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Honey, productions and varieties in Italy

Italy is the fifth largest producer of honey in the Old Continent, which the European Commission estimates to be the second 'honey production area' on the planet, after China. (1) Italian honey production expresses the vast biodiversity of a country that reaches from the Mediterranean to the high peaks of the Alps, with a rare variety of marine, hilly and mountainous ecosystems.

The numerous honeys in Italy, uniflora and polyflora, are characterized by specific organoleptic profiles in terms of color and consistency, flavors and aromas. A plurality of nectars to which much research has been dedicated, starting from the Middle Ages, to study their qualities and beneficial properties. A brief insight.

1) Italian unifloral honeys

The main honeys unifloral (monoflora) Italian honeys were classified in 1986, through the 'Characterization sheets of Italian honeys', developed by the Experimental Institute for Agricultural Zoology (ISZA), now merged into the Council for Research in Agriculture and the analysis of Agricultural Economics (CREA). The cards include 18 main honeys and 39 less common honeys, with related descriptions regarding:

– botanical species from which honey originates, (2)

– palynological data (i.e. pollen),

– organoleptic properties,

– main analytical parameters required by law (average values ​​and standard deviation),

– other analytical parameters not required by law (sugar spectrum, specific rotation, proline, etc.),

– notes relating to typical and characterizing elements,

– general information about the composition, (3)

– applied analysis methods. (4)

The analytical data and technical-scientific are essentially aimed at operators in the sector - beekeepers, packers, retailers - who must ensure that the products correspond to the composition requirements established in Annex II to the Honey Directive 2001/110/EC. The botanical species of origin and the sensory aspects are also useful for consumers to identify the different honeys and appreciate their characteristics.

Properties Italian honey
Fig. 1 – Distribution of unifloral honeys in Italy. Example of the acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia)

2) Sensory analysis

Sensory analysis of honey - as for other categories of foods - follows a scientific approach, subjected to specific international standards. (5) With the primary objectives of identifying the botanical origin(s) of honeys, the absence of defects (e.g. fermentation) and acceptability by consumers. In addition to evaluating the organoleptic qualities of honey, based on pre-established parameters.

Italian honey property
Fig. 2 – Wheel of honey odors and aromas (Piana et al., 2004)

Study groups and training for 'panel tests' were formed, in Italy, thanks to the teachings and first experiences of Michel Gonnet, in France. This led to the formation of the National Register of Experts in Sensory Analysis of Honey. (6) To date, the 'Three Gocce d'Oro' is the main national competition in the sector, organized by the National Honey Observatory, whose expert tasters are registered in the Register. (7)

3) Nutritional properties

The nutritional profile medium of Italian honey is characterized by the prevalence of carbohydrates (80%), in the form of glucose and fructose. Followed by water (approximately 18%), vitamins, minerals and bioactive substances (i.e. polyphenols), approximately 1%. Traces of protein (< 1%) and zero fat. (8)

The great variety of honey in Italy also deserves further investigation, case by case, in order to verify the nutritional profiles of each of them and the relative virtues for health. (5) Further studies could also evaluate changes in the glycemic index of honey.

4) Italian honey, UNI standards

Five honeys in Italy they are the subject of voluntary standards, published by UNI (Italian Standardization Body), which define for each of them the quality requirements and the analysis methods to be applied to verify the authenticity of the product. The Italian standards concern honey from:

– acacia (Robinia pseudoacacia), standard UNI 11382:2010, (9)

– citrus fruits (Citrus spp.), UNI 11384:2010, (10)

– chestnut (Castanea sativa), UNI 11376:2010, (11)

– honeydew (from forest), UNI 11375:2010, (12)

– eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.), UNI 11383:2010. (13)

5) Provisional conclusions

All Italian honeys deserve to be considered and appreciated, without falling into the prejudice that honey from every country is always the same. Orography, ecosystems and microclimates are in fact very differentiated, even within individual regions and provinces.

Dario Dongo and Andrea Adelmo Della Penna

Footnotes

(1) Agriculture and rural development. Honey. European Commission https://agriculture.ec.europa.eu/farming/animal-products/honey_en

(2) The Italian Ministry of Agriculture first interpreted the 'Honey Directive' as referring to 'source' rather than 'plant'. On this basis, the wording 'millefiori' was deemed acceptable to complete the sales denomination 'honey' (MIPAF circular dated 8 March 2005, no. 1). Except then to indicate that it is not possible to use the name 'millefiori' for monoflora honey blends. The 'millefiori' cannot therefore derive from an exclusive (monoflora) or precise (flowers/nectar or honeydew) botanical origin (MIPAF circular 31 May 2012, n. 4)

(3) The circulars reported in note 2, together with the circular dated 12 July 2007, n. 3 indicated the names 'mountain honey', 'meadow honey' and 'forest honey' as 'unsuitable', admitting only the latter wording as synonymous with 'forest honeydew honey'. The obligation of geographical origin imposed by the directive is considered fulfilled with the term 'Italian honey'

(4) Italian unifloral honeys http://profilomieli.albomiele.it

(5) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Miele, a universe to discover. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(6) The National Register of Experts in Sensory Analysis of Honey in Italy, established by decree of the Ministry of Agriculture 28 May 1999 n. 21547, is managed by CREA (Council for agricultural research and analysis of agricultural economics). See http://www.albomiele.it/

(7) See https://www.informamiele.it/concorso-tre-gocce-doro-grandi-mieli-ditalia

(8) CREATE. Food composition tables. Honey. https://www.alimentinutrizione.it/tabelle-nutrizionali/210010

(9) UNI 11382:2010. Acacia honey (Robinia pseudacacia L.) – Definition, requirements and analysis methods. https://store.uni.com/uni-11382-2010

(10) UNI 11384:2010. Citrus honey (Citrus spp.) – Definition, requirements and analysis methods. https://store.uni.com/uni-11384-2010

(11) UNI 11376:2010. Chestnut honey (Castanea sativa Miller) – Definition, requirements and analysis methods. https://store.uni.com/uni-11376-2010

(12) UNI 11375:2010. Honeydew honey or forest honey – Definition, requirements and analysis methods. https://store.uni.com/uni-11375-2010

(13) UNI 11383:2010. Eucalyptus honey – Definition, requirements and analysis methods. https://store.uni.com/uni-11383-2010

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

Andrea Adelmo Della Penna
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Graduated in Food Technologies and Biotechnologies, qualified food technologist, he follows the research and development area. With particular regard to European research projects (in Horizon 2020, PRIMA) where the FARE division of WIISE Srl, a benefit company, participates.

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