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Cretan honey, also known as thyme honey is one of the pillars of the Cretan diet.
Like olive oil and grapes, thyme honey is at the base of Greek gastronomy.
Honey from Greece is one of the best in the world and distinguished for its taste and exceptional aromas.
Thyme honey from the island of Crete is one of the most revered honey’s from the country. The honey has an intense aroma and unique taste from bees that feed on thyme.
To explore the secrets of Cretan honey, we met with two professional beekeepers. From visiting beehives to seeing the honey extraction process, the experience was immersive and deliciously sweet.
Read on and discover why no trip to Crete would be complete without diving into this sweet delicacy.
What Is Thyme Honey?
Thyme honey is produced from the many hundreds of species of Thyme. One of the most notable honey-producing species is Wild Thyme.
This particular species is found in the wild and rocky soils of Southern Europe. In Greece, thyme honey has been around since ancient times.
Honey from Mount Hymettus in Attica, near Athens, was famous in classical Greece and continues to be today.
On the island of Crete, honey production dates back thousands of years to the early Minoan civilization.
The mild climate, diverse flora, and endemic flowers create the perfect conditions for beekeeping.
Across the island, wild thyme is one of the most commonly found shrubs in dry and rocky places.
During the honey season, beekeepers move their bee boxes around the island and to the mountains in search of thyme and other wildflowers.
Thyme honey from Greece is famous around the world for its delicious aromatic flavors and health benefits. It is filled with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.
An all-natural product, Cretan honey is one of the most important local produce.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST RECIPE: Greek Honey Cookies – Easy Melomakarona Recipe
What Does Thyme Honey Taste Like?
Thyme honey from Crete is light in colour, with intense floral aromas. It is infused with layers of flavors from the abundant wild flowers found on the mountain slopes.
During our stay in Crete, we tried different jars of thyme honey and noted subtle differences.
Some were lighter in color with sweeter notes while others were amber colored with stronger flavors.
Regardless of the nuances, we found them all to be floral and fresh with a lingering taste in the mouth.
The slight differences in taste we learned later, comes from the amount of thyme in the honey versus other wildflowers.
In Greece, for the thyme honey designation, it has to have 18% of thyme to be called thyme honey.
Some beekeepers go beyond and have a higher percentage of thyme in their honey. For instance, Lefteris, one of the beekeepers we met, has 45% of thyme in his honey.
Other beekeepers mix thyme and pine honey for a wonderful rich aroma and bouquet of flowers.
I’m a huge fan of honey with my favorite honey being from France. Now, having discovered and fallen in love with Cretan honey, I’m thrilled to have another favorite honey.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you are planning a trip to Crete consider taking a small group honey and olive oil tour. Learn the fascinating history of bee making and savor flowery Cretan honey and delicious olive oils.
The Secrets Behind Cretan Honey From Local Producers
Beekeeping in Greece has been practiced for thousands of years.
It is said that apiculture or beekeeping started in Greece when it was introduced to humans by the ancient Greek God, Aristaeus.
Today, there are over 25,000 bee keepers in the country. And, Greece has the most bee hives per acre than any other European country.
The quality of Greek honey remains celebrated today as it was in the past due to the rich biodiversity.
The significant amount of indigeneous herbs, plants and the Mediterrenean mild winters with dry summers are ideal conditions for the bees.
Further, the honey from Greece is natural and undergoes minimal processing allowing it to retain its nutrients and flavors.
While in Crete, we met with two professional beekeepers to understand the ancient sweet treasures of Cretan honey.
With Lefteris Panagiotakis, a chemist and beekeeper, we traveled to his beeyards to see his bees and bee boxes.
The brightly colored bee boxes were scattered along the mountain slopes near Kissamos in western Crete.
In the village of Pervolakia in Crete, we met with Eleftheria Papayiannakis of Idiosmos honey.
She took us behind the scenes to see the production of honey at their family-run business.
Even though the honey production had ended for the season, it was fascinating to learn about the honey extraction process.
Beekeeping In The White Mountains
In Crete, some of the highest quality thyme honey comes from the White Mountains also known as Lefka Ori.
The impressive mountain range is located in the western part of the island. The unpolluted environment and the diversity of wildflowers, including thyme, make it a popular area for honey.
Early one Sunday afternoon, we met Lefteris and together went to visit his bees in the western part of Crete.
All along the drive, we were in awe of the spectacular gorges and natural beauty. When we arrived, we were amazed to see hundreds of bee boxes scattered along the mountain slopes.
Lefteris, a professional keeper for 10 years is a chemist by training and education. Challenged to work in his field during the economic crisis in Greece, he turned to beekeeping.
After helping a friend with bees, he became interested and pursued professional training to become a beekeeper.
For the bees to feed on the best wild thyme, Lefeteris told us he takes them to the White Mountains in the Summer.
At 1500 meters, the air is clean and the wild thyme is unlike any other and perfect for the bees.
Bee Boxes and the Hunt for Thyme and Wildflowers
Honey takes its name from the flowers and plants bees consume. So, therefore, thyme honey is named after the thyme flowers the bees feed off.
Beekeepers move their bee boxes several times a year to capture the different floral notes depending on what is in season.
Exactly where the bee boxes are placed “is a secret”, Eleftheria told us. The location and whether the bee boxes are arranged amphitheater style, in a straight line or spread out is the bee keeper’s “magic.”
The most important criteria is placing the bee boxes where there is no wind and no clouds with access to flowers which is the food for the bees.
Lefteris produces two main types of honey. The first is thyme honey and the second one is thyme and pine honey.
He generally moves his bees twice a year. In the summer for thyme honey and in the fall for thyme and pine honey.
On the other hand, Idiosmos move their bees all over Crete, 15 times a year in the search for thyme and particular flora.
In addition to thyme and pine honey they also make honey from orange blossoms in the Spring.
In general, about 60% of the honey from Greece comes from pine. Whereas thyme honey, arguably the most famous, accounts for only about 10% of Greek honey.
The Queen Bee and Worker Bees
One of the most exciting parts of being in the apiary was seeing the worker bees make honey.
In our protective gear and after Lefteris put the bees to sleep, he opened up some bee boxes to show us the queen and workers.
Each box has only one queen, a few drones, and thousands of worker bees. And, each of the bees have a role. The queen bee lays eggs, upwards of 1,000 per day. The drones main job is to mate with the queen.
And, the worker bees keep the colony going. They take care of the baby bees, build and defend the hive and make honey.
Talking about the different roles and then seeing the bees in action was fascinating. When Lefteris offered us the opportunity to taste honey straight from the bee box, we did not hesitate.
The honey was fresh, smooth and with a slight waxy texture.
Understanding how Cretan honey is made and the important role of the beekeeper helped us appreciate honey from Greece even more.
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How To Choose Your Thyme Honey from Greece
Honey we learned is subject to fraud. As Lefteris told us, it is easy to make fake honey with a small amount of real honey, soy syrup, and a bit of coloring.
Fake honey is widespread around the world and it is the third most-faked food behind milk and olive oil.
When it comes to buying good honey and storing it, here are a few tips from Lefteris and Eleftheria.
- The best quality of honey comes directly from beekeepers and not factories. And, a good starting point is to read the label. Look for the name of the honey producer and read the fine print. Look for “additives”or “added flavors.” Clean honey as Lefteris told us should have only one ingredient “honey.”
- When buying honey at the store, the easiest test is to simply flip over the honey jar. Clean and pure honey is thick and as it moves from one end to the other, it should move slowly with a bubble formation on the inside. By contrast, honey with impurities is light, moves quickly in the jar, and is not dense at all.
3. Once you open the jar, use a spoon or honey dipper and take a little honey and lift it up. Let the honey drizzle back slowly into the jar. If the strand of honey does not break, it is original clean honey.
4. When buying honey, look for honey stored in a glass or tin container. Avoid plastic as it may leach chemicals into the honey.
5. Store honey in a cool location in your kitchen away from direct sunlight. And, make sure the lid is tightly closed to avoid any moisture from entering the container.
6. Clean and pure honey has a long shelf life. In fact, it doesn’t go bad but it may crystallize over time which is not an indication of deterioration. As Eleftheria told us, they are required by law to put a two-year expiration date on the label because honey varies greatly. However, pure honey can last for years.
Where to Buy Thyme Honey
The best thyme honey you can buy is the honey you can taste from local producers. However, it is not always possible to be in close proximity to local honey producers.
Therefore, to help you choose the best thyme honey, here is a selection of thyme honey from Greece available online.
Idiosmos Thyme and Wildflowers Honey
Idiosmos is a Greek word that means: “pleasant to your taste buds, to your nose, and to your senses”.
Having visited this local producer in Pervolakia, we had the chance to sample several of the honey they produce.
We particularly liked their pine honey, with strong pine flavors and natural sweetness. They also sell Thyme and Wildflower honey which is flowery with a strong honey flavor and naturally sweet.
As Eleftheria put it, “every honey is good for your health” and “the best honey is the best one for you”.
Indeed, each honey has a different taste. And the key is to find the best one for your palate.
To find out if Idiosmos thyme honey will become your favorite Cretan honey, you can buy a jar on Amazon. At this time, it is only available in a 2.2 pounds jar or 970 grams.
Sfakiano Thyme Honey
The Sfakiano thyme honey from Crete is produced by the Saviolakis family. Honey producers for more than 250 years, the Saviolakis claim to be one of the oldest Greek beekeeper families.
Their thyme honey is produced in the Sfakia region, on the southside of Crete. They specialize in producing a thyme honey known for its unique aroma and flavor.
In addition to their thyme honey, they also offer a premium honey coming from higher altitude.
This premium thyme honey is harvested from the White Mountains exclusively. It has received several awards including the Great Taste Awards. This premium thyme honey is available in 12 oz jar or 340 grams.
Meligyris Honey From Crete
Meligyris Cretan honey is produced by Manolis Stefanakis and his team in an apiary near Heraklion.
Coming from a family tradition of beekeeping since 1920, Manolis furthered his beekeeping knowledge with scientific education.
Now, Manolis and his team have developed a line of exclusive Cretan honey. Their vision is to develop Cretan honey of high quality using only natural ingredients.
We were impressed to see the wide range of unique Cretan honey that Meligyris offers. Though at this time, the only one available online is the Cretan Honey from wild herbs and white thyme.
This Cretan honey is offered in a jar of 15.9 ounces or 450 grams.
Attiki Thyme Honey From Greece
Attiki honey from Greece is probably the most recognizable brand in the country and unmissable while visiting Greece.
Founded in1928 by the entrepreneurial Pittas family, they introduced the first branded packaged honey in Greece.
They sell Greek honey from beekeepers from all over the country. Their classic honey is a Greek honey made with thyme, wildflowers, herbs and coniferous trees.
Unfortunately, with Attiki honey, it is not possible to trace the honey back to a single producer. Rather, the honey is assembled from several producers in Greece.
The Attiki Greek honey is available online in 16 oz jar or 455 grams.
In Greece as a whole, and on the island of Crete, honey is used extensively. Cretan honey plays a major role in local cuisine. From sweet treats to savory dishes, honey has a special place on every Cretan table.
I have always loved honey but didn’t really appreciate all that goes into it before spending time with the beekeepers.
Besides the role of bees in pollination, beekeepers are essential in keeping the bees healthy for quality honey.
It can be a “lonely and semi-nomadic life” Lefteris told us, to “keep moving the bees from place to place”.
What honey tastes like has to do with personal preference. Some may like the floral notes of thyme honey while others may be drawn to the stronger flavors found in pine honey.
What’s most important is to have quality honey from a trusted beekeeper. As such, knowing how to read the label is key.
We feel extremely fortunate to have discovered and enjoyed excellent thyme honey from Crete. Honey from Greece and thyme honey from Crete are deserving of their recognition.
If you love honey, we invite you to taste the difference with Cretan honey.
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Rosemary is the editor-in-chief and strategist at Authentic Food Quest.
Traveling slow since 2015 with her partner, Claire, she has explored the cuisine in 45 countries and more than 240+ culinary cities.
Her writing about local food specialties has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post.
As a food and travel writer, Rosemary has co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
Rosemary is an avid runner when she’s not eating and exploring new destinations. She has run ten marathons and counting.
Before Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary held senior-level strategy positions in advertising.
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