Let’s talk about honey and bees today! But first, I’d like to start by how far Google Translate has come. It’s both funny and scary how smart this tool has become. As I was writing this article I wondered how many English speakers had used Google to translate honey, as in “honey, pass the salt please”, and gotten a horrible translation. But I was wrong! Funny thing is, for “honey, pass the salt” the translator uses “chéri” ( 👍 ) while for “honey pass the salt” it fails with a literal translation. So, lesson of the day, commas matter in Google translate!
While we’re on the subject of nicknames, let’s learn one or two. French people use a ton of them in regards to children, such as ma puce (my little flee), mon coeur (heart), mon choux (my puff pastry), ma poulette (my chick), mon lapin (my bunny), ma perle (my pearl)... and many others. Between lovers, we often use mon chéri (my dear), but otherwise, among adults it’s pretty rare. It wouldn’t be so well received nowadays in France for a person to call a stranger something equivalent to honey or darling, as you sometimes hear in the South of the US.
Back to the real honey now! There are many producers of honey in France, big and small. One of my brothers even has a few hives in his garden that he tends to on his free time. it is used in a variety of recipes, from pain d’épice (our version of gingerbread), to ganaches, sauces, biscuits and more… Personally, I’ll just have it on a toast for breakfast. The most common types of honey found in French supermarkets are from acacia, linden, lavender flowers, but if you search well you’ll be able to find some rare varieties such as hawthorn, sunflower or heather. There are over 40 varieties produced in France.
Trivia time! Did you know bees are the oldest symbol of the French royal dynasties? Their image was found on items dating from the 5th century and was recuperated by Napoleon to suggest immortality and resurrection. His other animal symbol of predilection was the eagle. Isn’t that neat y’all? : ) Of course this guy's a whole other subject we can go back to (once I find a decent GIF about it that's NOT Napoleon Dynamite for crying out loud!).
So while the bees produce honey, hives also are the center of collection and production for beeswax, pollen, nectar, propolis and royal jelly.
As for many food items in France, there is a great pride in producing the finest honey, with the most rigorous rules in the production process. Honey producers are strongly organized to defend a mode of production that preserves the qualities of honey, against less scrupulous importers. And yet, we have to import half of the honey consumed in France, as our production continues to decrease (more about this in length and in French here). The most current threat is pesticides from intensive agriculture. It’s not the lightest topic I’m afraid, but while we were busy killing off weeds to improve our fields’ production, we ended up poisoning many hives. Bees have also been affected by parasites, fungus and bacteria, killing off up to 80% of bees in certain areas. One of the main points of discussions in that industry also seems to be about the heating and filtering process that some producers do . Heating honey allows it to remain liquid and avoid the natural crystallization, but it also tends to destroy natural enzymes that participate in its unique aromas and qualities. The more you read, the more you know! I find this so interesting and hope more and more people learn to value the diversity and richness of taste of honey.
So on your next trip to France, or here at home, don’t miss out on a visit to a bee farm, and in the meantime, here is a bit of vocabulary to describe honey!