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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Angkor Bee Farm Pure (Khmer) Wildflower Honey, Angkor, Cambodia

This honey was a gift from my friend Barbara who visited Angkor in Cambodia recently. Angkor is located in Cambodia's northern province of Siem Reap, north of Cambodia's Great Lake, Tonle Sap, and south of the Kulen Hills. And for her visit she was not alone. Apparently close to a million people visit this area each year. The main attractions are the many, many (1000+) temples of Angkor, with the temple of Angkor Wat, the 7th Wonder of the World, as the jewel of the crown. And it is not hard to see why. 
Angkor, Cambodia

But first a bit of history: Angkor, the capital city and the center of the Khmer Empire, was established by Jayavarman II in 802 AD. Angkor in Khmer means "Holy City," and at its peak it was a mega city. In 2007, satellite photographs of the area showed that it may have been the largest pre-industrial city in the world. It had an elaborate infrastructure system connecting an urban sprawl of 1,000+ kilometers, and a complicated water management network. It is estimated that it could have supported up to a million people. 

Angkor Wat, the main temple located at the center of Angkor, was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II as a personal mausoleum. "Impressive" does not begin to describe it. It is perhaps the largest religious monument in the world, and a well preserved example of Khmer architecture. It is surrounded by a moat and the only entrance is via a causeway. It is a little confusing, however, because while "Angkor Wat" is the name of this single temple, it is often used to refer to the collection of hundreds of temples within the region. Other notable examples of Khmer architectures in the area include the Bayon (at Angkor Thom), Preah Khan and Ta Prohm temples.
Angkor Wat Temple

After King Suryavarman II's death there was a period of decline for the Khmer Empire and power struggles with the neighboring Cham people. But things turned around during King Jayayarman VII's reign. He built the walled city of Angkor Thom, defeated the Cham and replaced Hinduism with Buddhism. Then, in the 15th century the fortunes of the Khmer Empire changed for the worse. Thai invaders, pushed out of China by the Mongols, destroyed Angkor. The population dispersed and the Khmer Empire moved its capital to Phnom Pehn, which remains the capital of Cambodia today. The Angkorian period lasted from 802 AD to 1431 AD. Angkor was gradually swallowed up by rain forests and largely forgotten until the French explorer Henri Mouhot rediscovered it in 1860, shortly after which time it was summarily looted by the West. In 1907 restoration efforts began with areas of forest cleared, foundations repaired and drains installed. These efforts continue to the present, with a brief interruption during the 1970s Cambodian civil war. The area is now the Angkor Archeological Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of interest, the park has many inhabited villages, where residents farm, mostly rice. 

While honey collection has been practiced for a very long time in the region, it was, up until relatively recently, a smaller operation that supplied honey locally for household consumption. However, given increased demands, high honey prices, and support from the World Wildlife Foundation and the Non-timber Forest Products Exchange Programme (among other wildlife and environmental conservation groups), communities are being trained in sustainable honey harvesting techniques and honey processing. Honey harvesting promotes intact forests and offers communities an income not linked to de-forestation, and therefore promotes forest and wildlife conservation.  

Rafter Beehive

The two main native honeybee species in Cambodia are the Asian Hive honeybee (Apis cerano) and the Giant Asian honeybee (Apis dorsata). If I understand correctly, traditionally honey is not so much produced via bee keeping as collected in Cambodia. Honey hunters go into the forest and locate raft hives ("rafters") and collect honey, or create conditions that induce bees to begin a hive (i.e. place long pools at 30 degree angles to the ground in strategic locations) and go back to harvest honey from the hive when it is more established. However honey was not generally harvested in a sustainable way. The entire comb was harvested (i.e. cut-once-take-all) and some honey hunters used insecticides or fire that destroyed the colony to minimize bee stings. Current practices, however, are to harvest in a sustainable way. Honey hunters now leave enough of the comb behind (the "honey head") for bees to remake it. Bees Unlimited, run by Dani Jump, an American-born beekeeper who has lived in Cambodia for 20 years, offers training in indigenous beekeeping and also does tours of local communities where you can see rafter beekeeping up close. This sounds like it would be a real treat. So, if you are in the area, do check it out.
Angkor Bee Farm photo from facebook

My Khmer Wildflower Honey is produced by the Angkor Bee Farm, a relatively new outfit that is run by Papa Pat Khmom. It was established with the help of world renowned and passionate French bee specialist Bernard Nicollet, who promotes beekeeping that is in tune with nature. M. Nicollet refers to himself as a "shepherd of bees" ("berger des abeilles"). He has invented tools for bee keeping, and taught, and written books and articles on the subject. In fact, he has also helped the police identify and recover stolen beehives

From the Angkor Bee Farm website and facebook page it looks like they use box hives and a more traditional (at least from the Western perspective) approach to beekeeping and honey harvesting. 

Angkor Bee Farm Wild Flower Honey

My wildflower honey was produced in 2014. I think this is the first year that the Angkor Bee Farm produced honey. The website doesn't describe the floral sources so I don't know what "wildflowers" were involved. The honey is very clear, pale yellow with little or no particulate matter. I thought the honey would be very thin, but in fact it has some weight to it, although I would not call it thick. It is a medium sweet honey with a very particular taste. It starts with a mellow molasses flavor that becomes a light floral taste with menthol and fruity overtones. It is very tasty! I can't find a way to buy it online but the Angkor Bee Farm's website does have contact information for anyone who wants to inquire if they ship.

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