that stays indoors and then it is a very intimate process that refines this golden glimpse of magic. A mouth to mouth connection from bee to bee ensures the passage until its moisture content is reduced from 70% to 20%. This causes the nectar to evolve like cocoons that become butterflies into honey, the golden egg. But on other days, the nectar goes directly into the mummy box i.e. the cells in the honeycomb to avoid shortage of supply by evaporation. It is because of their industry being so hot all the time. The temperature inside is a staggering value of 32.5 degrees celsius; you can say these are hotheads with a calm sense of responsibility at work.
After all’s well the honey is kept in storage cells and capped with beeswax in readiness for the arrival of newborn baby bees. Pollen being essential is mixed with nectar to make ‘bee bread’ to feed the larvae. What’s even more appealing is the fact that the entire industry of bees depends on these baby bees. It is because only food rich in protein can help the baby bees grow and allow the community to flourish into a strong workforce in the future; their ‘bro-code’ remains unbreakable.
Interesting fact is that nectar may consist of 50 to 80 percent of water but when these little Lenins and Stalins get to work they convert it into honey that contains only 16 to 18 percent of water in the process. More honey, for all of us.
In Bangladesh, about 50 species of honey plants have been identified. Plants that constitute the source of nectar for production of honey are known as honey plants. Honey plants are classified into agricultural crops, horticultural crops, forage legumes, ornamental plants and wild plants.
The most common sources of honey in agricultural crops are cucurbitaceous plants, okra, beans, radish, cotton, coriander, mustard, etc. We find most of these plants blossom during December to March. On the other hand, horticultural crops blossom during March to May and examples of such crops are mango, guava, blackberry, coconut, etc. These plants welcome spring with a waterfall of honey crashing at the gates. Ornamental plants are good honey plants but they yield a very low amount of honey. Examples of such include Ageratum, Caesalpinea, Salvia and many plants of family Compositae, basil, China rose and gulmohr.
Honey after all is a delicacy and men have been after it for centuries. Every drop is a story of every Ali Mia, and every honeybee buzzing away their lives in search of sweet perfection. The per capita consumption of honey in Bangladesh is only 2 grams and our neighbouring country India accounts for 9 grams only.With 85,000 villages in this country and honeybees almost everywhere, Bangladesh has a high potential in apiculture being a country based on agriculture in the first place.
With the right technology, this country too can spread the sugary love all around the globe very soon.