Greek honey is known around the world for its quality and with over 12,000 tonnes of honey produced every year it’s no surprise that Greece has a greater concentration of beehives than any other country in Europe. The island of Kefalonia in particular is renowned for its production and is often referred to as ‘the island of honey and wine.’
Thousands of years of honey
The link between Greece and honey production goes back as far as 8000 years. In its early days honey was prized more for its medicinal properties than as a sweet treat. Its place in Greek mythology is well known. Nectar considered the food of the gods with Zeus and Olympus brought up on the stuff. According to Aristotle honey was a vital ingredient for a long and healthy life, while Hippocrates extolled its virtues as a magic potion that could create love and ecstasy (as well its aphrodisiac properties Hippocrates was also quoted as saying that honey cleaned carbuncles and running sores, so he clearly thought a lot of it!) Even today honey is known to contain anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal substances.
Honey formed part of the Greek diet as the only sweetener of its day and was along with olives and grapes has formed the foundation of Greek cuisine for several thousand years.
Traditions that stick around
Not surprisingly there are many traditions linked to honey and its supposed properties. Many of these centre on the wedding ceremony or the first steps of the newlyweds. It is often given as a wedding gift and in some parts of Greece, it was once traditional for a bride to make the sign of the cross on her head with honey as she entered her husband’s house for the first time. This would ensure that her relationship with her mother-in-law would be a sweet one. This tradition still lingers, although now it’s more likely to be a sugar cube under the dress that symbolises future sweetness.
Why Greek Honey?
Greece’s honey enjoys such a good reputation because of the variety of wild flowers that are pollinated by the Greek bees. Each flower brings its own aroma and flavour to the final product. Strawberry tree honey is considered to be one of the finest and has the highest concentration of anti-oxidants.
Honeydew honey is probably the most common variety in Greece, coming from the fir and pine trees so prevalent on many of the islands.
Buying Greek Honey
You’ll find locally produced honey for sale in the villages of most islands. You’re never likely to go far wrong in terms of quality, but if you are looking for the best quality, try and select a single source honey (rather than a blended variety). The best honey undergoes the bare minimum of processing, but again if you’re buying from the village shops that’s not likely to be a concern. Yes it will cost more than the honey you buy in Tesco, but you’re buying a wholly different product. And don’t forget- you’re also buying into over 8,000 years of knowledge.