When travelling in Northern Greece and for that matter throughout the country you will see plenty of bee hives and specialty shops selling all sorts of Greek honey. The Greeks call it Meli or “ΜΕΛΙ”. If you come from North America or Northern Europe you’re probably thinking… “Come on, honey is honey. Bees make it. The bees are the same everywhere and they produce it from the nectar of flowers, what does it matter where it comes from? It’s all the same!” – wrong! Here’s why…
Greek Honey – it’s about Thyme
Honey is generally classified according to the floral source of the nectar. Depending on where you live or where the bees live and the flowers that surround them, they will produce a honey that is local and traceable to that region. It’s like a fingerprint. For example, because of the unique flora of Australia, which is not found anywhere else in the world, bees produce unique flavours from eucalyptus and gum species making it traceable only to Australia.
The key ingredient or fingerprint of quality Greek honey is – Thyme. Mediterranean thyme grows wild and is so prevalent in Greece that in the spring time just walking in the forest can fill your nose with its strong scent. Since thyme honey is purer than others such as pine honey it usually costs more. Still, unless you are a honey connoisseur, taste is usually a personal preference.
Let’s spice it up, honey!
While you can buy the mono floral thyme honey, thyme is not the only abundant plant. Oregano, rosemary, orange, and jasmine just to name a few also add to the unique flavours of Greek honey. As a matter of fact Greece has more than 7000 flower types with more than 800 of them being indigenous to the area. In Nikiti, Halkidiki, Honey Sithon is one of Europe’s largest honey producers putting out more than 1000 tonnes of honey a year and 30% of all Greek honey. The Northern Greek island of Thassos is also well known for its flavourful pine honey down through history.
Some honey producers in recent years have become quite inventive in marketing their product. Have you ever heard of shimmering flakes of edible 24 carat gold added to the honey just to give it that extra sparkle and giving new meaning to “liquid gold”. The Greeks also believed that honey contained properties to give extra stamina. It was a prized by athletes as an aid in boosting performance, and long valued as natures aphrodisiac.
Honey History and Philosophy
The ancient Greek philosophers give us some insight into how important honey was to the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates (4th cent. BC) recommended honey for many diseases. Aristotle in his History of Animals recorded honey bee behaviour and honey production. The honey bee was a symbol on Ephesian coins and the sacred symbol of Artemis. Even the priestesses were called Melissae or bees – Melissa is a common Greek name you will find on hotels or businesses showing the importance of the humble bee to the Greeks.
Greek honey in food
Honey is a staple in the Greek diet. Some foods you will find in Greece with honey and are worth trying are: Greek full fat yoghurt with nuts and honey drizzled on top, Manouri cheese grilled and covered in nuts and honey, the sweet and irresistible baklava, and the common desert loukoumathes – deep fried balls like donuts coated in honey. This is just a few of the many uses for honey in the Greek diet.
So when you visit Greece, don’t just pass by the honey that’s sold in the many specialty shops. Take a look at the variety of flavours, where it comes from, is it from one plant or a mix. Small sample jars can also be bought. Yes, enjoy the unique flavours that Greece has to offer and sweeten up your vacation experience.