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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rata honey, Otira Gorge, New Zealand

The Rata honey I have is from New Zealand. It is processed and distributed by Airborne in Leeston, which is located southwest of Christchurch. Airborne were early New Zealand honey producers (1910-1997) but now concentrate on processing and distributing other apiarists' honey. The company was started with 50 hives in 1910 by William Bray and Alfred Barrett. In 1997 they had grown to having 6,000 hives but then decided to shift the focus of the company to processing, marketing and distributing other people's honey. From their website, they state that they are now one of the largest honey processing and exporting companies in New Zealand. They have a wonderful website with a great history of the company: They process a lot of floral honey, but from flowers I've never heard of: Vipers Bugloss (must look out for this one!), Kamahi, Rewarewa, and Tawar to name a few. They also make honey lozenges with anti-bacterial properties from Manuka and honeydew honey varieties. Apparently Manuka, Honeydew and Thyme honeys contain higher levels of antibacterial activity and antioxidants than most other varieties, making them of interest to health conscious people. They also produce a special line of honeys designed to be used in tea(?) and another in coffee(?). I'm not sure what this is all about (if you know, please leave a comment!).
The Airborne website states that Rata Honey is produced mostly from the Southern Rata on the West coast of New Zealand's South Island. There are, apparently, eight species of Rata, but Southern Rata is the main source of honey. The Rata (pronounced RayTay) is endemic to New Zealand and grows up to 15 meters high. The Rata flower looks like a red sea anemone - truly beautiful. It blooms from January to March but has good and bad (to no) bloom years, so it doesn't lead to a very reliable honey source. However this is apparently offset by good bloom years that produce such an abundance of honey that the bad years are forgiven. Of interest, Rata honey has the reputation of being a fast crystallizer. This can be a real problem when extracting it- it has to be done quickly. This is a lot like Rapsflower honey (see April 2012 blog).
For a honey to be designated as Rata honey, it has to be made up of at least 45% Rata pollen. The Airborne folks take a lot of pains to really understand the honey they process. They have a laboratory on site and, judging from all the information on their website, they closely monitor all sorts of honey-related variables. On the label of my honey, I have the rata pollen percentage (69%- so definitely Rata honey; whew), the batch number, and when it was packed. This is more information than I've ever seen on a honey label before. Alas, my honey has crystallized. I guess this isn't so surprising from a Rata honey. There is a top layer of liquid honey, though. It is a mellow brown-caramel color. The liquid part is very (very) thin. It barely even clings onto a toothpick. What is most unusual about it it is its texture- silky and very light. It has a rich first taste- with a hint of molasses, and then a floral aftertaste, with a very thin, subtle sweetness. The molasses flavor was a little unexpected. I guess I associate the taste with thicker honeys. The crystallized part is unusual too. The crystals are very, very fine, so the texture is smooth but with some body. It is almost like having a very fine cream of wheat mixed in, but one that dissolves with the honey.I have read that Rata honey is sometimes described as being salty. I didn't notice any salty taste (and I was looking for it).
If you are interested in buying Rata honey, or any other Airborne honey, their website lists sellers:

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