“Meli”, Greek for honey, has had an ancient history of antiseptic and nutritional benefits. What do you think kept the gods of Olympus immortal—they were sipping on “ambrosia” a honeyed fermented drink. The Nordic gods picked this up from the Greek gods and called it “mead,” otherwise known as “honey beer.” English words that stem from the Greek root for honey, “mel” mean something sweet (e.g. mellifluous, mellifluence, melliferous).
My yiayia from the Cyclades made it a point of stuffing her grandkids with a huge slab of wood-oven baked bread slathered with butter and thyme-flavored meli. It was magic in a jar! I believe I got my sweet tooth from my parent’s constantly dipping my pacifier (the “pipila”) into a huge jar of thymisgio meli. This is because the bees on our island of Ios gathered up nectar from the wild thyme shrubs that sprouted in the spring all at once; then came the oregano and the bees that gathered that nectar. She would use honey to make her signature sesame-honey bars that she would melt in a huge frying pan.
The difference in quality in the sesame bars is the honey, yup, totally the honey.
Hippocrates, the great doctor of all doctors, praised the stuff and used it as a food and medicine. In fact, he used honey as the base for making his syrups, pills and jams. Honey has been used as an antibiotic ointment as it destroys bacteria and in South America they plop it and spread it on the skin for burns, infections, and wounds; it is a pretty good sore throat lozenge and cough and respiratory cleanser, especially in small children under 2 who are not prescribed heavy cough syrups. (But it should not be given to infants under one because it can lead to botulism due to the natural yeast it harbors). According to popular lore, it decreases diarrheal bacteria in the intestinal tract and reduces yeast infections. Because honey has a much greater percent of naturally occurring fructose and glucose over sucrose, (roughly 38% of the sugar in honey is fructose and 31% is glucose), it makes for a more organic sweetener.
While the medicinal uses of honey are well-regarded, what many don’t know is that it holds many beauty boosts. For one, it has a property known scientifically as hygroscopy. In other words it has the ability to absorb moisture directly from the air. If you can apply it directly to your skin, if you can stand its stickiness, it acts as a natural moisture trapper. This is why many facial creams touting to add suppleness and moisture to skin have it as a main ingredient.
Although China keeps first place for the world’s top honey producer (47% of world honey production), and Ukraine and Russia dominate the world stage for their products, it is Greece and perhaps New Zealand that offer boutique quality eclectic honey reserves. Commercial honey, the type you find on the shelves of supermarkets, is blended from a mix-n-match of variable grades of honey from different geographies and different flora. In Greece, honey is either polyfloral (deriving from a mix of wild flower sources) or monofloral (deriving from the nectar of one specific flower.). The best and most popular honey strains of Greek honey come from blossoms of thyme, lavender, rosemary, linden flower, and orange. However, 65% of its annual honey production comes from pine honey. Pine honey is not collected by bees going from pine flowers (there is no such thing) but from honeydew, the sweet secretions of aphids or other plant sap-sucking insects. Honeydew honey is very dark brown in color, with a rich fragrance of stewed fruit or fig jam, and is not as sweet as nectar honeys.
Greek bees are picky when it comes to making their honey. Some gather pollen from thyme, some from orange blossoms, and still others from a hodge-podge of wild flowers, all which produce a variable flavor. Unless a beekeeper has the patience to train the little buggers, there is no telling what the flavor will be year after year. In this regard, honey as a natural product resembles wine. Every season, depending on factors such as rainfall, brings a different batch. In general terms, it is a safe bet that the best honey you can get from Greece is locally grown (just keep a look out for the blue or white wooden boxes on the hills as you drive on the main roads). In fact, certain types of honey like thyme honey you can ONLY find in Greece; it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. Only 10% of all the honey in Greece is thyme honey.
While the USDA makes it voluntary for honey growers to register their products, there are some general variables that you can use to rate honey. Ripe, freshly collected, high-quality honey at 20 °C (68 °F) should flow from a knife in a straight stream, without breaking into separate drops. After falling down, the honey should form a bead. The honey, when poured, should form small, temporary layers that disappear fairly quickly, indicating high viscosity. If not, it indicates excessive water content (over 20%) of the product. Honey with excessive water content is not suitable for long-term preservation.
So, short of buying a round-trip ticket to Greece and bringing back bottles of meli, where can you get your sweet fix? Several companies market their product in North America
including Attiki, some Cretan companies such as Monastiri, and Melliaston. The Olive Table markets “Reiki Honey” made from wild heather that is something beautifully Grecian to come out of a jar.
Not bad for stuff that is just nectar spit up and regurgitated over and over.
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