The Colour of Honey Part 3: As Red as Beetroot and as Black as Coal.
Some honey is anything but honey coloured. ‘Red’ honey is produced by the Himalayan giant honey bee (Apis laboriosa) in the foothills of the Himalayas. Apis laboriosa is the largest species of honey bee in the world, with adults measuring up to three centimetres in length. Also known as the ‘cliff’ bee (or bhir mauri in Nepalese), the Himalayan giant honey bee constructs nests consisting of a single giant comb (up to a metre in length) that are suspended under overhangs on precipitous, southwest-facing cliffs. The massive nests are capable of storing up to sixty kilograms of honey, which is traditionally harvested by the indigenous Gurung people using only ancient ropes and ladders and a bamboo pole – many honey hunters have paid the ultimate price for collecting this valuable resource. Red honey results when the bees forage on the blooms of Rhododendron species which proliferate at higher altitudes. The rhododendrons contain grayanotoxins, which induce psychoactive effects; small amounts have been described to produce an experience similar to that of marijuana, while larger doses may cause hallucinations or even cardiac arrest. Red honey is noted for its medicinal properties in Ayurvedic medicine and is described in the Vedâs as an ‘elixir of immortality’; it has become a valuable export for Nepal.
Honey contaminated with grayanotoxins is collectively known as ‘mad honey’. Rhododendron blooms also dominate the floral landscape in parts of Turkey in late spring; there mad honey is known as deli bal, and is characterised by a reddish colour and bitter taste. The effects of its consumption were documented by ancient scholars, and mad honey was exported across Europe – becoming known as miel fou, or ‘crazy honey’ in France, where it was once used to add potency to alcoholic beverages. Turkish beekeepers near the Black Sea will strategically position their hives close to rhododendron groves; the honey is used locally as a traditional medicine to relieve pain and stress, and to treat stomach problems, arthritis and migraines.
Besides being a four-piece English rock band, and also a range of deep, dark, raisin-coloured cosmetics introduced by Clinique in 1971, ‘black’ honey (or perhaps, to be more exact, dark honey) also hails from Turkey, in the mountains of Anatolia. Honey from the foothills of Mount Ida is produced from cedar, chestnut and pine trees (pine honey originates from honeydew manufactured by scale insects), together with a variety of endemic vegetation. This dark coloured honey has a characteristic taste and Turkish researchers claim that both monofloral and multifloral varieties have the ability to kill cancer cells. Black honey from Malaysia (madu tualang hitam) is a variety of wild, rainforest honey produced by Apis dorsata (the giant honey bee), with a mild, bittersweet taste.
What can be more precious than silver and gold? Well, ‘silver honey’ was developed by veterinarians for equine usage and combines medical-grade manuka honey with natural, medical-grade silver. Said to kill 99.9% of bacteria almost instantaneously, silver honey is used on a variety of wounds and skin conditions. Apparently the positively charged silver cations disrupt harmful bacteria, and in conjunction with manuka honey’s proven antimicrobial properties represent a powerful healing agent.
‘Golden honey’ is simply a mixture of honey and turmeric. It is claimed to be the strongest known natural antibiotic, and to be effective against coughs, colds and sore throats, amongst other ailments. Used in ancient Ayurvedic medicine, golden honey amalgamates honey’s decongestant and detoxifying properties with tumeric’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities. Honeys from around the world are described as ‘gold’, in an attempt to ascribe the highest level of quality. There is Dutch Gold Honey, Canadian Gold Honey, British Golden Honey, Trigona Gold Honey, White Gold Raw Honey, Paradise Gold Honey, Okanagan Gold Raw Honey and many more. Ben’s Bees produces a luxurious honey containing authentic 24 carat gold leaf. Oh, and there’s also Honey Gold, an actress from San Francisco, California!
Finally, orange blossom honey is not necessarily orange in colour, but it is a very popular monofloral variety produced from citrus trees in France, Mexico, Israel, Spain and Italy. It has a delicate taste, with hints of citrus. Similarly, yellow box honey is not particularly yellow, but it is a perennial favourite from eastern Australia, where yellow box trees (Eucalyptus melliodora) are common in grassy woodlands. The honey is aromatic, with a distinctive flavour and a smooth and buttery consistency.