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Why we appreciate Greek honey so highly?

A jar of Greek honey

Greek honey has a special status in the world. A favourable climate, good ecology, diverse flora, and ancient beekeeping traditions make it possible to produce a variety of honey, excellent in its flavour and nutritional properties.

Honey production in Greece

Greece is one of the leading honey producers in Europe, ranking third after Spain and Romania. Greece’s annual honey production is 22 590 tonnes, representing 9.5% of the entire European market in 2022. (Source FAOSTAT).

Greece exports 6 741 tonnes of honey. The main export countries are: Germany, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Cyprus, USA, Belgium, Spain, Canada.

Honey imports amount to 9 693 tonnes. The main countries from where Greece imports honey are Bulgaria, Poland, China, Spain, Ukraine, Germany, Romania.

On this basis Greece is a net importer.

The average price of 1 kg of exported honey is $4.7. This is 41% more than the average price of exported honey in the world ($3.33).

The average price of 1kg of imported honey is $2.28. This is 28% less than the average price of imported honey in the world ($3.17).

Greece ranks second in the world and first in Europe in terms of honey consumption. One inhabitant of Greece consumes 2.46 kg of honey per year. The average consumption in the world is 0.23 kg.

According to the European Commission in 2022 there are 2 249 thousand hives in Greece and 22 678 beekeepers. On average, there are 99 hives per beekeeper. This is the largest number in Europe.

All these data tell us that beekeeping and honey production in Greece is very developed.

The ancient tradition of honey production in Greece

Greek honey is considered one of the best in the world for a reason. Nature itself has ensured that on Greek soil, bees can collect nectar from a wide variety of plants and practically all year round. This is why honey production and beekeeping in Greece has very long historical traditions.

According to Greek mythology, Aristaeus, son of Apollo and the nymph Kyrene, was the patron of bees and grapes. Hermes stole him when he was very young and gave him to the nymphs Gaia and Horae, who fed him flower nectar and ambrosia. After drinking the magic drink, Aristaeus became immortal. And when he grew up, he learnt skills from the nymphs – to heal people, make cheese, wine, grow olives, build hives and take care of bees. He passed on his knowledge and skills in beekeeping to people.

Thus, on the island of Kea several coins were found on which Aristeas was depicted with grapes and bees. He was also depicted as a bee.

Greek beekeeping has very ancient traditions. For example, during excavations at the palace on the island of Crete in Knossos, archaeologists found various objects related to beekeeping. Among them were a smoker, a device for making wax, a honey press, and a ring depicting bees and hives. All of these items date from 1500-1400 BC.

The palace at Knossos in Crete
Excavations at the palace at Knossos have unearthed items relating to beekeeping

The first to study beekeeping as a science was the Greek philosopher Aristotle 384-322 BC. It was he who made several important discoveries. People used to believe that bees were born in flowers, and Aristotle, through his observations, discovered that they actually develop in honeycombs. Moreover, he was the first to point out that bees can be categorised into workers, drones and king, as he believed that the queen uterus is male. Also, the scientist knew that bees collect substances from flowers, but believed that honey itself was obtained from the air. He explained this by his observations – when flowers gave little nectar, the honeycomb was full of honey, and vice versa, flowers were rich in nectar, but there was no honey.

Arestotle the first first scientific researcher of beekeeping
Arestotle (384-322 BC) was the first to study beekeeping as a science.

The famous father of medicine Hippocrates 460-377 BC advised honey as the main product in the diet of people, especially the sick. The philosopher Democritus 460-370 BC believed that honey prolongs life, and for Pythagoras 570-495 BC honey was the main dish.

Unique conditions for beekeeping

Agricultural land in Greece occupies only 30% of the total area, the remaining 70% being ecologically pure wilderness desert and forest areas. The flora is represented by 6 000 species of plants, 742 of which are found only in this country. The numerous islands and peninsulas are home to a large number of oil and essential plants, which give Greek honey its unique flavour and aroma.

Greeke landscape
70% of Greece’s territory is ecologically clean desert and forest areas.

The mountainous landscape, valleys and meadows each have their own microclimate, where certain types of grasses grow. Knowing this, Greek beekeepers do not sit in one place, but constantly move their hives from one area to another, depending on what, where and when the flowers bloom.

The influence of climate also plays an important role. For example, honey in Germany is usually harvested in summer or early autumn. Generally by October it has already crystallised, if it has not, it is probably not natural or “unripe”, i.e. it was harvested early. The speed of crystallisation varies from 2 weeks to 3 months.

In Greece, however, the climate is quite different and, accordingly, other herbs grow. Here honey harvesting starts in April and ends even after the New Year, if the winter was warm. In summer the climate is hot and dry, and other plants bloom at this time of the year. The fact that the same honey at different temperatures gives different crystallisation is not unimportant. For example, fresh honey can thicken at temperatures between 8 and 14 degrees centigrade. The hot Greek summer and autumn prevents this from happening.

Thus, northern peoples (Scandinavians, Germans, Poles) are more accustomed to solid honey, unlike southerners. Of course, the process of crystallisation can be reversed – you can heat honey to 37 degrees. But here you need to be very careful not to ruin its useful properties. To melt honey properly, it is necessary to melt it for a short time and on a water bath. That is why it is undesirable to put honey in hot tea – it loses all its benefits.

Thus, Greek honey is also at risk of crystallisation, but it will be much slower. Honeydew honey is an exception to the rule, if it is absolutely natural and pure, it is virtually unaffected by this process.

Greek honey varieties

In general, all honey produced can be divided into 2 main categories:

  • Nectar honey (various types of flower honey: chestnut, thyme, сitrus, cotton, sunflower, heather, etc.).
  • Honeydew honey (pine, oak, fir, etc.).

Most of the annual honey production in Greece is pine honey (about 60%), followed by thyme honey (15%) and fir honey (10%), and other honey such as сitrus, heather, and chestnut (15%). Thus, the most common varieties in Greece are: pine, thyme, spruce, heather, сitrus  and chestnut.

Greek Pine Honey

Greake pine
Pine honey produced by honeybees that collect honeydew (sugary secretions) from the scale insect Marchalina hellenica (known as “Vamvakada”, “worker”)

Pine honey is a type of honeydew honey. It is produced by honeybees that collect honeydew (sugary secretions) from the scale insect Marchalina hellenica (known as “Vamvakada”, “worker”) that lives on the sap of some species of pine trees such as Chalepeios pine and Trachea pine.

Pine honey is dark in colour and is harvested by bees in autumn and spring. It has a thick consistency and a pleasantly rich flavour. Its crystallisation process starts after 2 years. It contains a large amount of iron and many other useful microelements. Pine honey is produced in the northern Euboea, Chalkidiki, Thassos, Skopelos, Zakynthos and Rhodes.

Greek Thyme Honey

Greek Thyme Honey
The areas where the best thyme honey is produced are the Greek islands and especially Crete, Kithira and the Dodecanese.

Thyme honey is considered the best and most valuable among other types of honey. It has a light colour with a strong odour. The process of crystallisation approximately begins after a year. This type of honey is rich in copper, boron and iron. Its magical composition favourably affects the treatment of respiratory and digestive system diseases, as well as people who are constantly exposed to physical activity.

This honey has strong tonic and antiseptic properties. Thus, many years ago it was used in folk medicine to treat burns and wounds. And milk with thyme honey effectively fights coughs and sore throats. The areas where the best thyme honey is produced are the Greek islands and especially Crete, Kithira and the Dodecanese.

Greek Fir Honey

Greek Fir Honey
Fir honey is produced in the mountainous regions of Greece

Greek fir honey has a pearlescent colour, which makes it the most beautiful among the other types. Fir honey is produced in the mountainous regions of Evritania, Pindos, Olympos, mountains Mainalo, Parnonas Helicon and Chelmos in the Peloponnese and Mt. Parnitha in Attiki. Insects such as Cinara Confinis and Physokermes Hemicryfus, live in fir trees producing honey dew.

Greek Heather Honey

Greak heather honey
Heather honey is rich in vitamin B6, calcium, potassium and protein.

Heather honey has a dark yellow or red-brown colour, a pungent aroma and a strong taste. Interestingly, the longer it is stored, the richer its flavour will be. Heather honey is made by bees from the nectar that is collected on the small flowers of the common heather. This honey has a thick consistency, so it is quite difficult to pump it out – the honey thickens immediately in the honeycomb.

Many beekeepers refuse to collect it, as it is very hard work. When pumping this honey, the honeycomb is often broken, so many do not take the risk to avoid losses. Heather honey is rich in vitamin B6, calcium, potassium and protein, which makes it special among other types of honey.

It is because of the large amount of protein that it does not crystallise for a long time, but becomes jelly-like in consistency. If it is stirred, it becomes liquid again, but in a calm state it has a jelly-like consistency. Despite the fact that it is less common than other varieties due to its small production, it is recognised as the most useful honey!

Greek Citrus Honey

Greek Citrus Honey
Citrus fruits bloom in April, when bees flock to the essential oils, collect the nectar for three weeks and then make honey.

Citrus honey is characterised by its light orange colour, delicate flavour and pleasant aroma of tangerines, lemons and oranges. There are no other blossoms around the citrus fields, so this honey has a rich aroma. Its main element is, of course, vitamin C, but in addition to it it contains a large amount of calcium and iron.

That is why citrus honey is especially recommended for colds, gastrointestinal, anaemia and cardiovascular diseases. It is also advised to take it for people with a disturbed nervous system, as it helps to cope with feelings of anxiety and sleep disorders. In this case, half a teaspoon before bedtime will help.

Citrus fruits bloom in April, when bees flock to the essential oils, collect the nectar for three weeks and then make honey. Citrus fruits are grown mainly in Epirus, the Peloponnese, Crete and the islands.

Greek Chestnut Honey

Greek Сhestnut honey
Chestnut honey has antiseptic, astringent and diaphoretic properties

Chestnut honey has a dark colour and a slight bitterness. Its crystallisation rate is standard – 1-2 years. It is also rich in useful microelements and amino acids. Chestnut honey has antiseptic, astringent and diaphoretic properties, which is why it is used as an antibacterial agent.

Greek Oak Honey

Greak oak honey
This type of Greek honey is rarer than other varieties. It is known for its special colour – almost black.

This type of Greek honey is rarer than other varieties. It is known for its special colour – almost black! It is produced from the secretions of aphids living on oak trees. Oak honey has been used medicinally since the ancient Greeks and has more antioxidant properties than most other known varieties. It has a slightly caramelised but less sweet flavour and can be slightly spicy.

How long is the beekeeping season in Greece?

The beekeeping season in Greece starts in March and ends in December in the southern regions of the country. Citrus trees begin to bloom in May, thyme honey is harvested in July and pine honey in September. The heather tree blooms twice a year in Greece, so it is harvested in May and September.

Where is the best place to buy Greek honey?

It is better to buy Greek honey directly from beekeepers. Because in supermarkets it is sold already heat-treated and with added glucose. In Greece, every beekeeper values his reputation and his business, so they are very careful about the quality of the product. Don’t be afraid to ask as much as you can about honey, they will be happy to tell you, show you and give you some advice.

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