Sept. 22, 2006
The sweetest of all productions
Israel's beekeepers work to provide honey for all in time for
Rosh Hashanah celebrations.
BATSHEVA POMERANTZ ISRAEL PRESS SERVICE
Honey is a popular ingredient in Rosh Hashanah dishes, and the
greeting "Shana tovah u'metuka" ("A good and
sweet year") is on everyone's lips. At the festive Rosh Hashanah
meal, a piece of challah trickled with honey is followed by a slice
of apple dipped in honey, and honey cake tops off the feast as a
Due to increased local demand for honey in recent years, the proverbial
Land of Milk and Honey (whose 90,000 beehives produce a whopping
3,600 tons of honey annually) has found itself in the unlikely situation
of having to import honey in order to maintain its honey industry.
To solve the problem, the Jewish National Fund earmarked forests
for beehives and agreed to provide the Honey Council with some 100,000
nectar-producing saplings and plants each year. When this didn't
suffice, the JNF, together with the country's 500 apiarists, took
further action and, in early 2006, implemented the planting of some
200,000 additional trees as a source of nectar for bees. Beekeepers
can now travel with their beehives to one of 6,300 pasture points
situated around the country.
The raising of honey bees first took off in the land of Israel in
the late 19th century, although in the biblical era, dates were
made into honey many believe the notion of a "land flowing
with milk and honey" actually referred to date honey.
Fifth-generation apiarist Malka Ben Zeev, from the Dvorat HaTavor
Land of Silk and Honey Centre in the Lower Galilee, can trace her
profession back to her Hungarian ancestors. Her agronomist husband,
Yigal, learned the art of rearing silkworms in Iran in the late
1960s, while an emissary of the Israeli government. The two joined
forces and, in 1970, the newlyweds established the only silkworm
breeding farm in Israel and began developing a successful honey
production business at Moshav Shadmot Dvora, a stone's throw from
Mount Tabor and the second century BCE Silk Road.
Dvorat HaTavor, which is recognized by the Israel government as
an agro-tourism attraction, enjoys visits from students of all ages,
retirees and groups of young people from the Diaspora. A program
in Arabic is geared to the Arab residents of the Galilee.
The visitor's centre employs Galilee residents often recently
discharged Israel Defence Forces soldiers as guides to explain
about the removal of the combs and extraction of the honey from
the hives, each of which produces approximately 45 kilograms of
honey a year.
"We place our hives in Galilee fields where there are natural
wild flowers," Ben Zeev explained, "and avoid orange or
avocado orchards that are sprayed with pesticides. The bees graze
on white forest flowers according to the season. In the summer,
our honey is produced from thistles."
Israel has two to three blossom seasons when the bees suck the nectar
from more than 100 types of plants, starting off the fascinating
production process. The plants are divided into cultivated species,
like citrus (from which most of the honey is produced in Israel),
and wild flowers. The flowers from which the nectar is collected
affect the flavor and color of the honey. Plants include avocado,
marjoram, eucalyptus, thorns, citrus, three-lobed sage, thyme and
Some types of honey, like those made from avocado and eucalyptus
nectar, are suitable for roasting meat, while others, from the nectar
of wild flowers, are suited for light repasts consisting of leafy
salads, fruit and yogurt. Honey produced from citrus is suitable
for baking cakes and dishes with a dough base.
Honey was used for thousands of years for health purposes and its
long shelf life has been proven by the discovery of jars of still
edible honey entombed with Egyptian mummies. According to the Honey
Council, honey is a sterile natural food and can be effective in
warding off winter illnesses, boosting appetite and energy. As a
sweetener, honey is 25 per cent less caloric than sugar, with 25-30
calories per teaspoonful.
Healthy byproducts of the beehive include propolis, "the natural
antibiotic," which protects the beehive from illness. It is
scraped from each hive in small quantities and used in anti-fungus
creams, creams to soothe the skin and sprays for irritated throats.
Another healthful by-product is pollen, which is used to nourish
the bees and which is rich in vitamins, including vitamin B12.
"Propolis and pollen are expensive because of the intensive
work needed to extract them from the beehive," noted Malka.
Finally, let us not forget the hard-working bees, who must visit
more than 4.5 million flowers and travel more than 140,000 kilometres
to produce a single kilogram of honey so that we may enjoy this
traditional treat on Rosh Hashanah.