I’m sitting in a kitchen in south-east London with seven jars of honey of vastly different colours and consistencies in front of me. I’m with Zaffrin O’Sullivan, a honey blogger (yes, there is such a thing; check out her website at honeyhunter.uk) and we’re about to do a tasting. ‘This is raw Sidr honey,’ she tells me, grabbing a spoon. ‘Nearly all of this honey gets exported to Saudi Arabia. It’s rare, highly coveted and expensive, which has led to an increase in counterfeit honey in Yemen where it’s produced.’ It’s sweet and fragrant and like no honey I’ve ever tasted before. And it’s really delicious.
Honey is a hot topic right now – sales are up eight per cent year-on-year and the British Beekeeping Association has gone from 8,000 members in 2007 to 25,000 today – and it’s a topic that the fashion world is on board with. Bees have been buzzing on the catwalks at Dior and Gucci for the past few seasons, and honey was one of the key colours for a/w 2016. High-street brand J Crew’s partnership with the charity Buglife is in its third year now – and their latest T-shirt collab with London-based illustrator Marcel George will see 50 per cent of retail sales going to the conservation charity, which campaigns to stop the use of bee-harming pesticides and create inner-city pollinator-friendly areas. J Crew’s creative director Jenna Lyons says, ‘As we were having the conversation about a way to introduce our brand to the UK, I happened to watch a documentary about the plight of the bees. It was kind of intense, and I was super-touched by it.’
But it’s the rise of products made with honey that’s sparking a real hipster movement, much like the one coffee has seen recently. Maybe it’s because bees are under threat, and that’s a huge worry for the environment. Or perhaps it’s because there’s a similar science behind it. ‘Honey represents a geography, time and place, what nectars the bees are foraging on,’ explains O’Sullivan. ‘Seventy per cent of honey in UK supermarkets is not raw; it is a blended mix of honey from different places, which is heat treated to make the honey look and taste the same. All the delicate aromas, tastes and enzymes are partially lost. But there is a growing interest in raw and local honey as healthy and natural, as well as rising curiosity around mono-floral honey from single-source nectars, such as manuka, lavender and thyme. Also, the bee factor is putting honey in the global spotlight.’ And you can bet your life that the most fashionable products out there contain honey.
One such brand is Gisou, a honey-infused hair oil developed by style and beauty blogger Negin Mirsalehi (top). With her impressive mane of glossy brown hair, some of Mirsalehi’s three million plus Instagram followers began to ask how she got her locks looking so good. ‘I started sharing a bit more of my personal life about our family bee garden and my dad – who is a sixth-generation beekeeper – and people enjoyed it,’ she says. ‘My mum is a hairdresser and she always used my dad’s produce to experiment with formulas. This honey-infused hair oil was my favourite.’ She’s working on another product, but it’s in the early stages. ‘I don’t know if there’s going to be honey in there or another bee product such as propolis (a resin made of beeswax and bee saliva) or royal jelly, but everything will be about hair and the product the bees make.’
Unsurprisingly, honey is being used in all sorts of edible products, too – from the resurgence of mead (honey wine) to honey beer, such as the one made by Hiver, who also give 10 per cent of profits to pollinator charities and urban space projects. Or how about honey water? Joe Harper started Just Bee with his friend Andy Sugden to make honey-infused water in their spare time (they’re both accountants by profession). A year on, and they’re now stocked in Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason, and have quit their day jobs. Harper was inspired to use honey after his dad became a beekeeper when he retired. ‘It was important to create a drink that wasn’t full of sugar and calories,’ he says. ‘It’s less than 50 calories per carton – really sweet but we use less than a teaspoon of honey per carton.’ I’ve tried it; it’s as refreshing as Coke, and you can order free packets of wild seeds from their website that they suggest you plant in the empty carton. Genius.
Even if honey is not your thing (although I urge you to try raw, single-source honey), there’s plenty you can do to save the bees. For example, visit the recently opened 'Creation' exhibtion by artist Jessica Albarn, sister of Blur's Damon, inspired by the wildlife in the meadow she has created in Devon to encourgae rare breeds of bee (until September 24th, Laurence Alkin Gallery, London). She's happy that people's awareness of bee conservation is on the up. "Back in 2008 I did the Art Car Boot where I covered a car in bees and no-one understood why I was doing it," she told me. "But now because of the media interest people are much more aware of it." Or Relais & Chateaux and Bompass & Parr’s ‘The Joy Of Bees’ exhibition at 19 Greek Street in London’s Soho on 6-8 October, and all proceeds from your £9 ticket will go to The British Beekeepers Association. ‘There’s a need to ensure that demand for honey leads to a growth in the provision of bee-friendly flowers,’ warns Paul Hetherington, director of fundraising and communications at Buglife. ‘Plant bee-friendly plants even if you have no garden. A window box or patio planter of the right flowers can act as a service station for bees travelling from one good area to another.’ You could even use that empty Just Bee carton. Failing all of that, join InStyle’s #beechic campaign and adopt a beehive, like we have. But do something, because without bees, we will lose far more than just honey.
Join InStyle’s #beechic campaign with the British Beekeeping Association and Adopt A Beehive. It's just £30, and you'll receive a special welcome pack including some honey, wild flower seeds and a Burt's Bees lip balm, as well as regular updates on your hive. Click here to sign up - just select the 'InStyle' offer when adopting online for your special InStyle pack (when asked to select your choice of gift options choose 'InStyle Mag' from the list). To follow the progress of InStyle’s adopted beehive, check us out on Instagram @instyleuk
Amazing honey facts
Bees are the only insects to make a product that is consumed by man.
If you eat honey made by bees that forage in your local area, it could help to combat hayfever symptoms.
A hive of bees will fly 90,000 miles – the equivalent of three orbits around the earth – to make 1kg of honey.
Honey has multiple health benefits. It’s rich in antioxidants, antiseptic and is antiviral, and also makes a great alternative sweetener to refined sugar.
Raw honey can last forever. It doesn’t absorb moisture and is antibacterial, so nothing grows in it. Pots of honey dating from about 3,000 years ago were found in a tomb in Egypt and were still edible.
You can put raw honey on your face and use it as a face mask.