As Lindsay Bourke pulls a frame out of one of her beehives in northern Tasmania, he is pleased with the progress being made this time of year.
- Premium Tasmanian honey is diluted and re-sold with deceptive labels
- Pure Leather Wood Honey comes from a tree species only found in the tropical forests of Tasmania
- Researchers are building a “honey library” to make it easier to spot counterfeits
Surrounded by bees and eucalyptus, it delicately pulls honey combs from stringy leather wood. He says there is more than he expected, which bodes well for the months to come.
To the untrained eye, leatherwood looks a lot like other honeys, but in fact it is a premium product produced only in the tropical forests of Tasmania and sells for around double the price.
“It’s such a beautiful, strong and distinctive honey,” Mr. Bourke said.
Mr Bourke has been making liquid gold for decades while winning awards along the way, but he and other beekeepers in Tasmania can only produce a limited amount.
“So we can only produce 1,000 tonnes per year.”
This created a strong demand for Tasmanian leather lumber, which some overseas producers have chosen to exploit by diluting pure leather lumber or mislabeling mixtures.
“A few years ago, I sold 1 kilogram buckets and loose honey in drums, and someone reported to me that they saw my honey in 3 kg buckets. So these people produced them. buckets and labels and had them assembled, ”he said. .
“I don’t know what was in that honey.”
Mr Bourke said the situation is quite bad in some countries.
“Rice syrups are hard to detect and they mix it up into fraudulent honey and sell it as a premium product. “
The national honey library to eradicate counterfeits
Across the country, Liz Barbour lives and breathes honey at the University of Western Australia in Perth.
She is the CEO of the Cooperative Research Center for Honey Bee Products, which is funded by both industry and government to set benchmarks for honey quality and research varieties across Australia.
Its work includes the National Honey Library, where producers send samples of their honey for cataloging, making it easier to spot counterfeits.
“With this database, we are really building a catalog to compare in order to fully understand what is normal,” she says.
The focus on honey traceability arose, at least in part, from allegations in 2018 that major producer Capilano was selling adulterated honey.
The company was cleared of any wrongdoing following an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
“What this showed us was that there was nothing to protect us in terms of quality control,” says Dr Barbour.
The Tasmanian branch of research is carried out by Sandra Garland at the Institute of Agriculture, University of Tasmania.
“This whole project is to prove that this honey doesn’t come from Australia, that this honey is a fraud,” Dr Garland said.
“To do this, we need to characterize our own honey. We have to establish the characteristics of leather wood honey and what makes it so special.
“Its taste, smell, sugar content, degree of bioactivity: all these different qualities must be established, then honey is a benchmark.
Mr. Bourke says the work will help protect the reputation of his honey.
“We don’t want the end buyer to buy honey with leatherwood and think it’s a very sweet tasting product when in reality it isn’t.”
Research is the key to better returns
While Tasmanian leather attracts a hefty price tag, researchers and producers agree that is not enough.
“Manuka honey in New Zealand has so much government support. They’ve done so much research… so they can charge a huge premium for their honey,” Dr. Garland said.
“The beekeepers here in Australia also need this kind of research.
“They have to be able to say ‘look how good our honey is,’ show the research that proves it’s bioactive and then we can start getting the premium prices we deserve.”
It would be music to Mr. Bourke’s ears.
“Leatherwood is one of the best honeys in the world, so it would be wonderful to see it recognized. “