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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Siziphus (Ziziphus) Blossom Honey, Jordan Valley, Israel

I found this siziphus (also referred to as "ziziphus") honey locally. It was imported by Oxygen Imports, but it originated from the Jordan valley in Israel.

The sources of the Jordan river (for there are many) mainly come from the Anti-Lebanon mountains in Syria. The river flows down to the Sea of Galilee and then drains into the Dead Sea. However, I learned that "Jordan valley" generally only applies to the lower course of the Jordan river from where it exits the Sea of Galilee in the north, to the end of its course where it flows into the Dead sea in the south. This segment of the valley is also known as the "Jordan Rift valley." It encompasses an area of about 120 km long and 15 km wide, and forms the border between Jordan to the east, and Israel and the West Bank to the west. The river has major significance to Judaism and Christianity, and to a lesser extent Islam; the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land from the Jordan river, and Jesus was baptized in its waters by John the Baptist.

Map showing the Jordan River and Valley

 The Jordan Rift valley, which boasts a Mediterranean climate, is an exceptionally fertile agricultural region and has been for thousands of years. [As an aside, I came across one reference that credits the fertility of the place to its "alluvial soil." I don't come across too many references to "alluvial" and I found it very poetic.] Modern methods of farming, including newer irrigation techniques and the introduction of portable greenhouses, have made the area even more productive. Crops include citrus, dates, grapes, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, melons and bananas, among others. In fact, I read that this area of the Jordan valley produces the majority of Jordan's food.

Beekeeping is as old as farming, so it is not surprising to learn that this area has a tradition of beekeeping that dates from ancient times. In fact, I came across a website about beekeeping in Jordan that states that shards of ancient pottery were found that outlined the rules of beekeeping. In addition, there are many references in the Koran, the Bible and other religious texts about honey from the region.
Zizphus spina christi Tree

The honey I have is siziphus honey. "Siziphus," also sometimes spelled "ziziphus," refers to about 40 species of spiny shrubs and trees that are found in warm-temperate and subtropical regions around the world. These shrubs/trees produce sweet fruit, not unlike a date (called a jujube among other names), that is eaten fresh or dried, or used in jams and candies.

Ziziphus spina christi flowers
The species most commonly found in the Mediterranean region and specifically in the Jordan valley, is the Ziziphus spina-christi variety (also known as Christ's Thorn Jujube or Middle Eastern Acacia), so named because the thorny crown that Jesus wore prior to his crucifixion was thought to be made from branches of this tree. This species originated in tropical Sudanese and arrived in the area some 6,000 years ago. A pair of stipules at the base of each of its leaves turn into hard thorns making it a very thorny tree. It also has the distinction of becoming quite large (up to 10 meters) and quite old (500+ years) if grown in the right conditions. It mainly blooms between March and October. Its flowers are small, pale yellowish, shaped like five-pointed stars, grouped like grapes, and produce a lot of nectar. The fruit are small, yellowish or orange-brown balls, each containing a single, large seed.
Ziziphus spina christi fruit

Of interest, there are honey bees local to the region, Apis mellifera syriaca. While they survive the heat and drought, and are good at withstanding mite and wasp attacks, they are nervous and aggressive making them less desirable than European bees, which are more docile and easier to work with. As a consequence European bees have been imported over time and subsequent interbreeding between the two have diminished the native Syrica populations.

The apiary that produced the honey I have is Ein Harod Apiary. It was established about 80 years ago in Kibbutz Ein Harod near Harod spring, the biblical site of Gideon's spring. They produce a variety of honeys including: citrus, wildflower, avocado, star thistle, and siziphus, and have a lovely website. In addition to all sorts of information about them and their honey, they also have honey recipes. While I haven't tried it out yet, the honey cake recipe looked particularly yummy.

Siziphus Blossom Honey

My honey is very (very) clear and golden yellow. I thought it would be thin and runny as a result but am surprised that it is quite thick. It almost has a gummy texture as a result. It is not too sweet and has a subtle floral taste with a hint of molasses. Overall, it is a very tasty honey. It's thickness would make it perfect drizzled in Greek yoghurt, and it would also be a good in baking; I can't wait to try it in the Ein Harod's honey cake recipe.

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