Salambo in Addis

Salambo discovering Ethiopia

Discovering Ethiopian honey

I recently attended a presentation on Ethiopian honey organised by Slow Food, the global movement to protect local and traditional food, which was originally set up in Italy in the late 1980s. Slow Food has developed an interest for the rare and delicate honey produced in Ethiopia, and wants to promote it internationally.  For the last two years, the organisation has brought together Italian organic beekeepers and Ethiopian farmers to share knowledge on honey production techniques.

The traditional way of producing honey: hand squeezing it from the honey comb

Because of the connection with Italy, the presentation was held in the stunning grounds of the Italian Embassy, on the outskirts of Addis, at the very foot of the lush Entoto hills. Only 15 minutes from the city’s centre, but protected from its hustle and bustle, the Italian Embassy is reminiscent of a mansion in the Southern Alpes, yet surrounded by eucalyptus trees and sub-tropical plants. Built in the 1930s, it served as the residence of the Italian governor, during the five years Ethiopia came under Italian ruling. Today, many gatherings, presentation and social events in Addis take place inside the various embassies.

Honey is very much part of Ethiopia’s culture. It is used mainly for making Tej, a traditional home-made honey brew, also called honey wine. No ceremony or family reunion can take place without drinking Tej. In some regions, it is also used as a medicine to cure a number of ailments because of its antibiotic properties. Because it is used in large quantities, Ethiopians traditionally buy it by weight at the market place, where until very recently it was still sold in huge leather sacks. They have now been replaced by synthetic bags, as leather has increased in value and is sold to tanneries. Ethiopia is also one of the world’s largest producers of honey, and by far Africa’s biggest.

Bulk honey sacks as sold in Merkato in Addis Ababa

Honey remains a very regional product. Its taste and texture varies from region to region because of Ethiopia’s extremely diverse flora and fauna. Each area produces a unique type of honey. For instance in Tigray, the most northern region of Ethiopia, the honey has a distinctive white colour and grainy texture; it is made from a local blossom of the sage plant family, known as labiate, which gives it its unusual colour. The white honey of Tigray is the most praised in the country and is considered a delicacy. In the Wenchi crater located about 120 kilometres east of Addis Ababa, the amber-coloured smooth honey is made from the Erica arborea, a variety of the Erica flower found in the crater. Personnally, the Wenchi honey is my favourite. It has a rich texture and delicate taste, and is slightly smokey which makes it unlike any other honey. This is because traditional beekeepers still smoke the beehive to scare the bees away and take the honeycomb.

The five types of Ethiopian organic honey produced with the help of Slow Food

Slow Food is now helping Ethiopian beekeepers to preserve the uniqueness of their honey, while introducing more modern techniques. They have also introduced a more attractive and standardised packaging in glass jars with a distinctive label (as opposed to the currently used plastic containers), to be able to sell on the international market. The glass jars were donated by an Italian glass company, and have to be transported as accompanied luggage in suitcases whenever someone is flying between Italy and Ethiopia. Manufacturing glass is still limited in Ethiopia, and imported goods are heavily taxed, so people here have to come up with creative answers.

8 comments on “Discovering Ethiopian honey

  1. Lucinda Rainford
    December 18, 2013

    Honey just thought I would read and share something about it! I love honey, however I don’t think I have had any from Ethiopia. I would like to try some one of these days. “Liquid Gold” interesting. Thank you; good production, I pray the people of the culture will benefit ; helping it’s people with the problem of hunger and poverty that might be in existence. God Bless! Lucinda 12/18/2013.

  2. Matt Southerland
    March 28, 2016

    Where can I buy raw honey from Ethiopia? Thanks!

    • Salambo
      March 30, 2016

      Where are you based? You can only buy it in Ethiopia, travelling around the country or at international food fairs like the terra madre event in Turin later this year, I think….to be checked…

  3. Ashenafi
    June 2, 2016

    i can get white honey easily.. so any one who wants it can contact me. its from northern part of Ethiopia tigray region

    • mari
      July 24, 2016

      Are you in Ethiopia? I would like some honey. Not sure how to contact you.

      • Salambo
        July 25, 2016

        Hi mari….i am no longer in Ethiopia :(….you should be able to buy the honey at Juventus Club in Addis (next to Meskel Square).. There is a little pastry shop there where they sell the top quality Slow Food honey, hope they still do…

    • Marius
      May 30, 2017

      Hi how can I contact you.

      • Salambo
        May 30, 2017

        Hi Ashenafi and Marius, are you able to enter into contact directly? If not send me an email and i’ll connect you both….and thanks for reading 🙂

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