Summer is almost here, and that means it’s time for honeybees to start working to make nature’s liquid gold, honey. From a breakfast spread to baking to a sweetener, Honig is is an integral element of traditional and modern German cuisine. While most conventional grocery stores in North America Americans offer a standard USDA grade clover variety, you can find dozens of varieties with different flavors and textures in German supermarkets In fact, some types are not even sourced from flowers, but trees. Learning how to use this sweet treat in culinary ventures is not only fun, it’s also delicious! And on top of that, replacing industrial sugar with natural honey will support an important craft industry, which, in turn, helps the survival of our buzzing friends.
Cooking with Honey
Looking for something new to create? Try making homemade herb-infused honeys! This is easy to do, and it also adds a flavorful twist to classic dishes. Honig is also a great addition to a marinade! If you’re looking to cut down on refined sugar intake, nature’s sweetener is a ready available substitute. In baking, use ¾ cup of honey as a benchmark to replace one cup of sugar. As honey is liquid, you can reduce other liquids in a recipe by ½ cup for every cup of honey. When canning fruits, simply replace each cup of sugar with ¾ cup of Honig. And, of course, Lebkuchen: this signature German winter holiday cookie is sometimes called honeybread (Honigkuchen) because it requires lots of Honig as sweetener. If you are looking for a fun twist on a Lebkuchen cookie or Lebkuchen bars, try using different flavor varieties of Honig.
The Taste of Honey
We all know that honey is delicious, but you might not know why it tastes the way it does. Unlike other sweeteners, raw honey is composed of glucose, fructose, water, plus traces of essential minerals and vitamins. Fructose and glucose are simple sugars. Depending on which plant or flower the nectar came from, the end product varieties differ in their ratios of glucose and fructose. Sweeter varieties having higher fructose content. In comparison, refined sugar is composed of sucrose, which is a linked combination of fructose and glucose. Fructose tastes sweeter than sucrose, so honey tastes 1 to 1.5 times sweeter than sugar. Thick, creamy Honig has a higher ratio of glucose than fructose, and is therefore less sweet. Finally, honey is a great flavor enhancer. Flavor profiles vary from nuttiness to tanginess, again, depending, which plant the nectar came from.
Different Honey Varieties
If you have tried one honey, you definitely have not tried them all. There are hundreds of varieties, and they all have different tastes, colors, and viscosities. Honig is differentiated by where the bees collected the nectar. The sources can be one type of flower (monofloral), many types of flowers (polyfloral), or, in some cases, not even a flower! The sourcing of honey greatly affects its flavor profile. The most popular honey in Germany is Acacia Honey (Akazienhonig), which is collected from the beautifully pink Robinia flowers. It is a great breakfast table addition because of its mild taste and liquid viscosity. See here for the most popular varieties that are available within Germany.
Honeydew Honey (Honigtau)
As mentioned briefly above, some honey is not collected from flowers. So where does it come from, then? The answer is not one that you might expect. Honeydew honey is a special kind that is sourced from…aphid secretions! The aphids eat the sap from trees and create a sweet secretion that is deposited on leaves, branches, and the ground. Instead of nectar, bees collect these secretions to craft into honey. The result is a very unique, dark, creamy, and strong tasting honey. Germany is also notable for its pine tree honey (Tannenhonig) and its forest honey (Waldhonig). This variety is primarily sourced from the Black and Bavarian forests, where aphids from the Cinara genus create this sweet secretion. Honigtau has a strong taste with herbal notes, and it is amazing paired with cheese.
Beekeeping in Germany
Honey is great, but bees are even better. Our mighty and tiny friends work hours a day making the sweet treat that we enjoy. They also get a lot of help from beekeepers, who have been partners with honeybees for centuries. German beekeeping has sprouted many alternative forms of beekeeping. The Lüneburg Heath (Lüneburger Heide) is the birthplace of a historically and culturally notable form of beekeeping called Heath beekeeping (Heideimkerei). The use of basket-like structures to fashion beehives from straw and other plants is what made Heath beekeeping unique. The beekeepers would move the beehives around to pollinate large areas of the heath. The result was a special heather honig, which is almost impossible to find now.
Beekeeping has been shifting towards increasing industrialization recently. As a response, there are growing alternative schools of beekeeping. Demeter International, the largest biodynamic certification organization in the world, is based in Berlin. To become Demeter certified, beekeepers must follow strict guidelines. The beehive must be made of all natural materials and may not use chemicals that are not components of honey. Beekeeping in Germany is mostly a hobby instead of a livelihood. In total, there are slightly over 100,000 beekeepers in Germany. In the last decade, the numbers of hobbyist beekeepers have been increasing, notably in urban areas. The beekeeping community is strong in Germany, and is mostly organized by the Deutsche Imkerbund. Their website offers a diverse range of information for beekeepers and consumers. Also, for an interesting insight into the life of a bee check out this live feed from a bee hive in Bavaria!
Protecting our Winged Friends
In order for us to enjoy honey, we need honeybees to be happily producing the honey that we all know and love. However, with the industrialization that beekeeping and agriculture has seen in recent years, many bee populations are facing increasing danger. Specifically, many GMO enhanced crops pose risks to bee populations. The crops themselves are not dangerous. However, these crops are sprayed with a neonicotinoid pesticide to protect them. This particular pesticide, used specifically for GMO enhanced crops, has been linked to the decrease in bee populations throughout the world. The bees cannot filter the pesticide out of the pollen, and as a result they end up falling ill and dying. It is incredibly important that we strive to protect our bee-friends, as without them we would not have access to the delicious, wonderful honig that we have come to know and love as a species!