The first in-depth study on Maltese honey, which will form the basis to authenticate it, has been launched with the aim of analysing the characteristics and floral origin of this iconic produce.

The project between the Division of Rural Sciences and Food Systems and Golden Island Ltd will develop a DNA pollen database, derived from microscopic analysis. Through the database, the project would also help to map out the islands’ best bee-foraging areas, required to be safeguarded for future generations for honey production.

In the long term, the project, being funded by the Malta Council for Science and Technology, also aims to produce a Maltese honey standard, which will not only benefit the end user but also protect the local bee-keeping industry from imported counterfeit products. Novel bio-molecular techniques would be applied to study in detail the floral origin of Maltese honey for the first time and samples would be examined by microscopic techniques to analyse the pollen content, said project coordinator Adrian Bugeja Douglas from the University of Malta. Malta, known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as Melite, which derives from the Greek word meli, meaning honey, has been associated with bee-keeping and honey production since the times of the Phoenicians, who started by domesticating wild swarms, using earthenware jars still found in some Punic apiaries. Maltese honey remains a sought-after and prized gourmet product despite the extensive development of key foraging countryside and the introduction of disease that has greatly diminished the unique Maltese honey bee subspecies.