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Saturday, July 14, 2012

(Loquat?) Peruvian Market Honey, Cusco, Peru

My friend Ronna recently went to Peru on a family vacation and she brought me back honey she bought in a local market in Cusco, or Cuzco? or Cozco? or Quesqu? or Qosqo?- it is hard to know how to spell it. According to wiki, the aboriginal name for the city is Quesqu. The Spanish conquistadors altered the local name to Cuzco or Cozco, and Cuzco was the 'official spelling' until 1976 when the mayor banned this spelling and mandated that "Cusco" be used instead. Then in 1990, other local officials authorized a new spelling: Qosqo. Egads, what is going on? And what are we poor mortals to do when referring to this lovely city? So as not to be too confusing, I will use the name that is listed on the map I found of Peru, Cusco. I hope I'm not offending anyone.

Cusco is a city of about 350,000 in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. It is the capitol of the Cusco region as well as the Cuzco province, and is also the historical capitol of the Inca Empire. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO.

From about 900- 1200 the Killke occupied the region, and they were followed by the Incas (1300s-1532). Then, between 1527-1536, Cusco was controlled by many different rulers. In 1527 Huayna Capac died and his empire was divided, and the city fell under the control of Huáscar. It was then captured by the generals of Atahualpa in 1532 (Battle of Quipaipan), and a year and a half later Spaniards captured it (in the Battle of Cuzco)- renaming it to Cuzco in the process. In 1536 it was briefly (a few days) retaken by Manco Inca Yupanqui during the Siege of Cuzco. The Spanish then reclaimed it more permanently, and it became the center of Spanish colonization. Then, much later in 1821, Peru declared independence. Cusco was made the capitol of the new department of Cuzco, and has since become the most important city in the southeastern Andean region.

Oops- I almost forgot to mention that Cusco was also used as the base for the expedition of Hiram Bingham in 1911 to find Machu Picchu, which is why it is now a major tourist destination (and why my friend Ronna found herself in the market of Cusco looking for honey).

Cusco has a subtropical highland climate. It is generally dry and temperate, with a dry season (April to October) and a wet season (November to March). A bit of trivia:
In 2006 Cusco was found to have the highest ultraviolet light level on Earth.

I (and Ronna) have no idea what kind of honey she bought. It came in a small plastic cup with a lid, and no label. She bought it from a crowded market stall in the large local market from a fellow who could only say that it was local and produced by native Peruvians. She did take a photo of the fellow and his stall- but this is all I have to go on (see below).

I found one site that gave information about Peruvian honey production []. According to the site, most honey is produced in the Amazon rainforest region. In fact, honey production is being promoted in this area as an alternative to growing coca crops, the source of cocaine. In the plateau region, where Cusco is, there is also honey production, but it is generally a smaller, family operation, with a family having a few hives to make some extra money. These small, family outfits are organized as micro-cooperatives and are mainly run by women. It seems that given the climate and floral sources available, honey production has real potential in the area, but poor road conditions hinder moving bees around.

Of interest, before Europeans arrived, there were no honey bees (Apis mellifera) in the Americas, but there was beekeeping and honey. The honey was produced by a small, stingless bee called mellipona. Some Peruvians continue to gather honey from this local bee, called 'palo honey.'

The usual floral sources for honey in Peru are: carob trees, cotton plants, Eucalyptus, tangerine trees, mango trees, orange trees, and loquat trees (also known as Japanese medlar). I wasn't familiar with loquat trees or fruit, and found out that the fruit is very sweet and tastes like a cross between passion fruit and a guava.

But back to the honey that Ronna got me. It is a very thin, clear and runny honey. It has a clear, mellow honey color. In fact, just looking at it I would say it looks a lot like clover honey, but maybe a bit runnier. The first clue that it is NOT a run of the mill table honey, though, is the smell. It smells like pineapple(!) And the taste is so unexpected- It has an INCREDIBLE exotic, fruity taste. It is like a mix of pineapple and papaya or maybe mango- or maybe loquat? I've never tasted a loquat, so I can't be sure, but it sure tastes like what I'd imagine an exotic fruit to taste like. The after taste is a clean, slightly lemony citrus flavor. It reminds me a little of juicy fruit gum- which I haven't had since I was a kid, but who can forget that flavor? I've never tasted a honey quite like it. I'm convincing myself that it is loquat honey; I've had Eucalyptus, tangerine and orange honey, and it doesn't taste anything like it. Given the color and the fact that it is reported to be harvested by native Peruvians, do you think it might also be 'palo honey'?

If you know anything about Peruvian honey from the Cusco region, I'd like to hear from you! And if you don't know anything about Peruvian honey but find yourself in Cusco, go to the market, find the man who sells this honey (feel free to carry a copy his photo around) and don't leave until you have some answers. This honey is fantastic and too good to remain anonymous. Unfortunately, the only way to get it is to go to the market at Cusco.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Orange Blossom Honey, Totana, Murcia, Spain

This orange blossom honey comes from Totana, a town near the southeast coast of Spain, in the Murcia province. Totana is a small (about 20,000 inhabitants), historic town known for its pottery (which are produced using traditional kilns that date from Moorish times), and its spectacular surrounding countryside, among other things.

It is nestled in the Guadalentin valley, and close to the Sierra Espuña regional park. It looks absolutely lovely. If you are looking for a picturesque spot to vacation that offers great hiking, cycling and bird watching, you might want to check the region out. If you are a birder, in particular, you might look into it. They seem to have a very active birding community:

The Guadalentin valley is an agricultural region (producing grapes, almonds, and squash, among other things) with a mild Mediterranean climate. Of interest, I came across a local news item describing how more police and resources were being deployed in an effort to prevent table grape harvest theft in the area. Imagine being in a place where table grape harvest theft made front page news(!) It has got to be beautiful. I picture rolling hills of grape vines against a backdrop of majestic mountains, with mountain breezes ruffling wildflowers growing in roadside ditches and the buzz of cicadas in the air. So much more romantic than car theft, which brings to my mind images of urban, concrete jungles with graffiti sprayed walls and heavy air full of back alley garbage smell- don't you think? But maybe I'm letting my imagination run away with me. For anyone interested in following the efforts to crack down on table grape harvest crime:

Back to my honey: it is packaged and marketed by Coato, an agricultural cooperative. They were founded in 1979 by 65 paprika pepper producers but have since expanded to deal in olive oil, fruits and vegetables, and honey, among other things. The marketing of honey for them is relatively new, staring in the late 1990s when ten beekeepers in the area approached them to sell their product in bulk. This honey operation has also expanded and now Coato packages and markets about 50% of the honey from the Murcia region. They deal in a variety of different honeys- including: rosemary, wildflower, eucalyptus, and orange blossom. You can buy their products directly from them on their website:

Orange blossom honey, not surprisingly, comes from orange blossoms of the sweet orange tree (Citrus sinensis). The sweet orange should not be confused with the bitter orange (Citrus aurantium), which is not very tasty. Did you know that orange trees are the most commonly grown tree fruit in the world? At least according to Wiki, they are. Orange trees, which were first cultivated in China in about 2500 BCE, are now widely grown in tropical and subtropical climates. In 2008 it was estimated that nearly 70 million tons of oranges were grown worldwide. In the US the principal growers are in Florida and California. In the rest of the world, Brazil is a big player. Did you know that the orange fruit is a type of a berry, called a hesperidium? Now you can amaze your friends with all of your orange trivia.

The orange blossom honey I have is thin, amber colored and clear. It takes a little effort and a lot of twirling to get enough on a toothpick to sample. It has an uncomplicated floral taste from beginning to end, with a slightly heightened final sweet note. The floral taste is a little hard to describe. Have you ever smelled orange blossoms? That is what it tastes like, but a little more subtle. This honey is perfect for baking. If you want honey sweetness with a lovely floral undertone, this is a good choice.