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The next time you step out for your weekly groceries, take a quick look around at the sweeteners aisle. You are bound to be surprised by the supermarket’s packaged honey brands. Most claim purity while also listing health benefits. Glass bottles, plastic containers and even jars covered in jute and string – the honey is packaged in every imaginable shape and size. The labels are experimental with the imagery, too. We spotted bees, trees, honeycombs, flowers, mountains – you name it! It’s nature in a bottle, or so they’d have you believe.
Having spent a childhood on honey that came out of wobbly glass jars, followed by squeeze plastic bottles, we were given to believe there was only one option of honey. It was golden, had simple, uniform sweetness, and was a healthier replacement for the white poison. For something extracted straight from the lap of nature, the common honey brands’ lack of complexity in flavour ultimately led us to explore other options, including Honey and Spice’s line of honey products.
Once you go raw…
Quite like real dark chocolate or artisanal cheese, once you acquire the taste of raw, unprocessed honey, everything else in the market seems like an imitation of the real thing.
Our first brush with real honey was through wild, forest honey, gathered from the majestic Shola forests in the Nilgiris. It was, at first, an unfamiliar shade of gold and had complex flavour, followed by a subtle, comforting aftertaste.
Slowly, we found every excuse to make raw honey a part of our daily meals. Stirred into a jar of overnight oats or slathered on toast for breakfast, accompanying a box of crackers or drizzled on fruit for a quick snack, and as a sweetener for the night-time green tea or tisane. Then there were the cooking experiments, including in potatoes and meat. Chilly evenings would also call for warm cocktails with honey.
Honey and Spice’s Online Shop
The flavours, we discovered, were characteristic of every region and were sharply defined by the flowers and spices abundant in the local forests and surrounding plantations. There was no way of knowing the exact profile of the flavours each jar would contain. It was a surprise every single time.
So, when we chanced upon the website of Bangalore-based brand Honey and Spice and saw a drop down menu that segregates by region, we were instantly intrigued. You can choose from Himalayan, Central Indian, South Indian and the Eastern Ghats. You can also plot your choice of region against the type of honey (wild forests, farms, cliffs and local harvests) procured from each region. It’s an interesting exercise and we spent a while on Honey and Spice’s website before we actually picked a jar.
There is also an FAQs section that answers common questions about raw honey that is rather handy. We like that it isn’t focused on the Honey and Spice brand specifically.
A separate drop-down menu labelled Gourmet Honey showcases spiced varieties and, what Honey and Spice terms, “delicacies”. The delicacies here are a combination of raw honey and other healthy ingredients. Think nuts and honeycomb dunked in, well, honey. There are a range of other products like superfoods (mainly vinegars and health juices), skincare and a selection of whole spices. But we won’t digress further. It was the honey we were interested in.
Sweet Cliff Honey Product Review
After some reading up on the Honey and Spice website, we made our choice. It was going to be the Sweet Cliff Honey from Central India. There is also a “Bitter” option that we will likely try next.
While placing and paying for the order was painless, the wait for the package wasn’t quite the same. Our order was dispatched four days after we placed it and took eight days to arrive in all. We’ll admit, it wasn’t one of the metro cities we were ordering into, but a comparatively remote location.
However, the wait isn’t going to discourage us from more orders in the future. We’d conjure up some honey and nectar puns here, but we’ll save you the ordeal. Let’s just say it was well worth the wait.
Priced at INR 380 for a 250 gram jar (higher than the farm varieties from the same brand), this small batch honey is sourced from the forests of Chhattisgarh by tribal honey hunters. These are thick, deciduous forests and the honey, they claim, is harvested from wild, not cultivated bees. The hives here, hang from steep cliffs. It’s a rare variety of honey that is produced in limited quantities every year. Yes, we got this off the Honey and Spice label.
The Honey and Spice parcel arrived unharmed, with a verification process that ensures delivery to the right person (something we found quite impressive after a recent mishap of a package that was delivered at the wrong address). The bottle is well-sealed and packed in a case with a special slot created for the jar. No mindless tapes, no wasteful plastic. Everything here is just bare minimum.
The Honey and Spice labels and design are classy but run-of-the-mill. We wouldn’t give it second glances save for the cute looking bee in the logo. We can tell the colour of the label has something to do with the colour of the honey; darker labels for darker products. Our honey, with the grey label, was deep amber and not the syrupy gold of common honey brands.
The Honey and Spice website offers pairing suggestions for each variety of honey and this one we are told makes great kashayams (traditional cough and cold remedy) and can be sprinkled on dry fruits. We plan to make these happen at a later date. But first, we wanted to sample our honey straight out of the jar.
The Honey Taste Test
Once opened, a lingering woody aroma greets you, akin to a subtle cedar wood base note in a masculine perfume. We were intrigued and dug right in. The Sweet Cliff Honey is a highly viscous variety. Spread, we would suggest, not pour.
The texture is at once buttery and smooth and continues to please without any grainy interruptions. The taste is intensely floral with a hint of tartness. It settles down with a well-rounded bitterness. It is sweet, but not sickeningly so, and the aftertaste is a bit nutty. It is a complex bouquet of flavours with a different flavour shining through with each food pairing.
With thin, crisp, white toast, the nuttiness reigns supreme. With a piece of fresh bread, the bitterness comes through in full force. A cup of Jasmine green tea turns into a heightened floral outburst. We also tried it out with some Indian paranthas and are happy to report that the resultant flavour was sweet but distinctly floral.
The pairing exercise is an ongoing one and we assure you, this Honey and Spice jar is going to inspire several new kitchen experiments. And aren’t we all turning into chefs in the pandemic, anyway? Our plans ahead are to drizzle the honey in a warm brandy cocktail with a stick of cinnamon and layer it in with some oatmeal pancakes for a Sunday breakfast.
If this is your first time with raw honey, we would suggest a version that gives you an easy transition, perhaps a farm honey or a local harvest. The Honey and Spice Sweet Cliff Honey is one for more seasoned consumers. The sweeter variety, though highly palatable, comes with a bitter taste and non-linear flavour. That is to say, it is unpredictable and varies in every tasting. As for the bitter varieties, we’d say save them for subsequent culinary sojourns. And we haven’t said this enough already, before you spread, pour or drizzle, there’s no better way to enjoy honey than a lick straight off the jar.