Hive flyers: meet the honey producers

Updated: May 20, 2020

It's World Bee Day! We spoke to three Kiwi honey producers to discover what they love so much about the sweet stuff - and the incredible bees that create it.

New Zealand's unspoiled flora-rich countryside is paradise for bees - and that shines through in the beautiful, much sought-after honey that they create.

Like wine, honey is a product that has terroir. In other words, it carries the taste of the particular area in which the bees forage for their pollen and nectar. Because of the diversity in our landscape, we're lucky to have an enormous spectrum of textures and flavours available to us. New Zealand honey ranges from mild, subtle Rata and Clover honey to Manuka and Beechwood, which is dark and rich with a more intense flavour.

We caught up with producers from across the North and South Islands to find out why beekeeping is such an all encompassing passion and what is so special about the honey from their regions.

Tony Gillies, Haruru Gold Honey

For me, it is all about the bees. They are fascinating little creatures and the way they live their lives in a colony that has such great structure and efficiency is something we could all aspire to. Teamwork and a real sticking up for your mate type attitude is what makes a bee colony function and remain strong.

We are surrounded by a lot of native flowering trees at our property in Makarau Valley, north of Auckland. That helps give our honey a less 'bitter' typical Manuka taste. Our bees have the luxury of foraging on the citrus trees we have in our orchard as well as the chestnut trees on the property which also add a sweeter profile, while still maintaining the Manuka UMF 5+ MGO 83 benefits that our honey has.

Flavour profiles vary considerably, and it is almost like comparing two wines when we talk about a different honey. Even over the course of one season, we will produce honeys that taste and appear different purely because the flowers the girls are working change as the season progresses.

Our Comb Honey is something pretty special. Because it is formed during the flowering of the chestnut trees it does produce a flavour which is very different to other comb honeys on the market. It is fantastic with a cheeseboard, particularly blue cheese. An absolute match made in heaven. We have one customer whose teenage daughter just loves the waxy texture of the comb and scoops it out by the spoon full and eats it by itself.

It's not all about the honey. Nothing from the hive goes to waste. We use the beeswax obtained after removing the cappings off the honey frames to make Board Butter timber revitaliser, Lip Balm, Leather Cream and of course our Beeswax Food Wraps. The sticky Propolis is also removed from the hives and used in our beeswax wraps.

You can find more information about Haruru Gold Honey here.

Terry Bone, Biohoney New Zealand

I love honey, bees and the natural products we make from them. We often get feedback from happy customers about how they have enjoyed our honey or that our natural acne cream has helped to clear their skin when they have tried everything else. That really does mean a lot to us. And just as important - at the forefront of our business ethos is the protection of bees, environment and sustainability. The reality is that we need bees and they need us. We have an interdependent relationship. We need bees for pollination and bees in most parts of the world need help to survive disease and parasites like the varroa mite. We're proud that our honey comes from some of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand. D’Urville Island, Central Otago and the West Coast of the South Island are just a few examples. I have a particular soft spot for our Rata honey, which I think is pretty hard to beat! Our Master Beekeeper RAW West Coast Rata Honey won gold in the 2019 London International Honey Awards, which is an incredible endorsement of its quality.

Our biggest challenge at the moment is keeping up with the increase in demand for natural products. That growth is very exciting and a wonderful opportunity for New Zealand honey producers. We are well positioned to supply food to the world – as long as it is done in a sustainable way and not at the expense of the environment.

You can learn more about Biohoney here.

Yuriy Soshnikova, TranzAlpine Honey

I was introduced to beekeeping when I was just five years old by my grandmother back in the Ukraine. Back then I was surprised to learn that these "scary" insects could produce such a delicious nectar. Today, my understanding about bees is a little deeper! We love spending time outside observing our bees and their behaviour. Bees are extremely dedicated to their bee family and that is how we see our own family business.

We carefully select where we put our beehives. We ensure bees won't come into contact with farming chemicals and pesticides and are at least 3 kms away from any farming activity. It is also important to select an area rich in pollen, water and nectar so the bees have every ingredient to strive and produce unique honey from the region.

The most exciting thing to happen this year is the development of national organic regulations. We've been advocating for this for years so it's fantastic to finally see official organic standards and regulations coming to life. This will create new opportunities for honey producers that are already organic or who may be considering to convert. Organic produce is continuing to grab consumer attention around the world.

As far as my own pantry goes, you are most likely to find Rata and Kanuka honey. I love that they represent such wildly different regions of New Zealand. Rata encapsulates the flavour, texture and wilderness of the South Island's West Coast, while Kanuka honey comes from the secluded and hidden hills and bays of the Banks Peninsula.

I like honey in any form, raw from the comb, spread on toast, in my cup of tea and as an ingredient. There are so many options to use honey in all sorts of meals we eat everyday. It is not just a sweetener.

When it comes to honey production, we are always thinking about flavours and tastes that our consumers will enjoy. This year, we've introduced an organic honey fusion range designed to give honey lovers an opportunity to experience honey in a different way.

We've created three honey fusions using organic certified ingredients like cacao, lavender and ginger, blended with organic clover honey. It is going down well with the whole family. One thing we've noticed is that kids love the cacao honey, which is a healthier alternative to other chocolate spreads.

You can learn more about TranzAlpine Honey here.