Chhimi Dema   

A recent study by experts from the Republic of Korea found that honey from Bumthang and Tsirang was of good quality.

The study initiated by the Department of Livestock to test Bhutan’s honey took 12 samples of bee Apis mellifera collected from Chumey, Chamkhar, Ura, Dhur, and Tang in Bumthang, and honey of Apis cerana from Patshaling and Darachu in Tsirang.

The findings show that the honey samples were of “good” quality.

The samples were sent to the National Institute of Agriculture Sciences in Korea to test for moisture content, sugar (Sucrose), Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), C3 or C4 rate, and fructose or glucose ration, among others. Except for one, the samples were found to have met all the required criteria.

The HMF, an organic compound formed in sugar-containing foods, often a result of heating, has a market standard limit between 40 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) to 80mg/kg.

Higher HMF detection indicates prolonged heating during storage and preparation, or potential adulteration. The findings stated that all honey samples from Bhutan have zero HMF except for one sample.

Chief Livestock Officer, Towchu Rabgay, said that the sample which had 11.8mg/kg HMF was a sample from the old stock.

Another technique to detect honey quality is C3 and C4 which can find out if the honey was adulterated by cane or beet sugars. Adulterated honey will have more than -25 C3 and C4 rates. Samples from Bhutan had less than -25, meaning there was no addition of cane or beet sugars in the honey.

The fructose or glucose (F/G) ratio analyse honey crystallisation rate which is a useful indicator of honey quality. Honey crystallises faster if the F/G ratio is lower than one. None of the samples had values above one which means honey does not crystalise faster.

The report stated that none of the samples tested showed any antibiotic or chemical residuals. “Findings show that the Bhutanese honey representative samples are good in quality,” it added.

According to the Livestock Statistics 2021, honey production is highly concentrated in Samtse (32.9 percent), Sarpang (18.2 percent), Dagana (16 percent), and Tsirang (15.1 percent) from other dzongkhags.

A total of 43 metric tonnes of honey was produced in 2021 from 21,933 beehives in the country.

Towchu Rabgay said that the department will focus on producing high-quality honey. “This will allow farmers to benefit from apiculture and aid in the growth of the country’s economy.”

The department will focus on catering to a niche market by marketing honeycomb and royal jelly–a honeybee secretion used in the nutrition of larvae and adult queens.

There are also plans to introduce a new queen bee in the country to improve the honeybee breed.

Apis cerana is the local honey bee, and a European honeybee, Apis mellifera was introduced in the country in the 1980s.

The local market, Towchu Rabgay said, does not allow farmers to get better returns for their effort and honey’s quality.

“If premium Bhutanese honey hits the international market in small volume but at a high price then farmers are encouraged to practice apiculture,” he added.

The agriculture ministry endorsed the National Apicultural Strategy and Action Plan which is expected to augment the income of farmers through apiculture.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, a third of the world’s food production depends on bees.