Friday, January 17, 2014

Palm honey problems

The sap is rising…
Image courtesy of: © Alexius Jorgensen
La Gomera is home to the largest number of the Canarian palm tree (Phoenix Canariensis)  in these islands and the species is protected and cherished. More than 100.000 specimen have been counted on La Gomera and they are also a source of income for local farmers. Especially the sweet palm 'honey' (miel de palma) plays an important part in our economy. Palm honey is not really honey, but the syrup obtained by first cutting the crown of the palm tree, then collecting the sweet and watery sap (called 'guarapo') that rises up the trunk and further boiling the sap down to a syrupy consistency to obtain the 'honey'. This liquid is delicious, full of minerals etc., and highly valued. A Canarian palm tree may be exploited in this way only once every five years without doing damage. It is very hard work to first climb the trunk and the battle with the very tough and sharp fronds of the crown. Most of the sap rises during the night and thus involves nightshifts for collection. To obtain one litre of palm honey eight litres of the sap are needed. The 'guarapo' (sap) tends to ferment very rapidly and so needs to be boiled soon after collection. To obtain one pint of palm honey it takes at least eight pints of the 'guarapo' palm sap and the process to boil idown takes a very long time with the repeated removal of froth and impurities which rise to the top.
The island's government wanted to get the name 'miel de palma' (palm honey) officially recognised and protected, but now the regional government have stated that this can't be done as the product is not 'miel', i.e. honey, as it isn't produced by bees.The product is just the concentrated sap of the palm and  'honey' is defined as having been collected and stored by bees. That is according to national and EU definitions for the sweet stuff.
The island's government with the help of the Canarian authorities now want to try to make 'palm honey' an exception to the official definition due to the product's historic and cultural background and importance. They also stress it's uniqueness and the fact that 'palm honey' is already established as a name which most people will not confuse with 'bee's honey'. It has a much darker colour than 'real' honey and a different, less sweet taste. They remain hopeful that an exception will be made in view of many similar local products all over the EU that were allowed to retain their original names. 
After all 'soya milk' isn't milk produced by cows which have consumed soy beans, either. We'll see, but maybe in the future 'palm honey' must be called 'Traditional Gomeran palm sap syrup' ?
For the time being the term 'miel de palma' remains in use and is promoted and protected by the 'cabildo' , i.e. the island's government , but when you're buying it make sure the bottle or jar bears the official seal with the inscription 'Alimentos de La Gomera' (see image on right), which guarantees quality and avoids confusion with the many imitations that can be found mostly in other Canary Islands, which often are totally different syrups of inferior quality imported from Asia in bulk that are packaged and sold in the Canaries under various names. The real thing is made in La Gomera:

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