Imkerin Marianne Kehres am Bienenstock

Honey - a feast for the senses!

How do beekeeping, Slow Food and a honey tasting complement each other?

The region­al mar­ket­ing of a Slow Food product, the vari­ety of fla­vors in honey and the life of hon­ey­bees in cli­mate change - these are just a few facets that are on Mari­anne Kehres mind as a bee­keep­er. Her ini­ti­at­ive of mar­ket­ing honey as a valu­able region­al product brings her to ‘Slow Food’ fairs in Italy and Ger­many shar­ing her expert­ise on bees and the won­der­ful fla­vors of honey. As a honey som­meli­er she shares with us her sens­ory descrip­tion of honey, and how the ver­sat­ile taste of honey com­pli­ments other food.

How do I become a sought-after bee and honey expert?

With close obser­va­tion, courses and lit­er­at­ure about bees & plants and the pas­sion for the deli­cious taste of honey, Mari­anne works out her career path. In the begin­ning, there is the idea to let the old tra­di­tion of an insect-friendly kit­chen and nature garden blos­som again on her large prop­erty in the coun­tryside near Cologne sur­roun­ded by mead­ows and forests. The trend 'huge lawn with a few trop­ic­al orna­ment­al trees' does not cor­res­pond at all to Marianne's eco­lo­gic­al idea. At the begin­ning she buys two bee colon­ies from the local bee­keep­ers' asso­ci­ation to pol­lin­ate the newly planted apple trees. With her con­ta­gious pas­sion and curi­os­ity for bees and their nat­ur­al product, her male col­leagues from the local bee­keep­ers' asso­ci­ation elect her for the pos­i­tion as the chair­wo­man after a year. She also inspires people at insti­tutes and events as an expert on the sub­ject of 'bees, bee­keep­ing and honey'. With her advert­ising flyer dir­ec­ted at women, she man­ages to increase the number of female bee­keep­ers in the tra­di­tion­al male domain. But her heart­felt theme is the fact that a female or male bee­keep­er, even with only one colony of bees, makes a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to our eco­sys­tem. And also, they exper­i­ence an enrich­ing activ­ity through­out the year.

Where do I buy my honey?

If you go to Provence and let your­self be infatu­ated by the scent of the lav­ender fields or the yellow color impres­sion of a sun­flower field, you will cer­tainly buy a jar of honey there. In the del­icatessen or organ­ic food store, names like 'orange blos­som honey' from Spain, 'chest­nut blos­som honey' from Italy or 'Manuka honey' from Aus­tralia inspire us to buy some honey.

"Yes, vari­et­al honeys are known and the taste is ima­gin­able for most people. But that in most coun­tryside 'forest and meadow honeys' exist which have a unique won­der­ful taste, that is not clear to most con­sumers. Ima­gine - they con­sist of a diverse mix­ture of dif­fer­ent nec­tars and hon­ey­dew from flowers and plants which many people are not even aware off or don’t even know. The assort­ment of super­mar­kets often con­sists of only one brand. In Ger­many most ‘lovers’ of honey still buy this Slow Food product from their local bee­keep­er in the neigh­bour­hood."

At the begin­ning of her career as a bee­keep­er Mari­anne con­vinces the super­mar­kets in her region to include the local honeys in their assort­ment. She gains high level recog­ni­tion with her mar­ket­ing ini­ti­at­ive 'Buy Region­al Honey’. A valu­able ‘Slow Food’ product pro­duced in the neigh­bour­hoods. Anoth­er import­ant point is also that the vis­ib­il­ity of a product guar­an­tees a small income for the bee­keep­ers. But usu­ally, it is the pas­sion of each bee­keep­er that gen­er­ates the energy to con­tin­ue with this import­ant work. The honey bees and the bee­keep­ers gen­er­ate the eco­lo­gic­al diversity of nature and this an import­ant and abso­lutely neces­sary action for us all.

What does Italian and French creativity & appreciation of food involve?

Who has eaten Parmes­an or grilled goat cheese with a creamy, malty grape and apple tast­ing honey? Or enjoyed a lem­on­grass-scen­ted white chocol­ate and vanilla flavored honey with a yogurt or vanilla ice cream? What honey flavor enhances a salad dress­ing? And what con­sist­ency and flavor should my break­fast honey have on sour­dough farm­ers bred or a French baguette? In south­ern coun­tries, the vari­ety names of honeys already give a hint about the taste exper­i­ence. Chest­nut honey, lav­ender honey, moun­tain herb honey, orange blos­som honey - these plant names appeal to our sens­ory ima­gin­a­tion. We remem­ber the smell of oranges or the taste of chest­nuts. But what world of taste is hidden behind a German early har­vest, summer blos­som or forest honey? Only 'sweet' and 'slightly spicy' do not do justice to a 'forest and meadow honey' from an amaz­ing source of plants.

Why are 'forest and meadow honeys' so diverse in taste?

"Plants honey dif­fer­ently depend­ing on the weath­er con­di­tion. The pollen col­lec­ted includes the taste of the dif­fer­ent plants, but the same plant pollen is dif­fer­ent due to the fact if it is too warm or cold, too damp or dry. So the har­vest of the bees gives rise to color, odor and taste com­bin­a­tions in ever new vari­ations. Just as nature, the season, the cli­mate and the soil determ­ine the nat­ur­al pro­cess. Thus, no two honeys are alike! The fact that bee colon­ies col­lect their pollen on more than 50 km² also con­trib­utes to the taste diversity of the honeys."

With so many dif­fer­ent fla­vors of plant flowers and hon­ey­dew, the result is a won­der­ful mix, but then how does this honey from spring and summer time taste? Through her 'Region­al Mar­ket­ing Pro­ject' Mari­anne receives an invit­a­tion to the Slow Food Fair 'Terra Madre' in Turin, Italy. There, the best honeys are awar­ded prizes. She is impressed by the fact that honey is presen­ted and described in terms of taste like wines. This is an inspir­a­tion for Mari­anne. She devel­ops a scheme for a honey bon­itur, a sys­tem­at­ic sens­ory descrip­tion of honeys. This though out descrip­tion gives the bee­keep­ers a pos­sib­il­ity to inspire their cos­tumers with this spe­cial Slow Food product. And Mari­anne also includes a recom­mend­a­tion how the fla­vors of this par­tic­u­lar honey com­pli­ments anoth­er food – cheese, yoghurt, sweet or savory. She is truly a honey som­meli­er. What is pos­sible for wine is of course pos­sible for honey.

How does Marianne work as a honey sommelier?

It takes time to get to the bottom of a honey's flavor. A tea­spoon of honey mixed with water, covered in a large glass, reveals addi­tion­al flavor nuances after a rest­ing period. As with wine tast­ing, no more than 4- 6 honeys can be tasted at once.

"The appear­ance and color already give an indic­a­tion of where the bees col­lec­ted the nectar. When open­ing the jar, the first sens­ory impres­sions already reach us via the diverse smell. When the honey then reaches the tip of the tongue in the throat, the aroma sub­stances warm up and also reach the recept­ors of the nose. Thus, all these sens­ory impres­sions open up the world of unique tastes – show­cas­ing the diverse nature sources. So ‘honey’ is really much more than just sweet or fruity."

But which vocab­u­lary does justice to the unique taste of honey? Mari­anne lists the most import­ant com­pon­ents in her aroma wheel. First, we per­ceive the smell, then the con­sist­ency of the honey with its mouth­feel. After these ini­tial sens­ory clas­si­fic­a­tions, Mari­anne dif­fer­en­ti­ates the taste into areas: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. This is fol­lowed by the mul­ti­tude of fas­cin­at­ing aromas. The con­clu­sion, as in wine tast­ing, is the finish. Mari­anne uses her meth­od­o­logy to devel­op flavor descrip­tions for the honeys sub­mit­ted to the ‘German Bee Insti­tute’. Bee­keep­ers use the insti­tute for purity and pollen ana­lys­is of their honeys. With Marianne's 'tasted' fla­vors and recom­mend­a­tions, bee­keep­ers have anoth­er fea­ture at their dis­pos­al to be used as a mar­ket­ing tool.

Beekeeping - coincidence or perhaps predestination?

When Mari­anne starts her nat­ur­al garden, her Slow Food mis­sion is not yet present. Going along she buys an old wooden trail­er which always belonged to a bee­keep­er in the old days. Now she uses the trail­er as a small private bee­keep­ing museum. There a late-found old family photo shows her family. They were bee­keep­ers over a 100 years ago. Some­times the pas­sion skips a few gen­er­a­tions. In keep­ing with that era, there's a honey extract­or and old bee­hives made of straw and smeared with cow manure, bill­boards, bee­keep­ing tools and Marianne's work clothes - a beekeeper's hat and her loose-fit­ting bee­keep­ing blouse.

"I usu­ally go without this pro­tec­tion to my bee colon­ies, which are almost all very peace­ful. Stings still occur on rare occa­sions. But then it's usu­ally my fault."

How does the climate change influence the honey production?

As a bee expert, Mari­anne par­ti­cip­ates in vari­ous sci­entif­ic pro­jects. After the bee die-off in the early 2000s German insti­tutes star­ted with col­lect­ing data from selec­ted bee­keep­ers. Also, the unpre­dict­able weath­er of the last few years show that there are no reli­able pre­dic­tions about the amounts of honey pro­duc­tion. A scale on her hive meas­ures the bees' honey pro­duc­tion based on the weath­er and deliv­ers the data right away.

"Until April, colder weath­er sig­nals the queens not yet to start max­im­um egg pro­duc­tion. Then, when the sudden onset of very warm spring weath­er causes nature to devel­op very quickly, there often aren't enough honey bees to do their job yet. If the summer is then too dry, the bees may sat­is­fy their search for food and thirst with the juice of fruits, thus bring­ing fruit juice instead of nectar into the hive. This is an obser­va­tion that did not exist a few years ago. In such a case, the qual­ity of the honey must be checked and ensured in the labor­at­ory."

What does a bee-friendly garden look like?

Apple trees, rasp­berry bushes, old for­got­ten crops such as the farmer's leek loved by bees, many flower­ing herbs, nat­ur­al meadow areas and plants bloom­ing in many colors offer Marianne's bee colon­ies a great vari­ety. But only a small por­tion of her 25 colon­ies are at the edge of her garden. During the busiest time for bees, more than 25,000 flying bees buzz through forests and mead­ows in the dif­fer­ent areas in coun­try side around her garden – as far as 25 km away.

At the end of a year, more than 2000 jars of honey with dif­fer­ent fla­vors are for sale. Inspired by Marianne's descrip­tions, the choice is not dif­fi­cult for the cos­tumers - wheth­er for break­fast or with cheese or a dessert. Honey lovers already know: each honey offers us a feast for our senses.

Imkerin Marianne Kehres am Bienenstock

Name: Mari­anne Kehres

She is:

Bee­keep­er, honey and bees expert.

now a so-called pen­sion­er, inquis­it­ive, ques­tion­ing, always work­ing and happy (I had luck, she says).

She can be found in: the coun­tryside, 30 km east of Cologne.

She likes:

_ her garden and her beau­ti­ful life

_ unadul­ter­ated dishes of good qual­ity and red wine.

_ north­ern Ger­many with the wind, a stroll through Lüneb­urg, the Emig­ra­tion House and the Cli­mate House in Bremer­haven, the Weser Cycle Path from Han­nov­er­sch Münden to Cux­haven

_ today's youth with a healthy self-con­fid­ence.

She admires:

Vandana Shiva from India for her com­mit­ment to biod­iversity and organ­ic farm­ing.


Why don't you ask people in your per­son­al envir­on­ment about their life story when the oppor­tun­ity arises? Every dif­fer­ently lived life path is so excit­ing, admir­able and enrich­ing for you.

Your 3 favor­ite books:

_ 'Food Mono­poly' by Ann-Helen Meyer von Bremen and Gunnar Rundgren.

_ 'Old Coun­try' by Dörte Hansen

_ 'Pol­ninken or a German love' by Arno Sur­m­insk

Her favor­ite music:

_ the piano music of Fre­der­ic Chopin 'The Chopin Album' played by Lang Lang.

To be found:

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