Honey was man’s first sweetener. Honey was also an important condiment in medieval times. We crave sweets, as our stone-age forefathers have been deprived of it for centuries. Humans (Homo sapiens) evolved some 50,000 years ago, whereas bees were making honey 40 million years before that. Honeybees as a group probably originated in South East Asia. It seems they developed social behavior and structural identity similar to what we observe in modern honey bees, some 30 million years ago. Apis mellifera, known as the western honey bee, is a commonly domesticated species. It is believed to have originated in Africa and spread later to Europe and Asia. Honey was the staple sweetener in Europe till the 1500s. The name “honey” comes from the English word “huning.” In 1622, European colonists brought these sub-species to Americas. Cooking with honey was a mark of privilege and it was long used for preserving fruits whole or as a jam.
Cave paintings in Spain from 7000 B.C show the earliest records of bee keeping. Honey is also mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings from 2100 B.C. From available evidence, we know that humans have been collecting honey for 10,000 years. But the interplay between bees and flowers is understood much later in 1000 A.D.
The pre-historic cave paintings at Bhimbetka in India show men despoiling beehives built on rocks, perhaps around 6000 B.C. Even as early as the Rigvedic period (2nd and 1st century) the Rbhu brothers were credited with building artificial hives of reeds and straws. The Mahabharata (4th century B.C.) has references to apiary keepers, flower gardens and pollen yielding plants, indicating some degree of commercialization by then.
Bees were domesticated in artificial hives both in India and Egypt about 4500 years ago. The earliest record of bee keeping in Egypt is found in the Sun temple (near Cairo) believed to be erected in 2400 B.C. In 1800s, when archaeologists were working in Egypt, they found a large jar of honey, and found that it tasted perfect, even though it was thousands of years old.
Honey is truly an insect product of high nutritive value. The food value of honey may be estimated by the presence of about 80% sugar in it. One should not mistakenly assume that honey is only a plant product because the nectar, pollen and cane-sugar are all secretions from flowers. As they are digested by bees, it gets mixed with their saliva and it soon undergoes certain chemical changes due to the action of enzymes. At this stage sugar (sucrose) is converted into dextrose and levulose. At the same time some ingredients of bees are also added to the mixture and the water content reduces. The whole mixture is then collected in the crop until the honey bee reaches the hive. As the bee reaches the hive this compound is regurgitated in the hive cell and is known as “Honey.”

Honey Dipped Balushahi
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 2 tsp. yogurt
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 1/2 tsp. baking soda
* 2 tsp. clarified butter
* ghee for deep frying
* Honey for dipping
Mix all the ingredients together, except ghee and honey. Prepare smooth fluffy dough. Divide them into equal parts and shape them as you please. Now, heat the ghee to medium hot (not too smoky) and fry these balushahis to golden brown. Then, dip them in honey until it coats all over it. Serve chilled as a dessert.

Dry Fruits Milkshake
Honey Jar* 3 fresh figs
* 5 dates
* 5 almonds
* 3-4 cashew nuts
* 4-7 pistachios
* 1 large banana
* 2 tsp. honey
* 4 cups of organic milk
Blend all the above mentioned ingredients together till smooth. Serve chilled in tall glasses.

Malar Gandhi is a freelance writer who specializes in Culinary Anthropology and Gourmet Indian Cooking. She blogs about Indian Food at www.kitchentantras.com

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