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The Sweet History of Honey in Germany

The Sweet History of Honey in Germany


Summer is usually a busy season for honeybees in Germany. They work round the clock making nature’s sweetest liquid – honey – for people to use throughout the year. Honey finds its way in a wide variety of German recipes, from breakfast spread to baking to sweeteners. Honing is not just an integral part of traditional and modern German cuisine; it forms part of the German culture due to its rich history in this community.

The Oldest Natural Sweetener

The history of honey is as old as written history. Honey was first mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings dating back to 2100 B.C. It was the first and most widespread sweetener used by humanity.

In the olden days, honey uses stretched beyond food and beverages. It was used in making furniture polishes and vanishes. It was also used for medicinal purposes. Honey was highly valued and sometimes used as currency, offering, and tribute – making it a golden liquid. In the 11th century, German peasants were paying their feudal lords in honey and beeswax.

Until industrial cane sugar became commercially available and affordable in the mid-19th century, honey was the major sweetener agent used, especially in Europe. The use introduction of commercial sugar has seen a drop in the use of honey across the globe. However, the use of honey is still widespread in German culture, and it is backed by a rich history. If you were to enter any German supermarket, you will find dozens of varieties of honey with different flavors and textures. 

Beekeeping in Germany

Honey is sweet, and sometimes we enjoy it and forget who makes it. The mighty and tiny friends – bees – work several hours a day to make the sweet liquid that we enjoy. These bees get much help from beekeepers, who have been collaborating with them for centuries.

When we mention beekeeping, the first country that comes to mind is Germany. Beekeeping is a common language in this country. Many alternative forms of beekeeping have their origin in this country.

Heath beekeeping (Heideimkerei) is one of the notably and culturally notable forms of beekeeping. It originated by beekeepers on the Lüneburg Heath where it was intensively practiced. It involved the use of basket-like structures to create beehives from straw and other plants. Beekeepers would move their beehives around to pollinate larger areas of the heath. They would make special heather honey that is quite difficult to find today. Heath beehive will also produce beeswax, which was also a sort-after product.

Beekeeping was a common practice in the major areas of Heath, such that nearly every farmstead had a beehive. Heather honey was majorly traded in the town of Celle on the Südheide.

Early use of Honey in Germany

During the first century, honey was used as a general sweetener. It could be used in any recipe that requires sugar. Due to its availability in Germany, its use was not restricted to any class of people. Honey was an integral element in the bear. Germans could make a bear that is mixed with spices, honey, and resin. 

With the introduction and spread of cane sugar, the use of honey slowly transformed from a general sweetener to a special ingredient. These two elements swapped roles, with sugar becoming a common sweetener. Honey is today seen as a healthy alternative to sugar.

Currently, honey is a special sweetener used in recipes for meals ranging from breakfast to lunch, to dinner. It is also used in special meals for events and holidays.

Honey in Butterbrot

Butterbrot is a staple in Germany. Whether it is a daily breakfast or dinner meal, or a traditional affair such as a Christmas meal, Butterbrot will find its way on a German’s table. Butterbrot is a slice of bread topped with butter. Quite often, the bread is spread with honey to give it an unrivaled taste that Germans love.

Butterbrot with honey spread forms the main part of breakfast for many people across Germany. Other people take it with herbal tea, with honey as a sweetener.  Since 1999, the last Friday in September is known as a day of Butterbrot.

GourmetPlanet - Honey from Germany used in Butterbrot mit Honig

Honey in Honigkuchen (gingerbread) for Christmas

Lebkuchen is a signature German winter holiday cookie. Sometimes it is called honey bread (Honigkuchen) since it requires a lot of honey as a sweetener. To have fun with the cookie, some people twist on the Lebkuchen cookie by using different flavor varieties of Honig. The tradition of this cookie trades back to when crusaders brought exotic spices at home with them, such as cinnamon and cloves. It remains popular especially in the Southern region of the country.

GourmetPlanet Honey - German Honey in Honigkuchen

Different Varieties of Honey

If you have just tried one type of honey, then know that there are hundreds of other varieties you have not tasted – and they all have different tastes, colors, and viscosity. The sources can be one type of flower, different varieties of flowers, or even non-flower! The source greatly affects the flavor profile of honey.

Acacia Honey (Akazienhonig) is the most popular type of honey in Germany. It is collected from the pink Robinia flowers. This honey forms a great breakfast table addition due to its mild taste and liquid viscosity.

Honeydew Honey is a special type of honey that is sourced from aphid excretions. The aphids eat the sap and produce sweet secretions that are deposited on leaves, branches, and ground. Bees collect this secretion and use it, instead of nectar, to make unique, dark, creamy, and strong tasting honey. Other common honeys in Germany include pine tree honey (Tannenhonig) and its forest honey (Waldhonig). These varieties are sourced from the Black and Bavarian forests where aphids from the Cinara genus create the sweet secretion.

Final Thoughts

When you visit Germany, make it a goal to have a taste of the county’s most loved sweetener. Honig is more than just for food; it is part of German culture.
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