2.12.5 Honey beer

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Honey beer is easier and faster to make than mead. It cannot be stored for more than a few hours but once it has become flat, it may be revitalized by addition of more honey. Across the African continent, there are many ways of preparing this popular beverage. Without knowledge of microbiology some ingenious ways have been designed to maintain yeast cultures and inoculate subsequent batches with the desired kind of yeast. Uncontrolled as the process might appear to the uninitiated, there are brewers who have excellent control without knowing the biological background of the brewing process. The following are a few recipes from East Africa.

1) A typical commercial honey beer in Kenya is described by Paterson in Crane (1975) as containing a considerable amount of refined cane sugar, jaggery or freshly squeezed cane juice. The higher the honey content though, the better the beer is considered. Paterson mentions a recipe of 27 kg of honey with 108 kg of sugar in

250 litres of water. To a large 200 litre drum or barrel 20 to 30 slices of the muratina or sausage tree, Kigelia aethiopica (Bigniniaceae) are added. Besides supposedly giving strength (higher alcohol content?) and flavour to the beer, the slices probably also serve to inoculate the beer with the right kind of yeast. After fermentation, the beer is crudely filtered and the muratina slices are removed and dried for use in the next batch. Production takes several days to complete.

2) Kihwele ~ersonal communication) from Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, uses 5 litres of honey in 18 1 of water to which he adds 6 teaspoons of dry yeast. The fermentation, taking place in a dark, warm place will allow consumption after 5 to 7 days. In a similar recipe, one of the authors (Krell) not wanting to go through the lengthy process of the third recipe, made batches of honey beer with honey to water ratios of approximately 1 .~4 using dry baking yeast and no additional yeast nutrients. The higher the initial amount of yeast, the sooner the fermented product is drinkable (1 to 2 days). Larger amounts of yeast, such as 10 teaspoons of dry yeast per litre, left a strong yeasty flavour in the beer. Even starting smaller amounts of yeast a day ahead and adding them to the final batch never provided a beer that was drinkable in less than 24 hours. However, the same author has seen brewers in Zambia prepare a batch within 6 hours from a yeast starter batch. 

Honey beer fermentation can be so rapid that the broth appears to be boiling.
Figure 2.17: Honey beer fermentation can be so rapid that the broth appears to be boiling.

3) None of the traditional beer brewers use cultured yeasts, but many know how to prepare special nutrient "cakes", possibly containing some of the right yeasts, or they know how to reinoculate (as described in the first recipe). The following recipe is a traditional method from Zambia and has been documented by Clauss (personal communication). The starter is also used for making maize (corn) beer and is the same one seen by one of the authors in the almost "instant" beer production mentioned under 2). The first and/or second batch are a little slower, since the yeast population still has to build up. Reusing the dried cake, however, or even a left over portion of the beer with a new cake will allow much faster fermentation.

The paste is now ready to be added to a 1:4 mixture of honey and water. Amounts and ratios vary considerably and depend on each brewer's experience. By using this starter, a batch of beer can be produced in half to one day. Modifications apparently allow some brewers to produce the beer even faster (see Figures 2.17 and 2.18).

Addition of pollen and brood is accidental. While pollen may add nutrients for the yeast, the brood mostly causes acidity and off-flavours in the beer. It should therefore be avoided as much as possible.

2.12.6 Honey liqueurs

The following 4 recipes are taken from a promotional leaflet for various liqueurs which was printed in 1903. The alcoholic portion of the liqueur is not derived from honey fermentation, but through the addition of alcohol in its pure form or as a distilled beverage such as aquavit, schnaps, gin, vodka, cachassa, rum or arrack.

1) Macerate 2 kg of aromatic, juicy, finely chopped fruits in 2 litres of alcohol (70 to 96%). Keep in a well covered container or sealed bottle. After one month filter and press out the fruit through a very fine cloth. To this liquid add 2.25 kg of honey dissolved in 2 litres of boiled water.

2) In another method, practically the same as above, the alcohol is substituted by aquavit (a distilled grain alcohol of 40 to 60% alcohol by volume). After maceration and filtration, 375 g of honey are added directly for every litre of alcohol/juice.

3) Similarly, one might use aromatic herbs, flowers or spices instead of, or in addition to the fruits For example, 50 g of dry orange peel are macerated in one litre of alcohol (70%). After 15 days the mix is filtered and 600 g of honey, dissolved in 600 ml of water, is added.

Beer brewer selling her product from traditional gourds.
Figure 2.18: Beer brewer selling her product from traditional gourds.

4) The honey itseij may be the only aromatic substance added to the alcoholic beverage like honey aquavit or honey whisAy. It is added to the distilled beverage either directly or with a little water. The quantities vary with the desired results, but the choice of honey is extremely important to harmonize flavours.

2.12.7 Honey spreads

To avoid separation of honey and pureed fruits or nuts only crystallized honeys should be used. There are basically two techniques. The ingredients are mixed with the liquid honey at the same time as the seed crystals or they are mixed after the crystallization has been completed, to obtain either a hard or soft product, respectively. To mix dried fruits with crystallized and softened honey in small batches, a clean meat grinder may be used.

In the following recipe apricots have been used but other fruits can be selected and fruit proportions be increased until those of fruit spreads and marmalades are reached. When changing the type of honey and fruits, care should be taken that their flavours are compatible.

Ingredients (in parts by weight) after Berthold (1988b)

8.5 Light coloured honey (liquid or liquified)
1 Seed honey (finely crystallized)
0.5 Dried apricots (very dry, high quality)

If the moisture content of the honey is high and fermentation is possible, pasteurize the honey after mixing with the pureed or ground fruit at 65 0C for 10 minutes. Add the seed honey to a small quantity of liquid honey. when evenly mixed, add to the rest of the liquid honey fruit mix. If a meat grinder is available and fermentation risk is low, the dry fruit and the seed honey plus a small quantity of liquid honey may be passed through it twice. Mix thoroughly with the liquid honey and fill into clean, wide-mouthed jars. Seal and leave to stand at 14 0C for at least 5 days or until crystallized. Finally, clean the outside of the jars and apply an attractive label.

Honey tahena paste

Ingredients (in parts by weight) modified after El-Shahaly et al., (1978):

63 Honey (creamed)
37 Tahena (sesame seed butter)

Prepare the sesame seed butter (chop sesame seeds in a blender or grind until fine), emulsijy to prevent oil separation and add the honey. Optional additions are 0.1 part artificial honey flavour, 3 parts sorbitol (to decrease desiccation of the paste) or 2 parts lecithin (to improve texture and spreadability). Creamed honey should be used. Packed in either wide-mouth jars or aluminum tubes, the paste should be refrigerated at 60C to prevent changes in appearance (oil separation) and organoleptic characteristics which may occur in even relatively short periods of time.

Dulce de Leche

For this very popular Argentinean spread which is normally made with refined sugar, honey is dissolved in a small amount of water. Milk is added, mixed well and boiled careflilly while stirring until the mixture has a creamy, paste-like consistency. Proportions may vary from 1:8 to 1.1 for the honey and milk depending on the desired flavour and consistency. Preparation from dried milk dissolved in very little water is possible and faster, but less heating will result in other flavours.

2.12.8 Honey with fruits and nuts

Fruits in honey

Sun-dried fruits with as low a moisture content as possible should be used, but they should still be soft. They can be placed directly into the honey, either whole, chopped or pureed. Partially dried fruits or those with a high moisture content even when dried should be covered with honey for a few days in a sealed container. After the honey is poured off the process can be repeated two or three times until the honey is no longer diluted with water quice) from the fruits. Then the fruits can be mixed with the final batch of honey and bottled. This process is necessary since the juice in the fruit will add too much water to the honey. Pasteurization of both fruits and honey will improve hygiene and storability and will reduce the risk of fermentation, but may affect the flavour. The diluted honey which is removed during the process can be used as fruit syrup preferably after being pasteurized.

Nuts in honey

The previous process can be repeated with nuts, but as commercially available nuts are already fairly dry, they do not usually need to be dried any further. Care should be taken that the honey flavours mix well with the chosen nuts. Since a nut and honey mix can also have a considerable aesthetic appeal, light coloured, liquid, slow crystallizing honey should be used. Distinctive glass jars can add flirther consumer appeal (see Figure 2.5).

If bottled by hand, or if the bottling machine allows, honey and nuts can be mixed before bottling. Otherwise the correct amount of honey should be placed into the jar and the nuts added later. The correct ratios need to be adjusted for each nut type. Nuts should be tightly packed so that they cannot float to the top and leave a pure honey stratum at the bottom. Some packers use a special clear plastic insert to keep the nuts from floating to the top.

2.12.9 Honey with pollen and propolis

Ingredients (in parts by weight):

1000 Honey
100 Propolis
125 Pollen
1-3 Royal jelly (optional)

Finely grind the dry pollen pellets and the hardened frozen) propolis. Warm 200 parts of honey in a water bath and mix in the pollen and propolis powder. After a few minutes of cooling stir the mixture into the rest of the honey. If refrigerated, the honey will stiffen and have less of a tendency to separate. Royal jelly might be added as well or propolis extract (paste) may be used instead of raw propolis. Propolis and pollen can also be mixed in equal volumes. It would of course be best to include all these ingredients in crystallized (creamed) honey before or after crystallization.

2.12.10 Honey paste for dressing wounds

Pure liquid honey or honey mixed with other beneficial creams or ointments may be used to dress wounds. The following is a very versatile paste useful as a home remedy for many ailments.

Ingredients (in parts by weight) after Uccusic (1982):

10 Wax
3 Propolis extract (10% ethanol extract)
2 Honey

Melt the wax and during cooling mix in the propolis extract and finally the honey. Store in a tight jar in a cool and dark place. This paste can be applied on all kinds of sores and open wounds, can be cliewed for mouth infections like paradontosis or used for skin damaged due to radiation, poisoning or acid burns. For serious infections or wounds, however, a doctor should be consulted.

2.12.11 Sugar substitution

Honey can replace cane sugar in almost any recipe. Since honeys are of different flavours and compositions, however, such replacements may result in changes of flavour, consistency, cooking times and the quantities of other ingredients required. In industrial baked products honey is therefore only used to replace small quantities of sugar. In addition, strong flavoured or dark, cheap honeys are preferred since less honey is required to obtain some honey flavour and consequently, less of the cheaper sugar has to be replaced. When substituting most or all of the sugar with honey, mild-flavoured honeys may be more desirable as they will not overpower other flavours of the product.

Since honey is denser than crystallized, packed sugar and therefore has greater sweetening power per volume than sugar, most cookery books recommend the use of 1 cup of honey for 1 cups of sugar or that 1 cup of sugar can be replaced by 4/5 of a cup of honey. Recommendations are not uniform, and others recommend replacing 1 cup of sugar with only to 3A of a cup of honey. When recipes are given in weight, honey can be substituted approximately 1:1 or, considering the moisture content, add up to 20% more honey in weight than sugar. The extra water added in the form of honey needs to be accounted for as well. Thus for every cup of honey added, approximately 1/5 to of a cup less liquid should be used in the recipe. By weight: for every 1 kg of sugar substituted by 1000-1200 g of honey, 180-200 g (180-200 ml) less water should be used. For most corn syrups, honey can be substituted 1:1 by weight as well as by volume, even though corn syrup often contains more water than honey. For industrial quantities more specific calculations based also on the sugar composition of the specific honey, are necessary.

Too much honey in a recipe may cause too much browning in a baked product. To neutralize the acidity of honey (unless sour cream or sour milk is called for in the recipe) add a pinch of baking soda. If honey is substituted in jams, jellies or candies, slightly higher temperatures must be used in cooking, but conversely, when baking bread, lower temperatures are required. In candies, more persistent beating (mixing) and slightly higher caramelization temperatures are needed. Also careful packaging and storage of the final product may be required to prevent absorption of atmospheric moisture.

When using honey for a recipe that also involves use of oil or fat, measure the oil or fat first in the measuring container. Removal of honey from the same container will then be easier and more complete.

2.12.12 Fruit marmalade

This marmalade is special in that it uses pre-dried fi~uit pulp, which reduces cooking time and thereby also preserves a much better flavour and uses less energy (fuel wood). It also uses less sugar than other traditional recipes, yet preserves well. Though originally formulated for sugar, a portion of the sugar can be replaced. By replacing only 5 to 10% of the sugar with a mild honey, the flavour can be slightly improved. Using more honey will produce a stronger honey flavour and increases the cost. The original recipe had been formulated by G. Amoriggi (personal communication) for small to medium scale processing using sun-dried pulp. Many more food canning and preservation recipes can be found in Geiskopf (1984).


10 kg Fruit pulp (fresh)
6 kg Sugar (or 5.4 kg sugar and 0.6 kg honey)
40 tblsp. Lemon o lime juice, i.e. 4 tblsp./kg pulp (or 10 teasp. Of citric acid, i.e. 1 teasp./kg pulp)

The recipe is best with pure mango or a papaya and banana pulp mixed at a ratio of 7.~3. Extract the pulp and mix with haij of the sugar and haij of the lemon juice (no honey yet). Spread in layers of 1 - 1.5 cm on trays of stainless steel, aluminum or aluminum foil, cover the pulp to protect it from insects, mice etc., and place it in a solar drier.

If a refractometer is available, the pulp is left in the drier until it has a minimum sugar content of 43 - 45% total solids. ft is then transferred into a pot where the other haij of the sugar and lemon juice and all the honey are added. The paste is simmered over medium heat until it reaches a sugar concentration 67%. Continuous stirring is necessaiy.

If a refractometer is not available, leave the pulp in the solar drier for approximately 7 hours of continuous sun (e.g. from 9 am to 4 pm) and leave on the stove until it "looks" like marmalade (or until it reaches approximately 105 0C).

If part of the sugar is replaced by the honey, the honey should not be added to the pulp batch before solar drying, since it will make drying more difficult and prolon ged. Honey may also be added when reducing and heating of the pulp is almost complete. Instead, the honey should be added as late as possible during the finale slow boiling of the paste so as to preserve as much of the beneficial characteristics and flavour of the honey as possible. The moisture content of the honey is not important and the ratios of sugar to honey can be changed as well, but the product will have to be heated slightly longer to reach the same sugar solids percentage.

2.12.13 Honey jelly

This jelly recipe follows the instructions of a pectin manufacturer, Unipectina Spa in Bergamo, Italy.

Ingredients for 1 kg of honey jelly:

220 g Water
3-4 g Pectin
800 g Honey
1.5-2 ml Tartaric acid (at a concentration of 50% weight/volume in water)

The pectin is soaked in the cold water, dispersed by stirring and brought to a boil which is continued until the weight has been reduced to 200 g. Then the honey is added and heated to 600C. The heating is stopped, the acid added and the mix poured into moulds or other containers.

If no mechanical mixer is available, the pectin can also be dispersed in a small quantity of honey and the water be added to this paste. To avoid fermentation, the mix may be heated to 770C and bottled without any other sterilization or it may be heated to 60-65 0C and bottled in sterilized jars. The final solids content should be 65-68% at a pH of 3.1-3.3. The honey acts here as a sweetening as well as a flavouring agent. Parts of it can be replaced with fruit juices or purees to provide other flavours.

2.12.14 Syrups

Honey fruit syrup - from a promotional pamphlet of 1910

Obtain or press a good quality, clean and fresh fruit juice. Filter it and add honey at a ratio of 5:3 (honey to juice) by weight Boil to sterilize and bottle. To prepare a drink, it is diluted with water. The fruit juice and honey mix from section 2.12.8. can be heated for pasteurization and bottled hot after any necessary correction of concentration. 

Honey-fruit-vinegar syrup - from a promotional pamphlet of 1903

Ingredients (in parts by weight):

Fruits (juicy and cromatic)

Place fruit (whole or cut, according to type) in the vinegar. Let it soak for 5 days, occasionally stirring and squeezing more juice out of the fruits. Press the liquid through a fine cloth and add the honey. Boil for 5 minutes only and bottle. This syrup is diluted with water (3 tblsp. of syrup per glass) for a refreshing drink.

Syrup base for herbal preparations

Dissolve 2 to 3 parts of honey in 1 part of water and heat to 65 0C for a few minutes. To this syrup various plant extracts with therapeutic or aromatic effect can be added.

If the plant extracts were made with alcohol the storage life of the syrup is increased. Otherwise some alcohol may be added as a preservative.

2.12.15 Rose honey
  1. Ingredients (in parts by weight) after the Italian Pharmacopoeia from Negri (1979):
Red rose petals (aromatic variety)
Boiling water

Prepare an inflision (tea) of the mashed rose petals in the boiling water and leave for 24 hours. Filter through a very fine cloth and press out. Mix the rose water with the liquid honey and leave in the cold until it reaches a density of 1.32. This mixture has a limited storage life. As an alternative to the last stage, boil the mix briefly and bottle while hot.

  1. Ingredients (in parts by weight) after the German Pharmacopoeia from Negri (1979):
Rose petals
Ethanol (ehtyl alcohol, 65%)

Mash and soak the rose petals in the alcohol for 24 hours. Filter and press the obtained liquid and mix with the other ingredients. Reduce to a final volume of 10 parts by heating in a water bath. As an alternative to the last stage, the mixture can be boiled briefly and bottled hot.

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