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George Vardas

Thyme honey of Kythera

A scientific note on the characteristics of thyme honey from the Greek island of Kithira

by Angeliki TSIGOURI (Institute of Veterinary Research of Athens, National Agricultural Research Foundation, Neapoleos 25, 153 10 Aghia Paraskevi, Attiki, Greece) and Maria PASSALOGLOU-KATRALI (Cooperative of the Beekeepers’ Association of South Greece, Makriyianni 57, 143 43 N. Chalkidona, Attiki, Greece)

published in Apidologie 31 (2000) 457-458
abd reproduced here in an abridged version.

Greek thyme (Thymus) honey has been famous since antiquity for its special aroma and flavour . It is produced from plants of the Lamiaceae family, that are found in Southern Greece and on the islands, and it represents 10% of the Greek honey crop. The island of Kithira, with an area of 284 km2, is located at the south of the Peloponnese (latitude 36° 08¢N, longitude 23° 01¢E) and is covered by pine forests and moorland areas where Lamiaceae are abundant. The honey produced in the island (25 metric tons per year) is regarded as one of the best Greek thyme honeys. The objective of this study was to record the microscopic and physicochemical characteristics of this honey.
Twenty fresh unpasteurised samples, representing honey from all the thyme honey producers of the island in 1997, were analysed. All samples had the organoleptic characteristics of thyme honey. They were kept at 6 °C and analysed within 1 month. Melissopalynological analysis was carried out, without acetolysis, and we used Neubauer slides (Lilnck, Germany) for pouring a known volume of the sediment suspension. Pollen grains were counted and identified over the counting chamber of the Neubauer slide (0.8 ~L). Each sample was analysed in duplicate and > 600 grains were examined for each replicate. The physicochemical analyses were performed according to methods recommended by the European Honey Commission.
Thyme pollen represented a mean of 42% of the pollen spectrum, with a range of 18 to 80%. Thyme honey is generally regarded as having under-represented pollen. However, in Greece and especially in the islands, the percentage of thyme pollen can be as high as 85–90%. No fungal spores were found, as the pine trees in Kithira are not attacked by Marchalina hellenica. Pollen concentration ranged from 5 000 to 85 000 pollen grains per 10 g of honey, with an average of 29 000.
Thyme honey from Kithira had an average moisture content of 15.7% (range 14.7–17.9%) which is in agreement with previously reported values, though Drimjias and Karabournioti in “Characteristics of Greek Thymus honey”, Apiacta 30 (1995) 33–39 reported higher values. The electrical conductivity ranged from 0.25–0.50 mS/cm (mean 0.39), which is similar to the range reported for Greek thyme honey as well as Italian thyme honeys. Drimjias and Karbournioti recorded slightly higher values, but these values refer to a 20% solution of honey and not to a 20% solution of dry matter. The proline content averaged 1 105 mg/kg (range 306–1 873 mg/kg), which was higher than that reported in previous studies, while diastatic values averaged 18.9 DN (range: 10.3–32.4 DN) and were slightly lower than previously reported values for Greek or Italian thyme honey. Finally, invertase activity ranged from 4.2–29.0 IN (mean 15.3). Correlation analysis was conducted on the data for the 20 samples, i.e., on the proportion of thyme pollen, the proportion of Lamiaceae pollen, pollen concentration, and all the values from the physico-chemical analysis.

See also Karabournioti S., Drimjias N., "Some physicochemical characteristics of Greek monofloral honeys", Apiacta 32 (1997) 44–50.

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George Vardas
on 07.10.2005

The full pdf version of this article with full references can be found at http://www.edpsciences.org/articles/apido/pdf/2000/03/m0302.pdf?access=ok.

John Stathatos
on 15.10.2005

It should nevertheless be noted that overproduction (and plain old greed) over the last few years have resulted in a disastrous drop in the average quality of Kythera honey, accompanied by unjustifiably high prices. "Sugaring" has resulted in some Kythera honeys totaly lacking any taste or aroma, and, in the words of one visitor, "tasting like sweetened plaster of Paris". In other words, too much of what is on sale is overpriced and poor quality. It is of course still possible to find first-rate honey, but this is usually a question of knowing the specific person to approach. The danger is that in the medium-to-long run, a few greedy and unscrupulous apiarists will cause irrecoverable damage to the reputation of Kythera honey. The answer of course is stricter policing and ruthless quality control, but as usual, this begs the question of who will undertake such an onerous and probably unpopular task. Antikythera honey, by the way, though only available in small quantities, is almost invariably excellent.