I have a hobby which reduces my carbon footprint, and turns it golden and sticky… I am a beekeeper. On my first birthday in Kosovo, five years ago, I was given a beehive as a present. Looking after my bees has been a way for me to get to know Kosovo’s countryside and its village life, to meet some wonderful and wise people and to learn a load of delicious recipes.
It was even the starting point for my book, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, published last month. It has also led to me cutting sugar out of my diet completely, and replacing it with locally-produced, hand-harvested honey, which requires no heat processing, is packaged in recycled jars, and whose production even supports pollination. Everyone can feel better about that.
And substituting honey for sugar is no hardship. Sugar is to honey what white noise is to music; the uncomplicated sheer sweetness of the former is reliable but ultimately gives me a headache, while honey adds subtlety, whether that’s drizzled on cereal, stirred into herbal teas or used in baking.
It’s better for you, too – research (Phillips, Carlsen and Blomhoff, 2009) suggests that substituting honey for sugar increases antioxidants in the diet by the equivalent of an extra serving of berries or nuts every day.If you’re going to try substituting then you might need a word of advice about baking with honey. Honey has a slight acidity which has to be offset in baking with a little extra bicarb of soda. Honey is also obviously a little more liquid than sugar which means you have to adjust the amounts of liquid you use elsewhere in a recipe. And it leads to cakes browning more quickly so you have to aim off for that with the oven temperature. But these are all small adjustments, and you work them out with a bit of instinct and a bit of trial and error. It’s worth it when it transforms your baking, and helps you feel good about what you eat.
The Albanian equivalent of ‘bon appetit’ is ‘ju befte mire’ – literally, may it do you good. It’s a thought-provoking blessing at the beginning of a meal, helping me to think about the good my food will do me, and the world I live in.