The islands of Malta are fabled for their honey. In fact, the name “Malta” is derived from the ancient Greek word Melitē, or honey-sweet.
The art of keeping honey bees has been around for at least 8,500 years.
It is believed to have been introduced to the islands of Malta by the seafaring Phoenicians in 750 BCE.
To better understand the allure and mystique of Maltese honey, Tricia and I met with Michael Muscat, a local beekeeper who produces raw honey in limited quantities.
We met Michael at a Christmas market in Malta’s capital of Valletta. Here, we purchased a jar of his honey.
This honey was extraordinary. It had a dark red color unlike any honey I’ve ever seen. The color was a result of his bees visiting the blossoms of carob trees in the autumn.
We began inundating him with questions.
Sensing our enthusiasm to learn more, Michael agreed to give us a tour of one of his 6 apiaries. However, at the time, Malta had had the driest winter in 93 years.
This was especially hard on the bees and their search for flower nectar. As a result, the year’s honey production was significantly diminished.
My Video of The Experience
Have a look at our visit to Michael’s apiary:
What is Raw Honey?
Raw honey is defined as honey that has not been heated past the temperature in the beehive, or 35ºC (95ºF).
Raw honey has a long history of being used to enhance cuisine. However, it also has a number of positive health properties, including:
It is also thought to boost immune systems.
Raw honey is not pasteurized and is generally unfiltered. These processes remove the naturally occurring pollen.
Pollen is essential for determining the source of the honey.
Increasing Global Demand
Using pollen to recognize where honey is produced is increasingly important in a globalized food chain. Harmful pesticides are unfortunately making their way into our kitchens.
The European Union has been exceptionally stringent in its regulation of pesticides. The governing body applies the precautionary principle, a philosophy of thoroughly testing a chemical before introducing it to the environment.
This high level of caution has been critically important for beekeepers.
Several poisonous neonicotinoid pesticides have been banned in Europe due to the danger they pose to bees.
Roughly one third of our agricultural products are dependent upon healthy and happy bees. Therefore, the careful and sparing use of pesticides makes sense.
Raw Honey and Tourism
Bees are essential to fruit, vegetable, and nut production. However, they are also an increasing source of tourism revenue.
Slovenia, a lush green country on the northeastern corner of the Adriatic Sea, has taken the lead in promoting the burgeoning field of bee tourism.
Slovenia offers honey massages, honey spas, and honey therapy.
A Maltese Opportunity
Considering their namesake, the islands of Malta should be a pioneer in the field of bee tourism.
However, in order to capitalize on this opportunity, the Maltese must begin placing a premium on the country’s green space.
Rampant development threatens to strip the small islands of any land where flowers can bloom.
Carob Honey Dreams
The jar of dark red honey that Tricia and I bought from Michael Muscat in December was the most delicious honey I’ve ever tasted. I still dream about it.
I would often drizzle it over a hot bowl of oatmeal. However, I’m sure it would have gone well with nearly anything, including buttery toast or swirled in a hot cup of tea.
Grab a Jar
Malta has three different seasonal varieties of honey. If you visit the islands, see if you can try them all.
If you can, also purchase a jar. The increasing demand for Maltese honey will help place a premium on the country’s green space. That is great for everyone — especially the bees.