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Ethiopian Honey Colors, Uses and Benefits

Ethiopian Honey Colors, Uses, and Benefits

Learn about the rare colors of honey from white, bright yellow, reddish chestnut, grey, green, and the flavors of these rare kinds of honey and how to make honey wine named Tej the national drink of Ethiopia. Ethiopia is Africa’s largest producer of honey manufacturing nearly 24% of Africa’s total honey production. 

Beekeeping is an ancient tradition in Ethiopia

What is honey
Honey is the natural sweet substance produced by honeybees from the nectar of blossoms or from the secretion of living parts of plants or excretions of plant-sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which honeybees collect, transform and combine with specific substances of their own, store and leave in the honeycomb to ripen and mature.

Honey is the most important primary product of beekeeping from both a culinary and an economic point of view. It was also the first bee product used by humankind in ancient times. The history of the use of honey is parallel to the history of man and in virtually every culture.

Proof can be found of its use as a food source and as a symbol employed in religious, magic and healing ceremonies. An appreciation for honey as the only concentrated form of sugar available to man in most parts of the world. The same cultural richness has produced an equally colorful variety of uses of honey in other products.

The rare colors and flavors of honey
Color in liquid honey varies from clear and colorless to dark amber or black. The various honey colors are basically all nuances of yellow amber, like different dilutions or concentrations of caramelized sugar, which has been used traditionally as a color standard.

Honey color varies with the botanical origin, age and storage conditions, but transparency or clarity depends on the number of suspended particles such as pollen. Less common honey colors are white, bright yellow, reddish chestnut, grey and green. Once crystallized, honey turns lighter in color because the glucose crystals are white. Darker kinds of honey are more often for industrial use, while lighter kinds of honey are marketed for culinary dishes.

The color and the flavor of honey is different depending on the nectar source of bee honeybees. Generally, light-colored honey is milder in taste and dark-colored honey is stronger in taste. Bees may visit flowers such as sunflowers or herbs such as Rosemary or a combination of the two. Bees collecting pollen from cornflowers make greenish honey; the honey has a slightly bitter aftertaste and the smell of almonds. Heather honey has a reddish color and is very thick, bees that collect pollen from maple flowers produce maple honey, and this honey can be pink in color to yellow-green. 

Mint honey it's also reddish and color and is prized by consumers in Western Europe. Honeybees collect pollen from blueberry bushes to create light-colored honey with a reddish tint. Bees visiting the dandelion flower produce bright yellow honey; it has a strong smell and a sharp acidic taste. Unique honey is tobacco honey which is produced in areas where tobacco is cultivated the honey is light-colored to dark brown and has a unique aroma of tobacco. Of course, white honey is the rarest honey of all where bees collect pollen from plants on the Ethiopian Tigray Mountain.

Beekeeping in Africa
Beekeeping is an ancient tradition in Ethiopia, stretching back into the country’s early history between 3500 and 3000 B.C., according to some history books. Collecting and selling honey and other bee products produced in homes and home gardens are common throughout the country.

One of its most unique and flavorful kinds of honey are produced in the northern part of Ethiopia high in the Mountains of Tigray. Ethiopian white honey develops its unique color and taste from a variety of native plants growing in the Tigray mountain region. White honey is growing scarce as bees abandon Ethiopian Tigray mountain region due to drought in the region. 

Bees are traveling further distances in search of flowers to pollinate. Due to drought the native plants, bees usually pollinate local Tigray flowers and plants producing white colored honey. However, bees are traveling further distances in search of flowers to pollinate, creating yellow colored honey.

Honey Bee from God

Ethiopia is heavily dependent on agriculture; the country is faced with increasingly unpredictable rains. More than 90 percent of Ethiopia’s honey is still produced using traditional hives. Many farmers lack modern technologies, operate on a small scale, and are unaware of the quality of their product and potential markets outside of their immediate communities. 

Climate change will inevitably have a greater impact on people's lives. Vanishing white honey is just the beginning of the permanent changing climate of Ethiopia. Various disappearing blossoms found no place else in the world give white honey its distinguishing color and flavor. 

White honey is one of Ethiopia's disappearing distinct honey colors produced by bees in Ethiopia high in the Mountains of Tigray. White honey gets its unique flavor and white color from a variety of indigenous plant blossoms growing in the Ethiopian Tigray region, including the prickly pear and euphorbia perennial plants.

Did you know?

Honey wine named Tej is the national drink of Ethiopia.
Tej is or honey wine is a favorite brew in Ethiopia and Eritrea, traditional Tej wine is made by boiling the gesho plant’s stems with honey and fermented over a long period of time. Our easy version of Tej Ethiopian Honey Wine uses dry white wine and honey mixed together to create a sweet-tasting sipping wine perfect for a signature wedding cocktail.

Tej is also known as mead often made at home or at special local brewing houses. Tej bets, or honey-wine houses, look modest and unassuming from the outside, but these gathering spaces are central tenets of Ethiopian life. Tej is widely drunk in Tej houses both in Ethiopia and Eritrea, but you can always make yours.

Quick and Easy Tej Ethiopian Honey Wine photo by Quinn Dombrowski

Tej Ethiopian Honey Wine Recipe
3 cups good quality dry white wine
1 cup of water
1/4 cup honey

Add honey to water and mix well until fully incorporated. Chill mixture until cold then add wine, mix well, chill and serve. Traditional Tej wine is made in small batches and is a sipping wine due to its sweet taste.

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Being African in America I have grown up learning about different ethnic cultures. My mother is a historian of African culture and history and her influence expanded my activities to several best-selling cookbooks, magazine columns, self-branded products, and a popular African culture and food blog.

Chic African Culture

Elegant but earthy The African Gourmet and Chic African Culture highlights African culture, food recipes, modern and ancient history.

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