FOOD AND DRINK / Honey and the sex life of Queen Bee: Michael Bateman on insemination technology and an ancient sweet - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

FOOD AND DRINK / Honey and the sex life of Queen Bee: Michael Bateman on insemination technology and an ancient sweet

'STANDS the church clock at ten to three and is there honey still for tea?' Yes, yes. But the romantic image of honey painted in Rupert Brooke's 'Grantchester' is changing fast.

Of all modern foods, honey has resisted change the longest. It is a wondrous resource, the oldest 'manufactured' product, enjoyed by man for at least 5,000 years. A painting in the cave of La Arana, Spain, depicts a man harvesting an armful of honey, and until very recently all the beekeeper had to do was capture a swarm of bees, stick them in a hive, and sit back while they helped themselves to the nectar in his neighbours' flowerbeds.

But when the National Honey Show opens this Wednesday, at the National Army Museum in Royal Hospital Road, London, the murmur of innumerable beekeepers will be of sex and drugs - and science and technology.

The drugs talk will be about the search for something to halt the spread of a parasite called varroa, which appeared in Devon this spring and has been wiping out whole colonies. And sex: to ensure larger colonies of healthier, disease-resistant bees, commercial operators have started to breed colonies by artificially inseminating the queen bee.

Vivian's in Hatherleigh, Devon, which is one of the biggest bee-keeping concerns in Britain with 12 million bees (they take 200 hives on to Dartmoor each year to collect heather honey), is about to apply selective breeding. Queen bees aren't themselves very selective, says Nick Tonkin, whose parents founded the company 25 years ago. It seems that no royal dignity attends her choice of a partner, and she will mate with half a dozen or so drones on a first-come, first-served basis. So it's up to the breeder to choose a suitable suitor.

The process is similar to the insemination of cows, except that unlike prize bulls, stud bees live brief lives. Insect-lovers may not wish to read on. 'The favoured way to get sperm is to pull the head off the bee,' says Nick Tonkin. 'This sends an electric impulse to the nervous system which sexually arouses the bee. You squeeze the lower half of the body to make it ejaculate and collect the liquid in a hypodermic syringe.' Will a new master race of bees give us better honey? No, says Nick, but new technology might.

There's nothing comparable to honey from the comb because its distinctive flavours haven't been impaired by heating. Most commercial honey is heated in order to pump, filter and pack. At Vivian's they have introduced an American machine to separate the honey without using heat. 'It has a flail which flicks off the caps of the wax cells. We filter out the wax, bees' legs and any rubbish, without heating the honey, and it takes three days to fill a one-and-a-half ton stainless steel tank. But then we can run off the light, clear honey from the bottom.' Runny honey is not better than ordinary honey, he hastens to add. Honey is an invert sugar, and will crystallise in time (though such honeys as acacia and wild thyme are exceptions.) Honey-fanciers regard 'single-flower' honeys as reverentially as whisky-lovers do single malts. In France (where else?) apiarists turn this to profit, setting out their hives in acacia woods, or fields of thyme or lavender. Fortnum & Mason has a gourmet range of several dozen single-flower honeys for pounds 2.75 per lb, including the heady-scented, strong-flavoured Hungarian acacia, light Canadian clover, perfumed Mexican orange blossom and the pungent, smoky Tasmanian leatherwood (which came top at a honey-tasting I once attended). Antonio Carluccio of Covent Garden stocks the most powerful of all honeys: chestnut honey from Italy at pounds 4 per lb. It looks like dark syrup and has a scent of cedarwood boxes of Havana cigars.

The premium British products are the scented, bittersweet Scottish and English heather honeys (Fortnum & Mason, pounds 4.85 per lb), the high price reflecting a short flowering season and the small number of suppliers. Vivian's Heather Honey is pounds 5.35 per lb or pounds 21.54 for a 7lb pail by mail order (Vivian's Honey Farm, Hatherleigh, Devon EX20 3LJ, tel 0837 810437).

For honey-lovers there's a new book out this week: Honey by Sue Style (Pavilion pounds 9.99), charmingly illustrated by Graham Evernden. This is Style's recipe for her favourite honey dessert.

Recipe; HONEY PARFAIT

Serves 4-6

You don't need an ice-cream maker, and you don't have to stir it while freezing.

1 egg and 3 egg yolks

6oz (half a cup) single-flower honey (preferably)

1/2 pint double cream, or whipping cream

3 tablespoons chopped walnuts (optional)

With an electric mixer, beat egg, yolks and honey till light and fluffy. In another bowl beat cream till it stands in soft peaks. Fold the cream into the egg and honey mixture. Stir in the walnuts if using them. Pour into a small bread tin, lined with cling film. Freeze. Serve, cut in slices with a fruit coulis, a puree of sieved fresh fruit such as raspberries, or an orange salad.

You can also freeze the parfait in ramekins or yoghurt pots and turn it out for serving.-

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week