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    These organisations work with tribal honey gatherers to offer us wild or organic honey, in flavours like lychee and eucalyptus

    A COMMON ingredient in homemade cough remedies, honey goes exotic with an increased demand for its organic and wild versions. A staple at her breakfast table, business-woman Jacqueline Kapur from Pondicherry shares, “My family has to have honey every morning. They use it with bread or pancakes and I like adding a few drops to my ginger tea. We generally use bitter honey or wild honey and we stock up Last Forest honey in our shop (Le Pondicherry) as well.” In addition to century-old brands like Kolkata-based Dabur, we now have others like Under The Mango Tree, offering flavours, seasonal variants and even entrepreneurship if you are interested. We speak to companies that cultivate honey and learn that it is not just about creating a niche market, but also about conserving the ecosystem (think The Bee Movie) as they also promote beekeeping in cities and uplift the farming community.

    Under The Mango Tree

    Offering honey that is natural, single origin, directly from the beekeepers, Under The Mango Tree (UTMT) based in Mumbai has over 4,000 workers in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, and produces six varieties of honey. According to Vijaya Pastala, the owner of the company, “We source honey from our farmers and other beekeeper cooperatives. Our honey retains its unique flavours, which is linked to either a single flora source (litchi, eucalyptus, sweet clover) or a specific region (desert bloom, wild forest).” As urban beekeeping is the need of the hour, Pastala says, “The bee population in our cities is declining at an alarming rate and given bees’ vital role in conserving our ecosystem, they need to be protected. We established the UTMT Urban Beekeeping Initiative to bridge the gap between rural producers and urban consumers, and increases awareness about the vital role that honeybees play in our fragile biodiversity. As it is difficult to keep bee boxes in flats in Mumbai, we have set up “public sites,” such as our location at Maharashtra Nature Park, where people can keep their boxes and take care of them,” explains the former employee of World Bank.Available at Nilgiris Supermarket and Fabindia. Rs.485. Details: utmt.in

    Honey_pancakes

    Wild honey, Arun S Prakash

    According to Arun S Prakash, a Coimbatore Institute of Management and Technology graduate, his wild honey is thicker and sweeter than what find on the stands of super markets. Prakash started his own farm three years ago with two wooden boxes. With the help of the Agriculture University in Coimbatore
    he mastered the art of beekeeping and, “bought 40 more boxes for cultivating honey. My farm is based in Coimbatore and after cultivating honey successfully, I even sold some boxes to nearby farmers,” says Prakash, who works with three of his friends at the farm. He  has placed the boxes in different locations like vegetable fields,
    some near the hills, and some near the coconut tree, all of which is located in and around Coimbatore. During the season (December and mid-April), the team collects honey every month; otherwise it is once in 45 days. Each box gives around three to four kilos of honey. Besides retailing from his farm, Prakash also supplies to his sister, Poorni Devi, who sells the produce from her residence in Tambaram, Chennai.A kilo costs Rs.530. Details: 0422 2650500

    DSC_00351-510x652Last Forest
    Kotagiri-based Last Forest, an initiative of Keystone Foundation, has been working at Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) over the last 20 years. A brand that also produces spices, beewax balms and more, Last Forest has five varieties of honey like pepper, saffron, ginger, sweet and even a bitter version. There are six production sites in and around NBR and each site is governed by adivasis. “Each of these centres also produces other items like amla, cofee, soaps, shikakai and spices of course,” says Tasnim Khorakiwala, the CEO of Last Forest. One of the major highlights of Keystone Foundation is its collaboration with Slow Food, an organisation that believes in working towards preserving traditional foods all over the world. “We have been working with them to preserve the production of honey and coffee by indigenous groups in the Nilgiris area. Nilgiri honey and coffee have been recognised in The Ark of Taste (catalogue of distinctive foods facing extinction),” she says.At Rs.600 plus transport charges for a kilo. The honey is retailed in Dhanyam and Kalpakashema Details: lastforest.in

    Bee-wild-honey-1Bee Wild
    While some brands of honey retail floral or litchie flavoured variants, Bee Wild Honey’s flavour varies according to the season. “During May, the bees form their hives on jamun trees, making the honey bitter, and during the November-December season we get the sweetest honey from hives on vellai thadachi trees,” explains Nishita Vasanth, 29, the project coordinator of Bee Wild Honey. The outfit works with honey gatherers from Nilgiris.  It all began when Gudalur-based Adivasi Munnetra Sangam saw the plight of honey hunters in the Kattunayakan village, and created a team of volunteers under the name Bee Wild. The team wanted to help the locals in hunting, packaging and retailing honey. The honey retailed by Bee Wild Honey is collected from the forests of Mudumalai by tribal honey hunters from the adjoining villages. In fact,Vasanth also recently participated in a fair at Mysore and also supplies honey in bulk to organisations like Under the Mango Tree, Save Harvest and Elements.Priced from Rs.280 for half a kilo onward. Details: facebook.com/beewildhoney

    utmt-119-height-cutElsewhere
    Cy Jasfer from Khadi & Village Industries Commission tells us what to look for while selecting honey. “The honey should have 35 per cent fruit sugar, 35 per cent glucose and around five per cent water. Also, honey from trees like Jamun is very good for diabetic patients,” he says. V Shankar from the Chennai Beekeeper Association, says,  “We have a small garden and my bees have helped increase the produce of the vegetables by cross pollination.” Manian from Chennai, who has around 25 boxes in his farmhouse, says, “Land owners pay honey keepers in Germany. I wish the same importance is given in India too.”

    —Mrinalini Sundar

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