An unusual, natural ingredient to give your cooking a lift
“It is the pollen that the bees have collected from flowers to make honey, so it is a wild product,” says Sam who co-founded From Field and Flower with her partner Stefano. “The name ‘bee pollen’ refers to the fact that it is collected by bees, rather than mechanically—it sounds obvious, but I get asked a lot!”
The Borzoni family, the beekeepers who supply Sam’s pollen, are based in Piedmont in north-west Italy which is a very famous honey region. “They have about 400 hives and are bee obsessed. They are completely in love with their ‘girls’,” says Sam.
This means the supply can be a little inconsistent, because they are very strict about what they will take from each hive and when they will do so. The pollen is only collected at the end of the season, when the bees have enough honey to get them through the winter. So if the weather has been poor and there isn’t a lot of honey, they won’t collect either pollen or honey from the hives—“The bees come first and that is the way it should be.”
A little wiggle
The bee keeper puts a thin mesh over the entrance so that rather than just flying straight in to the hive, the bees have to do a little wiggle to get through the mesh. As they do this some of the pollen drops off and is collected below. “As you can imagine, it's quite a long process,” Sam says with a smile. Once enough pollen has been collected, it is then taken away and carefully air dried, which is the only processing it goes through.
After that it is just a case of careful storage, which turns out to be very simple: just keep it somewhere cool, dry and out of direct sunlight and it will last between 18 months and two years—but even then it won’t go ‘off’, it will just lose some of its potency.
“People ask what bee pollen tastes like, but this is dependent on the flowers the bees have visited,” Sam explains. “Ours is a mixed pollen and because of where the bees forage, they get things like acacia flowers, chestnut pollen, linden tree pollen and pollen from wild alpine flowers.
“The wild flowers tend to produce smaller grains with a lighter flavour, while pollen from trees is generally darker. As a rule, the larger the grain, the darker in colour the pollen will be and the more intense the flavour.”
It is the processing of the pollen by the bees which develops the sugars and makes honey sweet, so while there is a similarity in their basic flavour, the pollen has a different character to the honey produced from it.
“Pollen has a subtle, natural sweetness like that which you find in vegetables—not the super sweet flavour of honey. Its main characteristic is a really intense floral aroma and flavour. You can mix it with other things like yoghurt, porridge, in a smoothie, or sprinkle it in on toast or a salad and it will give a lovely gentle floral flavour,” Sam says with a look that suggests the recollection of a delicious pollen-laced dish.
Like a sweet
If you like it strong, you can have it as it is in some warm water, like a tea. Just make sure the water is kept under 42C, or you lose all the goodness the pollen possesses. “You can also just pop a teaspoonful in your mouth and suck it like a sweet, but you need to commit to it if you are going to do that. It is not quick to dissolve,” Sam laughs.
If you look through a few restaurant menus, you will see its versatility. “Bee pollen is wonderful with smoked salmon or mild to medium goat’s cheese. I also like it sprinkled on cheese cake as a kind of topping. It is wonderful as a garnish—just scatter some on summer puddings and finish with honeycomb ice cream. It is wonderful.”