The Undiscovered Sweetness of Portuguese Honey
When people think of Portugal, rarely do they think of its rich honey culture. Perfectly grilled fish, sumptuous breads and diverse wines are commonly touted as “must try Portuguese foods“, but honey never gets any play. It should, because Portuguese honey is not only delectable but is used in heaps of local cuisine.
Therefore, to celebrate Portuguese honey, we’ve asked a local beekeeper from Santarém to share his insight on what makes Portuguese honey some of the best in the world!
Thank you Henrique Abreu for taking the time to share your passion with us!
Tell us about your project
This project was purely a trial and error endeavor. I had no previous experience with bees or beekeeping, just an intense desire to learn. Like anything in life, it began with a swarm. And through theory, passion, practice (a lot of practice!) and chatting with other beekeepers, I was increasingly applying new techniques and tools to every new swarm and hive I acquired. Thirty years later, we’ve tended to hundreds of hives to create honey, pollen, propolis (balm) (extract), beeswax and mead. But we’re not just product driven, I truly want to amplify the importance of bees, and their direct impact on our communities and world. I prefer a more global vision. (flickr photo by Amgad Fahmi)
Why is beekeeping such a passion for you?
The term “passion” goes considerably deeper than just a love for bees. Not long ago, beekeeping became a less than appealing vocation that harkened back to a sterile, old-school tradition that your great-grandfather would do. Today, things have changed. But if it weren’t for my own growth and maturity as a person, I don’t know if I’d have seen it. I’m very pleased to say that through various support structures, there’s now an increasing interconnectedness between experienced beekeepers and newbies showing curiosity, perseverance, self-confidence, creativity, enthusiasm, and most importantly, respect for nature and the human being.
Are there geographically protected areas for honey? And if so, where are those areas and what makes one different from another?
The National Beekeeping Programme 2014-2016 (Programa Apícola Nacional) refers to approximately 15 controlled areas where beekeeping is managed by different associations and / or institutions that guarantee support and oversight for beekeeping – though this will never replace simple hand’s on (HANDS-ON .. no ‘) experience. The current DOP regulated honey regions include: Serra da Lousã, Serra de Monchique, Terra Quente, Terras Altas do Minho, Barroso, Alentejo, Parque de Montesinho, Ribatejo Norte and Açores. And like Portuguese wine, each designated region – differentiated by its climatic, geographic and floral variations – will determine its structural and organisational needs. Even though Portugal is a small country, its biodiversity is absolutely remarkable, varying dramatically from one region to the next. Hence, it lends itself to incredibly diverse and quality driven products such as O Mel de Incenso dos Açores (Açoran Incense Honey).
What makes Portuguese honey different from any other honey in the world?
Part of the answer lies in the previous question. As a result of Portugal’s unique biodiversity and ancient beekeeping tradition, the Portuguese have been able to craft a wide variety of honeys from both mainland Portugal as well as the islands. It comes down to your personal taste and need in a given moment. Are you looking for a specific flavor, aroma, color, region or age, because any of these factors change dramatically from one type to the next. Starting with a quality retailer who stocks quality products provides you ample opportunity to simply, experiment. (flickr photo by mbeo)
How do you know you’re choosing a good honey? What does someone look for?
Assuming the information on the label is straightforward, transparent and easily understandable to the consumer, the honey must also abide by quality standards implemented both nationally and globally. On a very practical level, you’re looking for a crystallised honey that won’t dissolve in cold temperatures, nor retain residual moisture. It will be aromatic and rich in simple sugars.
What are the best practices in storing honey?
Honey is no different from any other perishable. The age old adage equally applies to honey, “keep item in a tightly closed container in a cool, dry place, away from light and at room temperature.”
Obviously, there is a huge issue with the decline of bees on the planet. What are you, or Portugal in general, doing to help preserve the bee’s wellbeing?
Despite having the conditions to help save and care for bees, we simply haven’t (suggestion: …done the best we could). There’s a considerable amount of ignorance throughout Portugal on the impact bees have on the planet, and how their disappearance will directly affect the country – not to mention the world. And as a result, the critical role we play as beekeepers to help preserve, care for and sustain bees is often overlooked and taken for granted. The culture simply does not see the interconnection between beekeeping and their everyday lives, or even a coexistence and citizenship between humans and bees. We need to find new and innovative ways to encourage urban beekeeping in order to shift old ways of thinking. We need to have tougher regulations on pesticides in order to avoid or limit their impact on climate change, while strengthening the local biodiversity. As professionals, we cannot skirt our responsibility to help support sustainability and education, but we don’t need to prove anything either. We don’t need an organic certification to simply dedicate ourselves to working organically. What we need is to be proactive and vocal in our support of the environment and to caring for our fellow humans through our work as beekeepers. This means our production needs to be sustainable, our vision needs to be holistic and our actions must be global. (flickr photo by Anne Landois-Favret)
Honey is used in heaps of Portuguese cuisine. What are your favorite Portuguese recipes that use honey?
Hands down, one of our favourite recipes is honey with granola, honey liquor, mead and honey tea that we commonly enjoy with with various Portuguese desserts such as: bolo de mel (honey cake), bolo à portuguesa (flour cake glazed with eggs and Port wine), bolo de azeite e mel (honey and olive oil cake) and broa (cornbread). Many Portuguese sauces also use honey to lightly sweeten the dish. Hopefully in the future, we’ll see a surge of Portuguese honey used in modern and haute gastronomy.
Pollen has been claimed to ease many medical issues. Where have you seen the greatest benefits in its use in Portugal?
Pollen has often been used for physical and mental fatigue, anemia, blocked digestion, weak immune systems, cardiovascular problems and infertility.
Editor’s note – It’s not just pollen in Portugal. Ask any Portuguese grandmother and they’re quick to confess the 1,001 ways honey can cure an ailment.
Finally, experiential tourism is a big deal. Can someone visit you and learn how to make honey?
Of course, yes! We would love to receive you in our little village of Torres Novas! It’s beautiful, with plenty of cultural and historical points of interest to visit during your stay. Just contact us well in advance so that we can get as many people together as possible to organize the necessary logistics.
Never forget: Portugal may be small, but we have a wealth of diversity! No matter where you go, there’s no shortage of things to enjoy, most of all, the people!
Thank you Henrique!!! And for anyone keen to pick up some honey on your travels, feel free to swing by any supermarket for a decent range of Portuguese honeys. For those wanting a more tailored experience, check out the Pérola do Bolhão, Mercearia do Bolhão or Casa Chinesa in Porto. In Lisbon, swing by Mercearia Criativa or Pimenta Rosa for your sweet honey needs!
If you’re keen to experience artisan Portuguese honey on its own, or in a wealth of Portuguese sauces and desserts, contact us for a customized food tour! We’re more than happy to help guide you to the very best Portugal has to offer, which is extensive!!
looking for the very best food and wine experiences.
Since 2005, Catavino has been exploring the Iberian Peninsula looking for the very best food and wine experiences.