Strawberry tree honey - one of the best kept secrets in Sardinia
Miele di Corbezzolo - The strawberry tree honey
Strawberry tree honey is an extremely fine delicacy produced almost exclusively in Sardinia. This is because only large, mature strawberry trees are fit to host enough hives so that they can produce this honey. This is a condition mostly met on the island of Sardinia, although some other areas such as Tuscany may also produce some, depending on the weather conditions and the years.
The optimal flowering of the plants requires specific weather conditions, with abundant summer rains and mild August temperatures. The average annual yield, however, remains rather low.
"In Italy, strawberry tree honey is mainly produced in Sardinia, but also in some areas along the Tyrrhenian coast, in the Tuscan Maremma, in Circeo and in Cilento, but here the yield is even more influenced, quantitatively and qualitatively, by the climatic conditions at the time of flowering", explains Lucia Piana, an international honey sensory analysis expert. (2)
Although the ripe fruits resemble strawberries, the taste of the fruits is rather uncommon and has nothing in common with the strawberries except for the appearance. It is not a fruit liked by everyone, and Sardinians usually make jam or liqueurs out of it. Although these are exceptional products as well, the Corbezzolo honey stands out for its unique taste, health promoting and nutritional properties.
Taste and pairing
The very first time one tastes the "Strawberry Honey", simply called in Sardinia "Miele Amaro" - bitter honey - is a rather odd experience. Judging by the color and texture, you await a sweet honey. Prepare for a surprise.
You are first hit by an unusual sweetness, much different than the known honey type, which quickly turns into a bitter taste, followed by a discrete spiciness in the aftertaste. Even Sardinians say there is no middle way: you like it or not.
It is characterized by flavors of bitter herbs, thyme and coffee, and is a perfect balance to cheeses such pecorino, ricotta or mascarpone. It is also used in some traditional sweets such as seadas , or simply at breakfast, paired with yoghurt and cereals.
It can be further used as appetizers with Pane Carasau and cured meats, or with artichokes, radicchio and other bitter vegetables.
Frankly, it would be rather a pity not to like it, for its bitterness and spiciness comes from its high content of polyphenols and antioxidants. Don't stop now, and read further down.
Health benefits of strawberry tree honey
Corbezzolo is one of the recently most researched honey among Italian types of honey. Recent studies have proven that Corbezzolo has more antioxidants and polyphenols than even the Manuka honey, a unique honey produced only in New Zealand, prized for its antibacterial, antiviral and anti-cancer properties.
Corbezzolo has been proven to be:
antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antiviral
an amazing anti-asthmatic, even where other treatments have failed
inhibiting colon tumor cells (https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/634353)
contributor to improved blood circulation
higher in polyphenols and antioxidants than any other honey, even Manuka honey
How is strawberry tree honey produced and why is it so expensive?
Producing Corbezzolo honey is complicated: not only does it depend of the relatively small number of trees large enough, but the tree starts flowering at the beginning of October, a time for the bees to prepare for the winter.
Strawberry tree honey in Sardinia is obtained by extracting honey from combs by centrifugation (a method used in rational beekeeping using mobile honeycomb hives). The flowering period of the strawberry tree is very late (October-November) and this has considerable disadvantages: the production period coincides with high atmospheric humidity, which means that the bees do not always manage to dry the honey optimally. Even if this peculiarity is provided for by law (Article 2 of Law No 753/82 raises the humidity limit allowed for this honey from 21 to 23%), this does not detract from the fact that strawberry tree honey is one of the honeys most likely to ferment.
This is why beekeepers have become very familiar with the use of dehumidifiers, which reduce the percentage of water to values that are optimal for preserving this honey. The honey is then filtered, decanted and matured before packaging and storage (2)
The minimum quantities and the limited areas for harvesting make the "Corbezzolo" honey one of the most expensive types of honey, sometimes four to five times higher than regular honey.
The green of the leaves, red of the fruit and white of the blossoms represent the three colors of the Italian flag, and for this reason the Strawberry tree became a strong symbol of unity during the struggle for independence during the Italian Renaissance. The Strawberry tree, along with a she-bear, is portrayed in the heraldic symbol for the city of Madrid and is displayed on the flag of the city of Madrid. (3)