Orchid honey, stingless bees and balche … it will give you a buzz
I’m new to Central American honey so I’m hoping savvy Chowhounds will help me out.
In Guatemala I saw signs reading “meil de abejas”. Whipping out my Spanish dictionary, it translates as bee honey.
“Why call it that?”, I asked. “Isn’t all honey from bees?”
I was given some vague explanation in Spanglish about there were two types of honey here There was also white honey. There was talk of medicinal benefits to white honey and I wrote it off as maybe being royal jelly.
This week I’m exploring a little shop in Antigua that sells fabulous ice cream in flavors such as corn, beet, zapote, jacon, etc.
I learned since my first visit that the owner of the shop also has some alternative medicine remedies. She speaks English, but she was gone. Other than a few herbs, I didn’t see much in the way of meds. It seemed mainly a shop selling fancy bath soaps, candles, etc.
On the counter were a few different types of honey I never saw before. I picked up a pretty green bottle labeled “Miel de Doncella”.
Showing it to my friend, he said it was excellent and started mentioning medicinal honeys … some of which I saw in the store. One is good for eye infections
The green bottle has white honey. It is exquisite. It has a deep lemony flavor, a clear white color, is less thick with a different more intense sweetness than regular honey.
So now I’m off to find out more about Central American honey.
I didn’t find much about Miel de Doncella. I did find this fabulous article about Mayan honey
It has some interesting stuff about Mayan bees (Melipona beecheii), and Orchid bees (Euglossini).
The orchid bees are brightly colored, green, blue, purple, gold, and red.
The tiny Mayan bees are stingless and produce the white honey. They have links to the spirit world and are written about in the Popol Vuh
The author writes “In the ancient Maya culture, honey was used as a sweetener, antibiotic, and as an ingredient in the Maya version of mead called "Balche". Balche was made from fermented honey and the bark of the leguminous Balché tree …It was traditionally brewed in a canoe. The drink was known … to produce mystical experiences, and was consumed in medicinal and ritual practices. The hallucinogenic properties come from tan alkaloid in the bark of the Balché tree, although whether the hallucinogens came from the bark or the honey, which beekeepers would harvest after placing the nests near the trees, remains uncertain.”
Balche is still used today, but this is the first I’ve heard about it. Here's a bit more about it
In that last link, the writer says "I have tried this delightful cocktail and rate it right up there with really bad cough medicine.
While knocking back a few shooters of balche the Maya had the opportunity to smoke a cigar made hum rolled up leaves of the wild tobacco plant (Nicotiana rustica) that was much more potent than today's domestic variety. Wild tobacco and other species of plants were smoked to induce a trance-like state. So between due balche and me mighty cigars, the ancient Maya had happy hour under control. "
It seems there is a lot of untapped potential for the unique honey in this region as this site writes.
“Mexico and Central America have an immense apiarian flora, with a large potential for specific honey varieties. Unfortunately, almost all of the harvest is currently sold in bulk, at a low price … The situation is similar to that of the wine sector in Italy and in Spain some 30 years ago, where the production was predominantly sold as table wine. … There are five honeys that may be considered monofloral honey: coffee flower honey, campanilla honey, acahual honey, hevea honey, and laurel honey.”
Yes. I want coffee honey in my coffee.
All throughout Mexico and Guatemala there are stands of honey in huge jars that sell for little more than $4. The pretty little bottle of white honey was about $4.25, an extravagant amount for honey in this area. I could sell that bottle for at least $25 in the SF Bay Area.
This is a rather extensive half-translated article about Central and South American honey and the only real mention of Doncella honey which is also said to have medicinal qualities for eye problems
I found this about a start up selling
- Dzidzilché honey "a product of the aromatic flowers of the same name. Dzidzilché honey is highly fragrant, taking on the aroma of the flowers"
- Tajonal, which has a high sugar content
Anyway, does anyone have any more knowledge about Central American honey? I’ll be reporting back here as I learn and taste more.
I see this in an old discussion but I just happened upon it. I would add that the reason for specifying "honey from bees" is because in many Spanish-speaking areas (and some Portuguese areas also, like the Cape Verde Islands), molasses translates as "honey from cane" (sugar cane) and there is also "honey from palms" (palm syrup).
I'm going to be in Antigua for two weeks starting 10/24. I plan to do some shopping and visit a coffee finca or two. If I find anyplace that sells coffee honey, I'll report back here. Businesses in Guatemala are not big on websites or online information. So it is difficult to search some things on the web.
Actually I should check out the Gautemala City Walmart next time I'm there. Walmart can have some unexpected gourmet items. In Vera Cruz, MX I picked up a bottle of banana vinegar. The same vendor was selling other banana vinegar marinades.
If you are ever interested in coffee jelly, here's a link
Very cool info, especially on the orchid bees (dad grows orchids, over 800 at last count). I always wondered why honey was called miel de abeja in Mexico too. I've certainly come across references to honey's antibiotic/medicinal effects before, though not specifically in CA. Wish my grandmother, a master beekeeper, was still alive to ask...