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With Rosh Hashana less than three weeks away, the Agriculture Ministry has released consumption figures on some of the most popular holiday foods. Each year the average Israeli eats 11 kg. of fish, 125 apples, 750 grams of honey and three pomegranates, with most of the consumption taking place around the time of the High Holy Days.
The month of Tishrei, which this year begins on September 19, shows a spike in the consumption of fish. According to the Fish Breeders Association, while the normal average monthly consumption stands at 900 grams, in Tishrei, that doubles to 1.8 kg. per person.
The most popular fish is carp. During, 1,000 tons of the freshwater fish, widely used for making dishes such as gefilte fish and the Moroccan Chraiymeh, is consumed, compared to 350 tons in other months.
Consumption of St. Peter's fish (Tilapia) likewise grows from 500 tons to 800 tons and that of mullet from 170 tons to 300.
Fish sales are expected to reach NIS 100 million during the holidays, with the prices for the most part remaining the same as they were last year. Carp will continue to cost NIS 20-23 a kilo, St. Peter's fish NIS 25-30 and mullet NIS 30-40.
At 11 kg. per person, Israelis are way behind other nationalities in their consumption of fish. Mediterranean countries in Europe consume between 20 and 40 kg. of fish per person every year and the Japanese eat a staggering 60 kg. each. Israel does, however, pass the United States, where the annual average stands at 6-7 kg. per person.
Roughly a third of the fish consumed in Israel comes from the local market, with the rest, mostly frozen, imported from around the world.
Israel is mostly self-sufficient when it comes to apples. According to the Agriculture Ministry, Israeli farmers cultivate around 40,000 dunams (4,000 hectares) of apple orchards, yielding 110,000 tons of produce. A small percentage, 2,000 tons a year, is imported from the US and Europe.
The biggest apple producers in the world are China (25-30 million tons a year), Europe (9 million tons) and the US (5 million tons).
Because apples grow best in cold climates, Israel is on the fringe of the apple-growing belt. Most of its apples are grown in the North, in the hills of the Galilee and the Golan Heights. Israel exports a small amount of apples, grown by Druse in the Golan, to Syria.
The most popular types of apples are Golden Delicious, Starking, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Gala and Pink Lady. Israeli scientist Aba Stein, from Kibbutz Ein Shemer, near Hadera, developed a special breed of apples called Anna, which is well suited to grow in warmer climates and therefore is grown in the south of Israel.
Roughly 40 percent of the annual honey consumption in Israel is eaten during the Tishrei holidays. Whether in honey cakes, in holiday cookies or in combination with apples, 1,500 tons is consumed in this month alone.
Research conducted by the Agriculture Ministry shows that many Israelis have developed a sensitive palate when it comes to honey.
While in previous years people would reach out for the cheapest product on the shelf, these days a trend of preferring specialty honey is emerging. Regular honey is made up of nectar collected by bees from a variety of wild flowers. Specialty honeys are made from nectar collected from specific varieties of plants, which gives distinctive flavors and aromas, for example, citrus flowers, avocado flowers or eucalyptus flowers.
China, Turkey and the US lead the world in honey production, with Mexico following closely behind. Israel, though well behind in terms of quantity, is well known for the high quality of honey it produces. The wide variety of wild plants confined to a relatively small area produces rich and distinctive flavors. In recent years boutique honey producers have sprung up across the country and these days the annual Honey Festival is taking place, where beekeepers open their doors to the public and share in the experience of collecting honey from the hives.
There are roughly 500 beekeepers in Israel, who look over a combined 90,000 beehives.
During the holidays, Israelis consume roughly 6,000 tons of pomegranates, which makes up more than half of the annual consumption.
Pomegranates growing is rapidly increasing in Israel, with 10,500 dunams cultivated this year compared to only 6,500 last year. Israel currently produces 23,000 tons, but due to widespread planting in recent years, the Agriculture Ministry projects that in 2013, that will reach 50,000 tons. Exports of the fruit have also expanded, from 7,500 tons last season to 12,000 tons this year.
In the past the pomegranate market was focused on marketing whole fruits during the holidays, but in recent years, with the introduction of new breeds and the development of machines to help in removing the edible seeds from the peel, the fruit has enjoyed a resurgence.
Aside from being one of the seven species praised by the Bible, the pomegranate is known for its healthful attributes. Pomegranate juice provides about 16% of an adult's daily vitamin C requirement per 100 ml serving, and is a good source of vitamin B5.
In preliminary laboratory research and human pilot studies, juice of the pomegranate was effective in reducing heart disease risk factors and systolic blood pressure.