Looking for an unconventional health remedy? Something to spread on your toast? Or maybe you just have the unfortunate Winnie the Pooh habit of plunging your paws into sticky pots. Either way, spend a few minutes browsing the shelves at the Bees Kingdom honey shop and you’ll definitely find something that hits the spot. This quirky store has jar after enticing jar of gloriously rich honey lining the shelves, in colours ranging from toasty gold to deep caramel. And, best of all, they keep a big box of disposable tasting spatulas on the counter...
Located deep in the heart of Khalidiyah, Bees Kingdom has been spoon-feeding the capital’s sweet-toothed citizens with all the honey they can eat since 1988 – ancient times by Abu Dhabi’ standards. Owner Abdul Aziz Bamadhaf, a former beekeeper himself, established the store after realising his apiculture hobby could be more profitable through retail. He also supplies many of the region’s beekeepers with the equipment they need, so propped up in the corners of the shop are sinister-looking white suits with netted face covers, as well as all sorts of honey-testing machinery.
The shop’s main draw, though, is the honey itself, which is brought in from across the Gulf region, with varieties from Yemen, Oman, and the UAE. Much of the honey is local, because there is a strong beekeeping community in Al Ain too. Taste-wise, Middle Eastern honey is sweet, but it is not as sugary as honey from Europe or the USA. It has a fuller, intensely floral flavour, and delivers a bit of a kick to the back of the throat as you swallow. ‘People from all over the world taste this honey and say how much they like it. It has a better flavour than European honey,’ says Abdul.
‘Al Ain honey is cheap and light, and tastes like syrup, but the best UAE honey is from Ras Al Khaimah,’ he adds. ‘Honey tastes better when it comes from mountainous regions.’ If you want the real good stuff, though, you have to go further afield. Abdul recommends the Yemeni Seder honey: ‘This is the best of all because of the high mountains and the wild flowers there. It is the most expensive – Dhs1,500 per kilogram – but still very popular with my customers.’
It’s not just the rich, intense taste that has the customers flocking back for more; in Arab culture honey is often used for its medicinal purposes. ‘Local people use honey to help asthma, toothache, improve digestion and the immune system, also for antibiotic or antibacterial purposes,’ says Abdul. Bees Kingdom also stocks New Zealand Manuka Honey (in ‘+12’ and ‘+20’ varieties – medium and high levels of the active ingredient) which is said to clear up stomach ulcers, as well as heal wounds and injuries.
‘Personally, I drink the Seder honey every morning with chilled water, and often eat some with my breakfast too. I definitely am healthier because of it,’ he says.
So if you want a chance to test out any of these miraculous properties yourself, or indeed, the miraculous flavours, stop by the store and Abdul and his colleagues will happily assist you, knowledgeably reeling off information about the health properties, origin and taste of any jar your glance lingers on. Ask nicely and you’ll even get to try a spoonful or two. Needless to say, after our visit we left with gluey lips, sticky fingers and more honey in our tummy than we’d care to admit.
Bees Kingdom, Electra Street Khalidiyah (02 666 8988)