Magazine

A sweet business

Kibbutz Yad Mordechai is Israel’s leading honey producer, holding a 60% share of the NIS 95 million market.

Bee keeper at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai
Photo by: Alessandra Da Pra
Mention Yad Mordechai, and the battle fought at the kibbutz during the war of 1948 might come to mind. Or, a sweeter thought might arise: honey.

With Rosh Hashana just around the corner, families are getting ready to dip halla and apples in honey in hope that the new year will be just as sweet as the golden delicacy.

And chances are the honey will come from one of Israel’s first honey producers, Yad Mordechai.

Marketing manager Elad Ravid says that demand for Yad Mordechai’s honey ahead of Rosh Hashana is up by some 35% compared with the rest of the year.

The land flowing with milk and honey consumes approximately 3,600 tons of the natural food per year, and the trend is slowly blooming.

The market increased by about 7% in 2007, 15% in 2008, and 5% in 2009.

The average consumer purchases honey about three times a year and uses it mainly for dipping apples (74%), cooking and baking (44%), and spreading on bread (33%).

The beehive in Yad Mordechai was established in 1936 by the founding nucleus of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, who learned the secrets of beekeeping from Australian and British soldiers stationed in the country during the British Mandate.

Soon, the art of honey-making became the mainstay of the kibbutz.

As Egyptian troops advanced toward the communal village in 1948, friction arose among the folks at the kibbutz. Worried about the fate of the apiary, members voted to send the beekeeper to take refuge – together with the hives – in the north, even though the beekeeper wanted to stay and fight.

The majority won, the beekeeper took off, coming back after the hostilities were over, and what started out as a 150-beehive apiary is today Israel’s leading honey producer, holding a 60% share of the NIS 95 million local market.

“Honey is something that came and stayed with us,” said purchasing manager Yair Svartz, licking a drop of honey from the corner of his mouth.

Although the company headquarters and factory are located on the kibbutz, situated a few kilometers south of Ashkelon, the apiary has over 6,000 beehives scattered throughout the country. Bees produce about 45 kilograms of honey per hive annually.

“We practice what is known as migrating beekeeping,” said Dan “Kutzi” Weil, beekeeper and professional adviser at Yad Mordechai.

In Israel, honey is harvested from spring until the end of summer.

The raw material to create honey is found only in nature, in the blossoms of flowering plants.

Depending on the season’s blossom, beekeepers move hives to different crops around the country.

The most common type of honey is wildflower honey, made with nectar collected from a variety of blossoms. Although it accounts for 90% of yearly sales in Israel, distinctive honeys created from nectar extracted from specific blossoms are also produced.

Pure multi-flower honey accounts for 80% of the production at Yad Mordechai. The remaining 20% is dedicated to the creation of specialty honeys, such as citrus, eucalyptus and avocado flower. Each one has a distinctive flavor, color and aroma determined by the nectar source.

ORANGE BLOSSOM honey, with a light golden color, has a pleasant level of sweetness accompanied by a refreshing citrus tingle on the taste buds. The deeper golden eucalyptus flower honey has a complex smoky aroma, while the dark-colored avocado flower honey is characterized by a robust, caramelized flavor.

Yad Mordechai also produces multi-flower honeys enriched with natural flavors such as ginger and lemongrass. In addition, it makes a series of pure honey with royal jelly, a honey-bee secretion used in the nutrition of larvae and queens which contains a variety of fatty components that improve the vitality of the body.

Tasty and sticky, honey is not only a natural source of energy; it is also utilized for its medical properties.

Weil said that honey has a relatively high concentration of antioxidants that operate in the capture of free radicals; it boosts the immune system in the body, increases endurance and reduces fatigue. As an antibacterial, it is good for the skin and is used to disinfect wounds and treat burns and infections.

Added to a glass of warm milk or aged cognac, it is often used as a home remedy to relieve cold symptoms and sore throats.

Against headaches, the Honey Council recommends mixing two tablespoons of honey with equal parts of cider vinegar in a glass of water.

Bees work all their lives, without resting for a moment, to perform all the intricate, incessant labor involved in producing honey, which is their winter reservoir of food.

During its life, a bee flies an average of 800 km.
Svartz calls the bee “a hi-tech insect.”
Bees use the waggle dance, a figure-eight whirl, to communicate the odor and flavor of nectar, informing each other about the type of food found in the field and the exact direction in relation to the sunlight at the time From the hives, bees fly from flower to flower to collect the nectar.

A BEE visits about 100 flowers within 10 minutes.

Once back at the hive, the extract is fed to the younger workers that process it and stock it in hexagonal storage cells, which are waxed when filled.

Nectar is composed of 80% water and 20% sugar and other nutritional components.

Bees activate their wings to create an airstream in order to evaporate the water. When the process is completed, beekeepers collect the honey, which is then filtered from pollen and wax and finally put in a jar.

Though the Mishna states that “What comes from something that is not kosher is not kosher, and what comes from something that is kosher is kosher” and bees are non-kosher, honey nevertheless is kosher since the nectar is carried in bees’ bodies and not produced inside them.

In 2007, in the north of the country, Hebrew University archeologists uncovered a beehive dating back 3,000 years.

“Honey is the most ancient sweetener,” Weil said.

Archeological excavations in the Egyptian pyramids have found jars of honey buried together with the pharaohs, as honey was used in ancient times during religious rituals and as an offering to the gods.

The 4,000-year-old honey they discovered is edible to this day.

Stored properly – be it in your fridge, or buried in a tomb – honey does not spoil on account of its high sugar level, about 80%.

Are you on the point of throwing away that jar of delicious honey you got that crystallized and lost its clarity? Don’t! Pure real honey tends to crystallize, suggesting high quality. Just soak the jar in hot water.


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