Eaten since the beginnings of mankind, honey is a natural product, to which some civilisations have attributed magical properties. In the book of Genesis, it is described as one of the best and finest foods to be found. The Egyptians used honey as a cure for various illnesses and considered it to be a food sent by the gods. Used to help preserve meat during their long travels, honey was used in the production of beer and cosmetics and was also offered to the gods. When Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered, jars of honey found there were in perfect condition, despite the passing of thousands of years.
The Greeks also ascribed spiritual qualities to honey, and made use of all it’s properties. The Romans considered honey to be a food vital for a long and healthy life. It is believed that the term ‘honeymoon’ derives from a Roman custom. The mother of the bride would leave a jar of honey in the bedroom for an entire month (moon) for the newlyweds to enjoy and so recover their strength.
Honey has long been part of ‘Gaditana’ gastronomy and has been used for it’s nutritional and medicinal properties by all the peoples and civilisations of the area. The Tartessians and Phoenicians both ate and exported to other parts of the Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean. The Romans further improved it’s production, use and export as a delicacy. During the Arab occupation, honey was used in the preparation of the unique and exquisite sweetmeats that have since become part of the gastronomy of Cadiz. The results of this are to be found in towns such as Medina Sidonia, where the best known products are ‘alfajores’, ‘amarguillos’ and, of course, honey.
Cádiz province is perfect for organic beekeeping. Most of the hives in the province are to be found in the Sierra de Grazalema and the Parque Natural de los Alcornocales (Alcornocales National Park), with a diverse range of aromatic and medicinal plant species. Other beekeeping areas include Jerez, la ribera del Guadalete, and towns on the Costa de la Luz, such as Chiclana de la Frontera, Conil or Sanlúcar where the environment is excellent for beekeeping and the production of gourmet honey.
As in the case of olive oil and other products, the quantity of honey found in the province of Cádiz is not a large part of the national production. The quality, however, is exceptional. Most of the honey from Cadiz is fully organic. Most hives are in smallholdings where the beekeepers collect the honey by hand and sell it in the local markets. The process is simple – the hives are situated in the best areas in the Sierra, on the coast or inland – the panels are removed, the honey drained off and filtered to remove any wax or other impurities, and then bottled. No machinery or mechanical means are used at all.
Prado del Rey produces the most honey in the province of Cádiz, and, since 2005, the town has hosted an annual ‘Honey Fair’, where everybody can try the tapas and other dishes whose star ingredient is pure honey produced in Cádiz.
Because of the different trees, flowers and other plants in the different areas of the province there are various types of honey to be found. The main ones are;
- Miel de Azahar. This honey comes from the flowers of the orange trees. With a clear amber colour and an aroma reminiscent of oranges and a gentle flavour with hints of acidic sharpness, Miel de Azahar do not crystallise and set easily. It contains vitamin C, which is good for combating tiredness yet useful to help you settle down to sleep.
- Miel de Brezo. This honey is a dark mahogany, with a deep intense aroma. A reminder of Autumn, the flavour has salty and bitter notes. It does not crystallise and set easily. Perfect for fighting heart problems and the prevention of kidney stones.
- Miel de Encina. One of the darkest honeys, with a flowery aroma and an intense, strong flavour. It tends to crystallise and set quite easily. Useful to combat anaemia because of it’s high nutritional value and also helps clear the respiratory system.
- Miel de Eucalipto. From the eucalyptus, this honey can be clear or dark amber, very aromatic with balsamic tones that remind us of damp wood and, of course, eucalyptus. Mild in flavour and crystallises and sets very easily. Recommended for helping respiratory problems and clearing urinary tract infections.
- Miel de Madroño. Dark amber in colour, at times almost chestnut brown when set, with a distinct, bitter flavour, this honey sets easily. Good for coping with diarrhoea and beneficial for the liver.
- Miel de Romero. Clear amber in colour and at times whitish, with an aroma of gentle floral tones. Delicate in flavour, aromatic and sweet and sets quite quickly. Recommended for stress, tiredness and stomach ulcers.
- Miel de Lavanda. Clear amber with an aroma of lavender and flowers. Fresh to the palate, sweet and good traces of lavender. Very runny and sets very slowly. Good for respiratory problems and superficial wounds, insect bites, burns and others. It also has diuretic properties and helps with diarrhoea.
- Miel de Tomillo. Clear amber when liquid and darker when set. With an intense aroma of thyme and a sweet, delicate flavour. Because of it’s high fructose level, this honey doesn’t crystallise and set easily. Useful for treatment of sore throats, helps digestion and recommended for asthmatics.
- Miel de Bosque. This comes from a wide range of flowers and plants and the profuse sugar-rich sap of the pines and different species of oak. Very dark amber in colour, becoming almost black when liquid, taking brown when crystallised. With an aroma is of dry leaves, this honey is less sweet than others and has a strong flavour. Smooth on the palate, with a hint of cut wood and tones of liquorice. Slow to crystallise, this honey is an excellent antioxidant and recommended for people with low levels of iron and other minerals. It is also an excellent nutritional supplement when carrying out hard physical or mental tasks.
- Miel de mil flores. Probably the most produced honey in the province. This is from a huge range of flower and plants. Aromatic and clear in colour, with a mild flavour and crystallises slowly. Good for respiratory problems, coughs and sore throats, also a good sugar substitute
There have been innovations with pure honey over the past few years and new products are reaching the market. There are honey based sweets with nuts, almonds, pine nuts and other dried fruit, honey toffee, honeyed lemon and honeyed chocolate. It is also used as in organic cosmetics.