Aphid Shit is the Good Shit
For what's basically insect poop vomited up by a bee, it's delicious, says Kelly Kittell.
Past the flame-throwing octopus and its supplicants of selfie takers, past the army of 3-D printers spitting out the future like reverse Langoliers, past the roving neon land sharks and electric disco pillows, you'll find the Homegrown Village at Maker Faire. That’s where things things start to get really weird.
The murky green fish tanks of the “Grow Your Own Spirulina!” exhibit, assured me I wouldn’t be any time soon. I drink spirulina all the time, but just as with hot dog sausages, I didn't want to see how it's made. The mushroom fudge booth made me wonder what awful thing fudge couldn’t make taste better. I got two packages of it because it was both vegan and gluten-free. It's a gift you could give to almost anyone these days.
But it was the seemingly innocuous honey booth that held the biggest surprise. “Do you want to see a working beehive?” a young woman asked, gesturing to an open side door. My first thought was this would be exactly the way you'd mug someone at the Faire. Who would believe you? I demurred, and she pointed me to the Honey Sample Lady.
The Honey Sample Lady had her honeys lined up and we proceeded like a wine tasting-light to strong. A clover, a sage, an orange blossom, and finally Oak Dew. The Oak Dew was new to me, and on my first taste I thought immediately of baklava or crème bouche drizzled with the stuff. It was less sweet than the previous honeys, and unlike their simple one note flavor, the taste of the Oak Dew was complex, and the stickiness dissolved in my mouth quicker. I asked for a second sample and tried to parse what I was tasting.
“What do the bees take from the oak tree to make this honey?” I asked the Honey Sample Lady.
“Technically, it’s not a honey,” she said.
“What is it then?”
“Bees get it from another insect.”
“Really? What kind of insect?”
“A scale insect.”
“What do they get from them?”
“They secrete something and the bees take it.”
“Kinda like milking a cow?" I suggested.
“Yeah,” the Honey Sample Lady laughed. “Kinda like milking a cow.”
Before I could ask any more questions she rushed off to sell some more of the Oak Dew.
It turns out Oak Dew is a honeydew honey, also called forest honey. When an aphid bites into the sap-carrying tube of a plant, it’d be a bit like you or me biting into a fire hose. There is so much pressure, it forces the contents of the aphid’s digestion system out its posterior. It’s really just sap minus a few amino acids. Supposedly, it dries and falls off trees when the wind blows, like a dew made of honey.
When there is no floral pollen available, bees will collect the honeydew, take it to their hive, regurgitate it, and let it condense into a honey-like consistency called honeydew honey, or in this case, Oak Dew.
“You mean you ate bug poop bee vomit honey?” my husband asked incredulously.
“Yes, yes I did," I replied, "And, it was delicious.”
This is the third year honey farmer G & M Honey has been at the San Mateo Makers Faire. Honeydew honey harvests vary season to season, and by location, so only a limited amount is available. Your local beekeeper or farmers market may have it, as well.
[Image by Agrinberg licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license]
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