Honey- The Sweet Nectar from Myanmar

Honey Heavy On My Hand…

In the last decade or so, honey has become the new age sugar, added to teas, used as a spread and added to desserts besides being used to tone down the bitterness of certain ingredients, effectively taking the place of refined granulated sugar. This is the outcome of extensive research that exposes the ill effects of sugar and how it triggers various diseases, but also because the benefits of honey are too many to be ignored. As part of eating natural, unprocessed foods, using food ingredients with therapeutic value, honey has been gaining popularity in developed countries where food habits focusing on healthier diets, and poorer, underdeveloped countries where eating natural foods is by default, due to lack of availability of anything else.

The golden, sticky, natural syrup, sweet to taste and helpful to heal ailments and maladies comes from the hives of honey bees. Widely perceived to be the healthier sweetener, linked to treating lifestyle disorders like obesity, the demand for honey has been growing in every corner of the world, as ‘going natural’ has become a fad for the health conscious populace.  We cannot push the sweet taste of foods out of our lives, but foods sweetened with honey would be preferable, keeping our weight in check and many diseases at bay.

How honey gets made

Honey is one of the gifts of nature that comes to us processed by small bees that collect sweet nectar from flowers. The scores of bottles lining supermarket shelves and neighborhood stores, reveals that it is available in abundance, and never a thought spared as to how this sweet, sticky potion is made. We have perhaps never imagined counting the number of birds and insects we see in the vast expanse between the earth and the sky. In actual fact, one pound of honey requires the nectar collected from over two million flowers by 60,000 bees that travel a combined distance of around 55,000 kilometers. A single bee hive has up to 80,000 bees and each bee hive can produce around 100 pounds of extra honey, that can be harvested.

Bees have two stomachs, one for eating for their own nourishment and an extra stomach specially to store the nectar they suck out of flowers during spring, with the help of their tubelike tongues. The nectar stays in the stomach for around half an hour during which time it mixes with enzymes and proteins produced by the bees. The collection of nectar is the job of the worker bees who then head back to their beehives and the nectar enzyme blend is regurgitated into the mouths of the house bees, who then ingest it before depositing it into the hexagonal honeycomb cells. Though the water content has already been reduced, it is further lessened by being fanned by the bees’ wings. When ready the bees move to begin capping the honey with a liquid secreted by the bees’ abdomen. The capping time serves as a signal that the honey is ready.

Therapeutic qualities of Honey

Honey has been called ‘liquid gold’ for all the goodness it carries. It is the only insect produce that is fit for human consumption. The use of honey bee products for medicinal purposes is called apitherapy and is becoming increasingly popular.

Honey is available in hundreds of varieties and each has a distinct flavor and color, depending on the flowers whose nectar they suck. It is a thick blend of sugar, trace enzymes, minerals, vitamins and amino acids. Research has proved that honey provides energy to the human body, heals and helps in treating various diseases and health disorders. Its high fructose level makes it sweeter than sugar.

  1. Sugar substitute that prevents weight gain- Honey is a natural sweetener and therefore lower in calories than granulated refined sugar. It can therefore be added to all foods without the risk of weight gain. Honey is known to contain 22 amino acids and a number of minerals that help the body’s metabolism, and thus prevent the risk of obesity. A new finding indicates that honey speeds up the fat burning metabolism if taken at night and fuels the liver function.
  2. Source of vitamins and minerals – Honey is a great natural source for vitamins and minerals. These include niacin, thiamine, riboflavin and panthothenic acid. It is rich in calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and manganese, all of which are essential for a healthy body.
  3. Prevents allergies – Honey has anti-inflammatory properties which help in treating seasonal allergies leading to rashes, redness, coughs and colds. Doctors believe that it works like nature’s vaccine and the minuscule amounts of pollen help the human create antibodies to the pollen, that’s been known to trigger allergies in thousands of people. Thus it works like a natural antihistamine.
  4. Antibacterial and antifungal properties – Various studies confirm the anti bacterial and antifungal properties of honey. Honey inhibits a broad range of over 60 bacterial species. This helps in treating wounds and burns and hastens the healing process without the area getting inflamed Its antifungal properties make it effective against the common candida fungus. With lower water and sugar content its microbial growth is prevented.
  5. Boosts memory – Honey is known to have huge amounts of antioxidants, which according to a 2011 study, help prevent cellular damage in the brain that can trigger memory loss. Honey helps to absorb more calcium and this boosts brain health. This can reduce the risk of dementia in older people.
  6. Cough suppressant – Persistent cough lingers for weeks after a bout of the common cold, making sleep difficult. It has been found that two teaspoons of honey given to children up to five years of age, coughed less and slept better. It helps adults as well since its stickiness helps to coat the throat and prevent dryness
  7. Aids better sleep – A spoonful of honey taken at night before sleeping facilitates sleep and makes it easier for people to fall asleep. This can be attributed to honey facilitating the action of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps in overcoming insomnia or the inability to sleep. Tryptophan enters the brain through the marginal insulin increase with the intake of honey(it raises blood sugar levels very slightly) and is converted into serotonin, which in turn is converted at night into melatonin, a cure for sleep related disorders.
  8. Treats dandruff – Dandruff causes problems of hair loss, flaky scalp skin and severe itching. Honey’s antibacterial and antifungal properties help to cure seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff, when applied in a diluted form and massaged into the scalp. Honey helps the hair hold on to moisture which prevents dryness. Hair loss caused by dandruff also stops.

Myanmar Honey Production

Honey has been popular in Myanmar more for its traditional medicines with all its therapeutic healing properties. While wild honey is collected from hives scattered all over the country, beekeeping is gradually picking up in the last decade or so. Beekeeping areas include Magwe, Mandalay, Shan, Mon, Chin and Sagaing states. At present, domestic consumption is just 300 tons per annum and locals prefer wild honey for its superior quality.

Honey collected from hives found in the wild is rich and intense to taste, but dark in color. Out of the 3500 tons produced annually over 90% is exported to Japan, USA, Canada and Thailand. Japan purchases over 2000 tons out of this since it prefers the natural quality and the fact that Myanmar honey is free of antibiotics and chemicals. It is commendable that the local honey is able to meet the stringent Japanese standards.

Honey is sold at less than 1 USD per kilogram in the local markets, and in the international markets Myanmar honey is sold at USD 1100 per ton.

However, nearly the entire export amount is raw unprocessed honey, which sells at cheaper rates due to the darker color while international customers have a distinct preference for light colored honey. It faces tough competition from Chinese honey that is light and very cheap, but known to contain antibiotics and other chemicals.

Some of the commonly found honey brands include Tinospora Honey, Mount Khakabo Pure Honey and Integrity Pure Honey.

Beekeeping is gradually picking up in the country especially in Shan State where Tag International Development has opened its beekeeping center in Pindiya. Using Israeli expertise, it has also imported  queen bees from Israel. Incidentally it is only the queen bee that lays eggs and ensures multiplication of bee numbers.

Beekeeping provides ample employment and earning potential for the rural poor and help them lead better lives. At present there are over 120,000 bee hives in the country but there is enormous potential for growth, though it will require training of bee keepers, an initiative being taken up by Tag.

Why Myanmar honey loses out in international markets

Myanmar’s honey is of high quality but unable to capture the market share it deserves internationally. This is because of the following reasons:

  • Only raw honey is exported without being processed
  • The machinery and equipment needed to process honey is not invested in
  • The expense needed to be incurred for processing is not justified by the volumes
  • Adding value and attracting packaging in smaller packs need investment in the industry

The global market for honey is expanding with the goodness of this nectar making it the preferred sweet option over sugar. Its healing and medicinal properties are making it a common ingredient for a wide range of medicines for numerous lifestyle diseases. With an assured market, Myanmar stands to gain from increasing its honey production.