Corbezzolo Honey: a rare, valuable (and very bitter) Sardinian nectar4 min read
Corbezzolo Honey is a unique type of honey famous for tasting nothing like we expect honey to taste!
To say that this Sardinian treat is not sweet would be an understatement, because it’s bitter. Absolutely bitter.
Sardinian honey has ancient roots.
A bronze statuette representing the Greek divinity protector of beekeepers testifies that, already in pre-Roman times, some form of Sardinian beekeeping existed. In the bronze statue, the demigod Aristeo has gigantic bees on his body. Among other things, Canon Giovanni Spano tells that the discovery took place in a vineyard called “de su Medde”, literally “honey” (Sardinian Archaeological Bulletin, 1855).
Legend has it that Aristeo, the bearer of civilization and practical knowledge, taught men to tame not only bees but also olive trees and vines. And, a strange coincidence, it is the same mythological figure to which the Latin historian Gaius Giulio Solino attributes the foundation of the city of Cagliari.
Legends aside, the discovery of honey is to be attributed a little to chance and a little to luck.
By accidentally picking up a tree trunk that housed a swarm, someone gave birth to the first apiary. From then on, the techniques for placing bees were learned and perfected, and the first artificial hives were built.
Italians have been making corbezzolo honey in Sardinia for a very long time.
How long, is impossible to say exactly, but there are references to it in the writings of famous ancient figures like Cicero, Virgil and Ovid, who noted the contrasting taste between Sardinian honey and the sweet honey of the Hyblean Mountains.
But, if you can get past its bitterness, you’ll discover an amber nectar full of nutrients and natural medicine.
For example, It’s packed full of vitamins and minerals, has anti-inflamatory properties, and has been used as a sleep inducer and cough sedative for generations.
Corbezzolo honey is obtained from the flowers of the corbezzolo shrub, known as the strawberry tree, in English.
It is a difficult honey to make, for several reasons.
In fact, the corbezzolo flowers in autumn, and require special weather conditions, such as abundant summer rains and a mild August, to do so.
Then, there’s the bell shape of the small flowers, which makes it tough for the bees to get in and collect the nectar.
Lastly, the rainy autumn weather makes it difficult for bees to leave their hives and collect the necessary nectar, and a particularly heavy downpour can literally halt the flower from opening its petals.
For all these reasons, corbezzolo honey is produced in very limited amounts, making it one of the rarest, most valuable types of honey in the world.
Corbezzolo honey has a complex flavor profile, with sharp notes of balsamic vinegar, pine tree sap, licorice, a hint of leather, coffee, and a smokey finish.
But, to the average person, it just tastes bitter and either you like it, or you don’t, there is no middle ground.
“Everything that the island of Sardinia produces, men and things, is bad!” Roman philosopher and lawyer Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) once said in the defense of a man accused of murder in Sardinia.
“Even the honey, abundant on that island, is bitter!”
It’s not fully understood why corbezzolo honey is bitter when most other types of honey are so sweet, but some believe that it has something to do with the glycoside arbutin present in the flowers of the strawberry tree.
Either way, because of its distinctively bitter taste, it is usually paired with other foods, such as fatty cheeses like pecorino or grana, or Sardinian desserts like seadas or orillettas, but It’s also very popular as an addition to espresso.
It may not be on everyone’s spoons, but it is an important part of Sardinian culture and prized as such by locals and honey enthusiasts alike…
Images from web – Google Research