We learned all the secrets of the work of the only honey sommelier in Belarus
Today, approximately 1.5 million tonnes of honey are produced in the world, and almost half of it is counterfeit. Honey is one of the ten most frequently counterfeited products. Honey sommeliers are called upon to protect its quality (and name!). Today our guest is Olga Gavrilik, Master of Technical Sciences, the first and so far the only certified honey and mead maker sommelier in Belarus and amateur beekeeper in the third generation.
— Despite the fact that bees and honey, as you say, are built into your DNA, you did not come to the apiary right away.
— I started my career in the banking sector. Then I went into private business, where I started producing synthetic packaging from scratch. To understand the product and sell it successfully, I became a technologist in the chemical and meat processing industries. Although in my heart I felt like an entrepreneur. And then there was a boom in healthy eating. After conducting marketing research, I realised: honey is exactly what I need. Now my husband and I have our own apiary and a production facility for processing honey and bee products in the agro-town of Porechye, Grodno Region. There are also hives that only I work with.
— How did you become a honey sommelier?
— I accidentally saw a note on the Internet about honey sommelier. Then I found courses on sensory analysis of honey, organised by the Italian Council for Research in Agriculture and Economics. In 2018, I flew to Bologna to study as a honey sommelier. The training took place in three stages. In 2021, I successfully passed the exams and became a member of the National Register of Experts in Sensory Analysis of Honey.
— What is the most popular honey in Belarus?
— Perhaps a multicomponent polyfloral meadow or forest plant. It is the most common and in demand. But monofloral honeys (that is, taken mainly from one type of plant) are rare in our country.
— What kind of honey do you like the most?
— Heather: dark amber, jelly-like, with a pronounced bitterness.
— But it is very rare.
— Yes, due to the decline in groundwater levels, the heathers dry out, the amount of nectar decreases, and it is difficult for the bee to work on this flower. I brought him to Italy for courses. It turned out to be identical to heather honey from Great Britain. In their country and in our country, one type of heather grows — calluna vulgaris.
— What is sensory analysis of honey?
— This is an analysis using the senses: sight, smell, taste and touch. Only hearing is not involved. The process is similar to wine tasting. It is no coincidence that 30 years ago it was invented by the French: wine connoisseur, engineer Gabriel Vache and scientist Michel Gonnet.
Honey, like wine, is poured into glasses. First, we visually evaluate its appearance: colour, brightness, presence of impurities, consistency. Then, to analyse the smell, stir and distribute it a little along the walls of the glass to release volatile substances. Cover the glass with your hand and hold it for a couple of seconds so that as many aromatic molecules as possible accumulate. Open it sharply and inhale. The strongest olfactory sensations occur in the first seconds: the receptors very quickly get used to the smell. We take the second breath after 20-30 seconds.
Then we taste it. If you hold your nose and taste the honey, you will not feel anything: there is no aroma. The sense of smell is a central part of our lives.
To assess the taste characteristics and aroma, 1-2 grams of honey is enough, which must be held between the tongue and the roof of the mouth for a couple of seconds. This will be the first taste. Having swallowed and exhaled, we get a retrozonal aftertaste-both taste and aroma. The aroma, by the way, may not coincide with the smell. And it is felt only when exhaling.
You can restore the functioning of your taste buds by eating a piece of green apple or rinsing your mouth with water. By tasting honey, you can also evaluate its consistency, size and condition of the crystals.
— Is crystallisation a sign of falsification?
— Vice versa. Real honey hardens quickly — a month after collection. If the product is not candied for a long time, then this is a bad sign. This may indicate possible heat treatment, which destroys beneficial substances. Fake honeys do not crystallise, maintaining a viscous, syrup-like consistency. The exception is the acacia and honeydew species.
— What strange honeys have you ever tried?
— There are a great many varieties of honey. Even more than honey plants. I have already tried about 300 types of it. In Italy, I liked ailanthus (popularly known as ‘vinegar tree’) honey. In it you can catch shades of hazelnuts, coconut, baked pear, and licorice candies.
From exotic New Zealand — manuka honey. Dense, dark brown and... with a very specific taste and aroma: it smells strongly of medicine. Sakura honey is like our spring honey, collected when the gardens are in bloom.
Strawberry honey has an unusual and sharp taste. It is very bitter and spicy, somewhat reminiscent of Tabasco. In addition to the usual ones (floral and fruity, for example), the registry includes honey with the smell of wet dog fur — eucalyptus, with the aroma of menthol and freshly cut grass — linden.
Buckwheat has a very sweet and tart taste and a specific aroma — a blooming buckwheat field, grease, burnt sugar with notes of coffee and caramel.
— What honey is the most expensive in the world?
— Elvish, the price of 1 kilogrammes reaches €5000. Bees collect it from honey plants growing in the crevices of the Sarikair cave at a depth of 1800 metres.
— Which varieties are the rarest?
— Collected from honey plants that do not grow in large plantations. These are raspberry, dandelion, pumpkin, angelica , apple, and hawthorn honeys. It is very difficult to find honey from berry honey plants: strawberry, lingonberry, blueberry.
— Are there elite varieties of honey?
— Indeed, the elite includes varieties (both dark and light) containing over 80 percent fructose and glucose. These are heather, clover, buckwheat and linden honeys.
— How to check the naturalness of honey?
— The most important thing is to buy honey in trusted places, under a familiar brand or from your beekeeper. I am glad that in Belarus the problem of honey adulteration is not so acute: beekeeping has a high culture.
There are basic criteria that are inherent in natural honey. This is primarily the colour (depending on the type of honey) — from transparent to dark amber. Pleasant aroma without any foreign odours. And no smell of smoke. Sweet, pleasant, without a pronounced foreign aftertaste.
Homogeneous and consistency: without separation and foreign substances. A small layer, for example, may be present in buckwheat honey. And this is considered the norm: fructose sinks to the bottom, and glucose crystallises on top. And as a result — separation of honey in the jar.
Real honey dissolves in water without any residue. If sediment appears or impurities are noticeable, it is a fake.
There are 20,000 species of bees in the world, but only seven of them are honeybees
According to experts, in Germany, on average, 1.2-1.3 kilogrammes of honey per year is consumed per person, in the USA and Belarus — 0.5 kilogrammes, in Japan — 0.4 kilogrammes, in Europe — approximately 0.7 kilogrammes, in Russia (according to various sources) — from 0.3 to 0.8 kilogrammes