Costus spectabilis, the garish yellow trumpet flower. is the national flower of Nigeria. I have no idea what a costus spectabilis honey would taste like but the name suggests something dramatic, and I opened my first pot of Nigerian honey with this in mind, and with a sense of anticipation. There’s another reason I’m particularly curious and cautious about this honey; it’s the first honey I’ve reviewed for this blog that comes from a country I haven’t visited. I have images in my mind of what Nigeria might be like, of course, but this spoon, hovering in front of my nose and my mouth is my first direct contact with Nigeria’s landscape.
In a globalised world perhaps I should have been prepared for anticlimax. After all, many of the flowers that grow in Nigeria must now be the same as those that grow in England. But I had been right to expect a taste that seemed to come from far away; there was all the exotic spicy muskiness you might hope for from a honey from a whole other continent. What the scent of this honey most reminds me of is sandalwood, and that fragrant wood shares its colour with this honey. The same family of aromas linger in the taste too – the first taste is of tamarinds and then there’s something like cardomum with a leathery finish.
I’m not making it up – this redefines honey. It is as far from the pale sweet sugary acacia honey as peanut butter is. Nor would I use it the same way I would use a honey like acacia; of course, you can spread both of them on toast, but I think it would be a waste. I’d like to use it as a marinade or caramelize onions in it and eat with a fresh cheese.
I’m glad that this honey tastes special, because it represents a very special group of projects, using beekeeping to fight poverty in Africa and beyond. I was sent the honey by one of the project leaders of Bees Abroad. Through her I learned about work in Kilimanjaro where the charity supports spinally injured women to become beekeepers, and their women’s beekeeper groups in Zambia. The start-up capital needed for a beekeeper in these countries is small – £30 will buy the materials to build a hive, as well as providing a smoker and the materials needed for marketing – and as any beekeeper knows, the rewards can be great. Not just financial rewards for the individual, but the psychological rewards of feeling part of the workings of a small and harmonious community, the environmental rewards of supporting a healthy ecosystem – and then the tongue-tingling rewards of eating that fabulous honey.
Read more about my adventures in honey tasting in my book, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, published last year by Signal Books