In Search of White Honey in Ethiopia

I came across this photo that took me back to my trip to Ethiopia when I went in search of white honey. It was a journey that took me from Dubai to Addis Ababa and then to the northern quite remote part of Ethiopia on the Eritrean border. Around a quarter of Africa’s honey comes from Ethiopia and honey production is the second biggest source of revenue after coffee production. There is the red, yellow and even black honey but I was in search of the white kind which is considered to be special, particularly the kind sourced in the Tigray region. This distinctive white honey is made from a local flower known as Adey Abeba, and it is this that gives it the special white colour. This natural, healthy, beautiful product took me to Mekelle and on a road trip to higher ground or as Ethiopians say, where ‘the mountains gather for a meeting’ and there I met with local beekeepers, supported by NGO’s and Slow Food International, who are making a living and helping the community grow a cottage industry.

Orit Mohammad of Boon Coffee is no stranger to the ways of the land as she trades in Ethiopian speciality coffee. She was my guide and she shared her insights into the culture of honey and the challenges faced when it comes to exporting out of the country. To hear the full story of my journey, the beekeepers I met and the apiaries I visited listen to the podcast here, at Dubai Eye 103.8

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Sights from the car on the road from Mekelle to Wukro in the Tigray region, known for its special white honey.
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Arriving in the town of Wukro where the Alomo family live and store their honey.
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The Alomo children greet me, hopefully, they will be the next generation continuing the tradition of beekeeping, like their father.
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Tasting the white honey for the first time with Mrs Alomo, wife of beekeeper Mr Alomo.
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On the road going into the mountains to the site of more hives, also where I got to see one of the rock-hewn churches you can find in this area dating back to the 6th Century BC.
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So precious is the honey these hives are watched over by armed guards 24/7.
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Back in Mekelle with my guides, Orit Mohammad, her sister Hanan and Mr Albera. The gentleman with the staff watches over the hives to keep them safe.
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Sitting amongst the hives, ‘nib’ is the word for bees in Amharic and ‘mar’ means honey.
In Addis with Orit Mohammad at the family home and Orit is roasting beans for the first round of coffee that day, her mother is in the background.
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Dus Betuluk, delicious deep-fried pastries drizzled in white honey and served with Ethiopian speciality coffee.

Your honey takeaway

Honey is revered all over the world and in Ethiopia, it is considered a symbol of good fortune and is often presented as a gift on special occasions. At weddings, the groom is given a spoon of honey in order to ‘keep him sweet’.

Is there a local dish or ingredient from a country that stands out in your memory? Share your experience, good or bad, I would love to hear about it.




Beekeeper Story, After the Fires

Honey is a big part of the culture in the Serra De Monchique region with around 1,500 beekeepers. Many are hobbyists and keep bees and produce honey for their own use and for some it is a business. The natural fauna is ideal for the pollinators to forage on with wild lavender, heather, arbutus and pine and eucalyptus trees aplenty. Throughout the year and changing seasons, I have taken great pleasure in walking the hills and valleys seeing beehives dotted around my natural landscape and all the more so as a regular contributor to the Honey Explorer blog and website of Balqees Honey. My work has taken me all over the world meeting beekeepers and learning about the production of honey and sharing their stories so all the sweeter when I moved to the hills of the Algarve. Yet also distressing when during my first summer here I came close to the wildfires that tore through the area and I realised people’s loss. I met with a local beekeeper, Joao Dimas and wrote an article about his experience, read it here: After The Fire. 

Walking in the hills of Serra de Monchique looking out for beehives
Lucinda Dimas wife of Joao tending to their beehives
Jose Nunes Joaquim, a local beekeeper of Melaria Pe da Cruz honey, tends to his frames and boxes.
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The first fires started on August 3rd and ripped through the area covering 270,00 hectares. In the end, there were three fronds that finally reached a resolution nearly a week later after over 1000 firefighters got the fires under control.

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Beehives burnt or overcome with smoke. There weren’t any human fatalities but 70 homes were lost along with wildlife and livestock. Thousands of bees were lost.

Burnt Hives

Check out the full story on how the fires affected beekeeper, Joao Dumas on Honey Explorer blog.

I wait and see how the fires affect pollination and the environment and wonder what can be done to prevent such devastation from happening again. As local beekeepers slowly recover a lot depends on the weather conditions over the coming months to see the true effects on yield, meanwhile green shoots are appearing and the land is regenerating but it will take a long time if ever, to fully recover and forget the fires of 2018.

Thanks to Bruno Costa for the use of images of fire and burnt hives.