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Building Blocks: The Sweet Science of Making Greek Honey

proionta meli pasteliThis may come as a surprise, but little Greece is Europe's fourth most important honey producer after Spain, Germany and Hungary. Every year between 12,000 and 17,000 tons of this liquid gold are stolen from the country's roughly 1.5 million hives and poured into jars to satisfy the local desire for honey. And it seems Greeks can't get enough of it. They rank high among the world's consumers, slurping up 1.7 kg per person every year as they use it to sweeten tea, drizzle over yogurt, slather on toast and soak baklava and other desserts. By contrast, the average American ingests a mere 400 grams.

Of course, the Greeks go way back with the stuff. Honey is one of the world's oldest foods, and the Greek word for it, meli, hasn't changed since it was inscribed on Mycenaean Linear B tablets 4,000 years ago. It needs little processing, does not spoil and tastes divine, and thyme honey in particular possesses antiseptic properties and minerals that are actually beneficial to our health. Even as late as half a century ago, sugar was a luxury in many rural communities here, so that almost all sweet recipes routinely called for honey instead.

Of course, Greeks also praise their honey as the best. Although this is a subjective declaration and cannot be proved, it does have an international reputation for excellence. Greece's botanical wealth – some 6,900 species of wild flowers and herbs – and topographical diversity, as well as absence of monocultures, heavy industry and (on paper at least) GMO crops do give Greek bees a head start in creating honey with greater flavor and purity than other lands where agriculture and manufacturing are more intensive.

Not surprisingly, beekeeping is a very popular activity. In 2013 there were 20,000 registered beekeepers. Two years later 5,000 more had joined them. With Greece's ongoing financial insecurity, many men and women have signed up for classes in the hope of making an extra euro from what the uninitiated see as a profitable, straightforward endeavor. Of these, only 1,500 are full-time professionals, and some of these are companies with employees and 3,000 to 4,000 hives. Beekeeping demands lots of work as well as luck, especially with the weather.

You can read the full article following the link in the Culinary Backstreets, where you can also find some interesting culinary walks in Athens, Greece - and around the world. 

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