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Know your honey, Honey

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Their sting can kill or their spit heal; but while
it’s uncommon for bees to destroy life, their possible extinction poses a far more potent poison to mankind. And speaking of toxins, would it surprise you to know that many honey products could be just that?

I drove up into the mountains of Malaysia with Bruce Cheong, owner of the only Malaysian mobile bee farm, to see the bee rescue work he is involved in. Standing on bare earth, my feet caked in red dust, their plight hit home. Bees buzzed all around us, the tree housing their hive had been felled and all that remained was a two-by-one metre section of trunk.
“This colony will almost certainly die if we don’t rescue them,” Cheong said. “Loggers generally just burn them, their habitat has been destroyed and in this heat...” he trailed off. I imagined the stench of delicate wings and hairy bodies burning.
Above us, the big sky exploded in chunks of blue and bits of white. Kenny, Bruce’s business partner, gingerly approached the fallen hive and quickly stuck a wad of stiff paper into its opening. Hisyam Bini- miskam, the Indonesian logger who had informed Kenny about the colony, helped carry it over to the waiting 4x4.
“You know,” Bruce continued, returning to the dirty vehicle, “bees are responsible for pollinating more than 70 percent of the world's vegetable and fruit crops, which means that without them, the world would be in the clutches of starvation.”
Flowers secrete a sugary-sweet substance called nectar to attract insects. As bees fly from flower to flower collecting it, which they later make honey from, pollen stick to their hairy legs. Normally yellow, this fine powdery substance discharged from the male
part of the flower is carried to the next flower, where some rub off. If it comes into contact with the female ovule, the flower is fertilised enabling the plant or
tree to bear fruit.

But the value of bees doesn’t end with pollination. The honey, bee pollen and royal jelly they produce are packed with vitamins, minerals, enzymes and more, and have been used for millennia by Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese and now, the modern world as a food source, for medicinal purposes and in cosmetics.
“They plan to flatten another 1,300 hectares of for- est to plant palm oil trees,” Bruce exclaimed, point-
ing to the devastation, “but it’s not just deforestation threatening bees. They’re hyper-sensitive creatures and the use of pesticides on crops and in gardens the world over are killing colonies at a time.”

When logging,” Kenny said, “I saved many colo- nies; but when I became a full-time beekeeper, I knew I had to do something to save the forest bees, so I
offered the loggers a reward to call me instead of burning them.
We picked up another four hives and then drove 40 kilometres back into Kenny’s village, past paddy fields and into a starfruit farm.
The paddy fields were once a beautiful forest too,” Bruce said, but with the farmers came pesticides; two reasons we decided to start a mobile bee farm.
Following the flowering seasons of natural forests helps ensure the bees’ survival.”
Stopping next to a flower-adorned tree, Kenny off-loaded a hive, propping it up, the hive’s entrance on top.
He pulled the paper wad out and quickly got out of the way. Frenetic bees rushed into their new world.
Rescued colonies are brought here and once set- tled in their new environment, we build a box with a hole in the bottom, an entrance hole and a lid that can be lifted up,” said Bruce, “and then we place the hole over the entrance of the existing hive and nail it down. The bees are thus fooled into believing that the box is their home and so build a new hive there.”
“It took Kenny years to perfect his design. This way, we don’t have to saw the hive in half to harvest the honey like most people do,” Bruce said. Kenny lifted the lid and motioned for us to dip our finger into the honey. Comforted by the information that the bees were stingless, I duly complied.
Coursing over tongue, the honey was slightly bitter, slightly sweet and had a fragrance, which was
simply extraordinary. Totally unlike the honey I was used to; which begged the question – why?
Back in Johor Bahru, I checked health stores and supermarkets to find out what was on offer. I was overwhelmed by the variety, which included “Pure raw honey,” “Pure honey,” “Honey,” “Creamed honey,” “Im- ported honey,” and more. Suspiciously though, what were labelled as identical products differed vastly in taste, colour and consistency from brand to brand.
I consulted Sheila Wong (not her real name),
a honey producer who agreed to let me in on the
dark side of the honey market. “Greed drives this in- dustry and people will stop at nothing to make a buck,” said Wong.

“To increase yields,” Wong said, “honey is har- vested weeks prematurely and then heated to extract the excess moisture and prevent it from fermenting. Exported honey is heated to preserve it and some businessmen feed their bees syrup instead of nectar,” she said,
adding that these processes destroy honey’s healthy enzymes and vitamins, altering taste, aroma, colour and consistency.

More shocking was her assertion that people cook up honey according to recipes using only pots of sugar, colourants, flavourants and preservatives and bottle and label it as “Pure Raw Honey.”
“People get away with it,” she explained, “because the only industry standard is that the honey must be “safe” for consumption.”
How does one know what you are buying then,I asked.
You don’t really, but there are a few tests you can do,” she said. “When you rub real honey into your skin, because of the fructose, it becomes soft and is easily absorbed. Doctored honey, however, is made of sucrose and is therefore thicker, and the more it’s rubbed, the stickier and coarser it becomes.”
According to Wong, processed honey will dry throats, make one thirsty and has a strong aroma, but a flat taste. The opposite is true of pure raw honey. Its enzymes slake thirst, soothe sore throats and does not have much of an aroma, but has an incredible flavour that corresponds to the flower the bees fed on.
If the government is lobbied to regulate the industry and consumers insist on the real deal, refusing to pay for products incorrectly labelled, change as a course must follow.

Top ten benefits of real raw honey.

1. Powerful immunity system builder

Honey’s anti-oxidant and anti-bacterial properties help improve digestion, thus keeping one healthy and aiding in the fight against disease.
For this benefit: Mix 1 tablespoon of raw honey with the juice of half a lemon in a cup of warm water. Drink daily before breakfast.

2.  As an energy source
the glucose in honey is quickly absorbed for an immediate energy boost; the fructose is absorbed at a slower rate to provide a sustained energy source, which makes it ideal for enhancing athletic performance.
3. In the fight against weight gain
Consumed with warm water, it helps digest fat stored in the body. Regular consumption of a honey and cinnamon, or honey and lemon drink, can result in weight and body fat loss.
4. Source of vitamins, minerals and enzymes
taken in its raw natural state, honey is an excellent source of nutrition.
5. Provides relief for sore throats
its anti-microbial properties not only soothe sore throats but also kill certain infection-causing bacteria. Gargle with a mixture of two tablespoons of honey, four tablespoons of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
6. Sleeplessness
A teaspoon of honey in a glass of warm milk before sleeping is calming and induces sleep.
7. For hangovers
Honey is gentle on the stomach and contains fructose, which is known to speed up the oxidation of alcohol by the liver, acting as a sobering agent. try this: 50 ml of liquid honey, 80 ml of fresh orange juice and 70 ml of natural yoghurt blended together.
8. Hair care
Apply raw honey with a bit of olive oil to dry or damp hair half an hour before washing.
9. Wound management
Honey is hygroscopic. its anti-bacterial properties prevent infection and function as anti-inflammatory agents, reducing swelling, pain and even scarring. 

10. Replacement for sweeteners
the amount of harmful ingredients in sweeteners makes pure raw honey a natural alternative. 

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