Sweet treat

, CULTURE

Gulf countries produce some of the tastiest honey in the world. But how can you tell which one to choose?

A nature’s gift to mankind, honey’s golden hue and intense sweetness awakens the sense of goodness. The celebrated Greek traveller Strabo wrote, “Arabia is in general fertile, and abounds in particular with places for making honey.”

The subject of honey is mentioned in the Holy Quran, Surat An-Nahl (‘The Bee’), verses 68 and 69: ‘And the Lord taught the Bee to build its cells in hills, in trees, and in men’s habitats; then to eat of all the produce and find with the skill the precious paths of its Lord: there comes out from within their bodies a drink (honey) of varying colours, wherein is healing for men; verily this is a sign for those who give thought.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (over 9,000 tonnes annually) and Yemen (over 5,000 tonnes) are the leading producers of honey in Arab countries, Oman has its own little share of indigenous honey. While Saudi Arabia is known for different types of honey, like Majri, Saify and Sadr, in Yemen most sought after are Al-Jardan and Sidir. History cites that the illustrious Imam Saif bin Sultan (1688-1711) was a keen apiarist, keeping bees in the bountiful gardens of his fortress in Rustaq.

We set out to Rustaq in Oman, scanning the way to Wadi Sahtan, a real treasure for off-road adventurers. Wobbling down the mountain cleft, the mountain village ensconced in Wadi Sahtan. Another five-minute uphill ascent brought us to an isolated settlement called Zabawwud with the lofty peaks of Jabel Shams looming large on the horizon. At this nondescript settlement, we had the first-hand experience of watching an Omani, by name Khalid Al Rashdi, extracting honey using traditional practices. Khalid used some remarkable skills while making honey in cylindrical hives hollowed out of date palm trunks. It is believed that Imam Saif brought this Arabian race of the hive bee, Apis mellifera jemenitica, from beekeepers in Yemen.

Khalid, using a small sickle-like tool, opened the hollowed out trunks of date palms, locally known as tubl, to show us the bees. These hollowed-log hives are the bread and butter of these mountain-dwelling people. Helped by his brother and sisters and their children, Khalid harvests his hives twice a year in June and November. The total yield is around 70 kg per season.

Oman is home to over 35,000 apiaries, which are managed by over 5,200 bee farmers. Honey is produced during two seasons: June and November. Honey produced during 2015 stood at 552,945 kg. In Oman, two types of bees are known: Apis mellifera and Apis florea. Abu Tawiq, a premier honey derived from hives at Jabal al Akhdhar, is sought after by the Arabs from the GCC.

Words: Aftab H. Kola

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