Honeycomb from Nepal
If you’ve been reading here a while you’ll know I really like honey. Upon discovering Banana honey in The Philippines I’ve been looking out for other types of great honey. Nepal is no exception when it comes to great honey but there’s more to honey in Nepal than meets the eye.
A french photographer by the name of Eric Valli made the Honey hunters of Nepal rather famous in the late 1980’s. Since then much has changed in Nepal. And so has the honey.
Today’s real honey in Nepal is hard to find
Gurung tribesmen of west-central Nepal only collect honey today as part of a ritual for two days in a year. Buying this honey simply won’t happen unless you happen to be quite rich. That doesn’t stop many people selling “Gurung honey” or offering tours to “honey cliffs”.
There are bee farms in villages dotted around Nepal. But by bee farm I mean small hives of bee’s in small wooden boxes. There are still Himalayan bees with hives in mountains but when asking I kept coming up against “private tours” only.
Instead some remoter villages along the Annapurna region will often have small clusters of bee farms that are far more accessible. But, nowhere near as “exciting”.
That said there have been countless people now going in search of the “honey hunters” which has made it a commercial business of sorts for locals and guides.
Honey in Nepal is under threat
Today a huge proportion of honey is imported from China and India. Local honey co-operatives have failed to take off in Nepal just as the struggling Nepali coffee industry barely survives.
A shame considering the potential of selling Himalayan honey is surely huge. However I’m told that harvesting such vast quantities of honey needed to make a profit is not as easy as it seems.
Moreover, it’s an expensive task. So, many exporters of honey simply dilute the “real” stuff down (which is hard to detect) while still selling it at the regular high price – thereby doubling their profits. You can work out the temptation there.
The Honeycomb sellers of Nepal
Local honey sellers in Nepal still bring buckets (literally) of honeycomb down from the mountains and into the cities for sale. Much of this honey is sold to locals for medicinal purposes rather than as an ingredient or “food stuff”. Honey is regarded as a great cure all and youth invigorating food in Nepal. Eating honey makes you strong and is full of nutrients.
There are also tales of mad honey or honey infused with certain hallucinogenic additives which sells for the latter purpose alone.
There are some honeycomb sellers that dilute honey down using burnt sugar and water. I’ve seen this being done in West Africa with ease. While there is meant to be local test involving ants, they apparently won’t eat the sugared honey, the only true test is to eat the honey and taste it or put into a scientific laboratory.
A seasoned honey eater can tell the difference. Keep in mind this is raw natural honey that’s not refined so tastes nothing like honey from a jar.
What does Nepali honey taste like?
Rich, light and flowery are the first things that jump into your mouth when tasting Nepalese honey. It’s a light golden affair with no one single overpowering flavor. Crisp with a long-lasting aftertaste you know Nepalese honey is pure straight away.
There are also many “flavored” types of Nepali honey. Widely available in Chitwan as many bee farms are in the nearby Terai region. Natural honey with flavor in Nepal comes from the type of pollen bees use to make the honey.
Common flavors include mustard honey, butter honey and mint honey. These honeys don’t necessarily taste exactly like their namesakes. Mustard honey simply seems the honey comes from mustard flowers and has an individual taste. While butter honey is a harder set honey.
Rock honey is another common type of honey found and more expensive than the rest. This is meant to be the honey that comes from cliff sides. Again, it’s debatable considering the region they say is in the south. It’s a darker more expensive honey, but necessarily the “real deal”. That said, if you like the taste, then it’s done a good job and may be worth the price for you.
How to eat Nepali honeycomb
In case you are wondering you can eat honeycomb. Though don’t swallow the actual honeycomb itself. Break off a small piece of honeycomb and treat it like chewing gum. The honey will burst out in golden goodness while the waxy honeycomb retains much of the flavor as your chew on it. Once the flavor is gone simply spit out the remaining white honeycomb.
Want to know more about things to do in Kathmandu? Check out my full travel guide to Kathmandu City.
If you are visiting Nepal and come across a man with buckets of honeycomb walking along the road I encourage you to stop and try some Nepali honey. You might need to ask some locals to help you translate. However, the pure golden taste of Nepali honeycomb will be your reward.
This is an additional article highlighting food from Nepal
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