Honey of the Yucatan
The Yucatan area of Mexico is known for it’s Mayan beekeepers and high quality honey. Mayans have been cultivating bees for over 1000 years. It was so important to the ancient Mayans that they had a god of bees and honey called Ah Mucen Kab. Even today you can climb the main temple at Coba and see bees carved in the top of the temple as proof of this. This deep culture of bees and honey runs to today.
This is the story of modern Mayans and the honey trade. Yucatecan honey is known as some of the finest in the world. You will see why in our video below. But first we should mention one of the bee species found here in the Yucatan.
Special bees of the Yucatan
Imagine if bees did not sting! That would make them seem a lot friendlier wouldn’t it. Did you know there is a species of bees that lives in the Yucatan that does not sting? It is called the melipona bee. It is black and smaller then the average honey bee. Cultivating them certainly made it easier to harvest the honey without protective gear.
Melipona bees are still raised in the Yucatan. Their honey is prized because of its properties and is even used medicinally. Since the melipona bees produce in smaller amounts, it is also much more expensive. Usually this honey can only be found in specialty stores or in local communities.
Like many bee colonies around the world, these are in decline. Unfortunately the bees we collected from were not the stingless bees, but the story is just as sweet!
Our video of collecting honey with Mayan farmers
We had the chance to go out with some local Mayan men to collect honey. It was an experience to say the least. It is always insightful to the process and really gives you an appreciation of the work it takes to collect honey. We hope you enjoy our video.
How the honey trade works in the Yucatan of Mexico
Most of the honey in the Yucatan is collected by small scale farmers. It is often a side business to the other production of food. Bees are often keep in spacious backyards or out in the areas around towns where people farm.
Since the weather is sunny and warm year round, bees produce honey all the time depending on the flowers and rain, honey is collected about every 20 days in the Yucatan.
Collection of honey
When it is time to collect honey, there is a lot of preparation work. The farmers need smokers, a sharp knife for scrapping the honey combs, protective gear, and an extractor. It is usually best done with several people so the process can go smoothly and each person can do one job.
Why do beekeepers use smoke?
Smoke is used to calm the bees. In the Yucatan beekeepers will dried corn cobs in the smoker and light it on fire. The slow burning gives off smoke. The smokers can be pumped so it releases more smoke when needed. The beekeepers keep the smoke close to them to help keep the bees away.
When we were out with the beekeepers, we noticed that even if you were far away from the colonies of bees, there would be a lot of them around you. Being close to the boxes of bees with smoke was better off for you.
Protecting yourself when collecting honey
Since the Yucatan is normally warm year round, it may look funny to see people in jackets going out into the fields. You do however need layers to protect from getting stung. Normally you need two pairs of pants, boots or tough shoes, gloves, hat with screen, and three layers of shirts.
All of this clothing and layers makes for a hot time collecting honey. Even though this work is done in the morning, it still is around 26 C (80 F). Depending on how many colonies of bees there are, it may take about three hours on average to collect the honey and extract it. All of the time you need to be dressed with the protective gear.
The process of getting the honey out
After the beekeepers have gotten all the protective gear on, they make the final approach to the colonies. They will open one box at a time to pull out the panels. A soft brush is used to brush off the bees and then the honeycomb panel is put in an extra box. After one box is filled up with panels it is taken to the extractor.
The beekeepers place the extractor about 100 yards away. This gives them a little space with less bees, but they still need to keep on the protective clothing.
The honeycomb panels need to be cut open so the honey will run out. Once they do this, it is put into the extractor. The extractor is basically a hand turned centrifugal force spinner. This spins out a lot of the honey but still leaves some in the comb so the bees can use it for food.
Collection points and distribution
Once farmers have collected honey it is taken in buckets to collection points. Here the honey is weighed a bought by the kilo. The price of the honey depends on the amount being produced in the region. Usualy there is a 15 peso swing in the price of honey per kilo.
The collection points sell to stores and distributors. Sometimes the honey goes through a straining process here. When honey is collected it has wax and bees stuck in it. Honey needs to be strained to take out this.
How you can help these Mayan beekeepers
We love supporting hard working people in the area and also preserving the culture. We have teamed up with two businesses in Playa Del Carmen that will help support these beekeepers.
The first one is loQsea.com. This is a grocery delivery service in Playa Del Carmen. They offer a great service for people coming to the area that don’t want to spend time shopping. They also are a good service for residents as well. loQsea.com is always adding more services and things they can deliver. We encourage you to check them out here.
For the month of June they will be donating a portion of online tips to these Mayan beekeepers. So if you order from them already, we hope you can tip them online and help support these farmers. If you are not a customer already, it is easy to sign up and even easier to get things delivered to your door.
One of the places that loQsea.com delivers from is Das Brot Bakery in Playa Del Carmen. This is a store that will be selling the honey you see in the video. More about that below.
Where you can buy this honey in Playa Del Carmen
If you love honey, you should really try this honey. After seeing it collected in our video and all the work that goes into it you will no doubt have a better appreciation of it. You will also know that the product you are getting is of high quality. The honey in this video has gone to the local bakery called Das Brot in Playa Del Carmen.
Here Anja, the owner, carefully puts the honey from the Yucatan in jars for customers. You can also find great baked goods here. The bakery is on 8th Street between 20th Avenue and 25th Avenue, close to City Hall.
Interesting facts about bees
Just to give you more appreciation for the honey bee, here are some facts you can think about.
- The months February to June in the Yucatan usually produce the most honey.
- Bees buzz because they move their wings 200 times per second.
- Bees can fly at 15 miles per hour and up to 6 miles. That is why when you are biking a bee can keep up with you.
- It takes 1000 flowers to produce one spoonful of honey.
- On one trip a bee will visit 50-100 flowers.
- Bees have 6 legs.
- The queen bee can live 5 years.
Thank you for reading our article about honey in the Yucatan. We hope you found it interesting and get to try some when you are in the area.