India, due to its bio-diversity, produces about 65,000 MT per year. Enriched with vitamins, minerals, amino acids and more, honey is the most appropriate and healthy substitute of sugar with high nutritional value.
Mankind is known to utilise honey since centuries in various medical, culinary and beauty purposes. Across the globe, honey is appreciated not just for its delectable taste, but also for tons of health benefits.
Indian Vedic texts elaborately describe the benefits of honey and use several metaphors for it such as ‘the nectar of the Sun’ and ‘sweet and golden like the sun’ etc.
A healthy sweetener
A healthy choice, honey is rich in antioxidants and is cholesterol-free, fat-free, and sodium-free. As per USDA nutritional factsheet, each tablespoon of raw honey has 64 calories and 100g has 304 calories. On an average, raw honey includes roughly 80 per cent carbohydrates (mostly fructose and glucose), 18 per cent water and 2 per cent vitamins, minerals, amino acids and pollen. The nutritional composition of honey may vary slightly depending on the floral variety, but remains similar overall.
Raw honey is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Key vitamins present in raw honey include Vitamin B6, Niacin, Thiamine, Riboflavin and Pantothenic acid. The minerals present in honey include Copper, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Manganese, Potassium, Phosphorus, Sodium and Zinc. These natural vitamins and minerals enhance health by assisting the body to metabolise unwanted fatty acid and cholesterol, and therefore, avert obesity.
Another encouraging characteristic of honey is its healthy Glycemic Index (GI). A stable GI means that food’s sugar will be gradually absorbed into the bloodstream without elevating glucose level in the body. This feature makes it a healthier option as compared to sugar and other non-nutritive sweeteners for the diabetics.
Procurement of nutritive value
Honey production through apiculture has been practiced in India since ages. The key areas for natural honey production in the country includes - Northern region, North east region and the state of Maharashtra. Due to existence of diverse landscapes and varied climatic conditions, India is globally admired for its huge variety of honey. Each variety of honey is different from another in taste, aroma and other nutritional characteristics.
According to Vinod Sudan, Director, Himalayan Organic Fresh Pvt. Ltd., which houses the rarest mono-floral nectar honey sourced from Jammu & Kashmir by the name of Mellisaé, sourcing the best quality honey is extremely critical, especially if it’s a monofloral variety.
He says, “Each and every flower has a blossom period of about 15-20 days in an entire year and at times in two years. We track and identify areas for bee-hiving within that period and place our hives there. Since, bees have a flying capacity of about 3 kilometers, therefore, they have access to only one source for sugar, which is a single flower nectar. Thus, the honey that we deal with is 'Monofloral', a high altitude nectar."
There has to be a unique colour to the honey you purchase. Natural colour of each variant derived from the flora is maintained on the basis of how the honey is being extracted, stored and packaged. However, the most important thing to keep in mind is that it is not adulterated.
Sudan further adds, “To retain nutritive values of honey, it is best not to ever heat it. Besides, it should always be stored in glass jars away from heat and there should be no added preservatives. Moreover, to ensure your honey is A-grade quality, you must see the colour, which has to be anywhere between light to amber depending upon the variety. In terms of taste, genuine and high quality Acacia and Borage varities are relatively low on sugar.”
Varieties of honey available in India
Rapeseed/Mustard Honey: It is white to light amber in colour and has a very characteristic taste. With its long list of nutritional benefits, this honey type has a tendency to crystallise faster and is beneficial for everyone due to its low acid content.
Eucalyptus Honey: It is extra light amber to amber in colour and has a strong medicinal taste. It is not as sweet as other varieties of honey. It is used to treat a variety of health issues due to its health benefits - antibacterial, decongestant, anti-inflammatory, deodorant, antispasmodic, antiseptic and stimulating.
Lychee Honey: It is white to light amber in colour and has a sweet and pleasant aroma. It has a delicious flavour and is slightly acidic.
Sunflower Honey: It is golden yellow in colour and has a light pleasant flavour.
Karanj/Pongamea Honey: The colour of this honey varies from extra light to light amber. It has a distinct aroma and has a very characteristic flavour of the flower. It has various medicinal uses.
Multi-flora Himalayan Honey: Known to be the most delicious amongst all, the appearance of this honey type varies from white to extra light amber in colour. It is widely used for its medicinal properties.
Acacia Honey: It is almost transparent to white in colour and bears a characteristic taste of the flower. As compared to other varieties of honey, it has high density.
Wild Flora Honey: It is extra light amber to amber in appearance and is rich in aroma. It is widely used in various medicinal purposes.
Multi and Mono floral Honey: Its appearance varies hugely from extra light to amber and has a pleasant flavour and aroma.
There are various brands of honey available in the country, offering different varieties. Some of the well-known brands in the market are- Dabur, Himalaya, Patanjali, Khadi, Himflora, Mehsons, Hitkari, Umang and Mellisaé.
Significantly, the Indian organised honey market is estimated at 50,000 tonnes per year, with Dabur being the lead player with a 70 per cent share, according to a leading business daily The Business Standard. The brand competes with other organised brands like Lion, predominantly available in Southern part of the country along with Patanjali, Himalaya and a clutch of regional brands.