Raw, locally produced honey infused with an age-old African seed
Nigella sativa, black cumin seed, kalonji: the Egyptian black seed has many monikers—and a long and interesting history. Revered in many cultures for its supposed health benefits, the prophet Mohammed went as far as to say that it will “prevent all ailments, except for death”. The seeds are mentioned in the Old Testament, and were found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. They’ve been used in a wide variety of different cuisines for centuries. At The Local Honey Man, their appearance as part of a range of infused honeys, is brand new.
“We launched the Egyptian black seed honey just this week,” says Curtis Thompson, the local honey man himself. “Egyptian black seeds are the finest in the world. We get ours from a specialist supplier, then grind them down and infuse them into one of our best raw honeys, leaving the flavours to develop for a long period of time.”
He and his colleagues produce much of the honey themselves, from hives across London and Essex. “We are London’s biggest bee farmers, with 250 hives. We keep them on rooftops, in nature reserves, parks, gardens. The beauty of beekeeping like this is, you can get a wide range of different types of honey. We also work with a network of British suppliers, who buy into our ethics and way of producing honey.” That means suppliers who pride themselves on only producing raw, unpasteurised honey, and “who try not to standardise it. We give the public exactly what the bees give us,” he continues passionately.
A mission to re-educate
Curtis is on a mission to “bring this natural food source to the public on a wider scale, and re-educate people as to what honey’s supposed to be, rather than the mass produced stuff you get in the supermarket.” This makes a difference to the flavour of the honey, allowing for seasonal fluctuation, but also impacts on the welfare of the bees.
“As ethical honey producers and bee farmers, we try to leave enough honey for the bees over winter. Many commercial farmers take it all and replace it with sugar syrup, which means the bees are not getting the nutrition they need, or the warmth,” Curtis continues. “It’s putting profit before everything else. That is not what we do.” The bees are interfered with as little as possible; so is the honey. “It’s unadulterated. Tonnes of customers have told us that this tastes like how honey used to taste, when they were growing up.”
The Egyptian black seeds lend the honey a whole new level of flavour. “It gives a slight crunch and a taste that’s difficult to define. Everybody’s tastebuds are different, but when I eat it, I find it’s aromatic with a slight spice, followed by sweet, sticky tones,” he says, enjoying a healthy spoonful, like a sommelier tasting his wine.
Being almost as new to Curtis as it is to the rest of us, its culinary potential is open to experimentation. “I would just take it neat! Or you can use it to liven up smoothies, yoghurts.” As a honey glaze for meat, we chime in? “I could see that. I’m coming to your barbecue,” he laughs. “It’s just whatever works for you—this could be the birth of a good competition.”