Honey from Burkina Faso: endangered foods from around the world

The latest addition to Slow Food’s Ark of Taste is Tapoa honey, collected by the Gourmantché people of Burkina Faso

Updated - March 15, 2019 09:54 am IST

Published - March 14, 2019 04:53 pm IST

Slow Food’s Ark of Taste recently celebrated it’s 5,000th passenger. The influential, eco-gastronomic movement launched the Ark of Taste, an international catalogue of endangered heritage food, in 1996. The addition of Tapoa honey collected by the Gourmantché people in the Tapoa region of Burkina Faso to the Ark marks an important milestone.

Started in Italy in 1986 by the now-legendary Carlo Petrini, Slow Food began as a response to fast food and industrial food production. Concerned about the resulting cultural homogenisation and standardisation of taste, the movement promotes produce that is “good, clean and fair”. It currently involves over a million activists, chefs, farmers, fishers and academics in over 160 countries.

The Ark of Taste is designed to preserve unique foods that are part of a heritage and have a strong sense of terroir. Tapoa honey, for instance, supports the community that collects it. Honey is important in the Gourmantché tradition, used in rituals as well as in traditional medicine. In the kitchen, it is used to sweeten boulli , a porridge made from a mix of grain. Also to make eau blanche , a non-alcoholic drink offered to guests and dolo-miel , a fermented beverage made from millet and baobab flour.

12mp Honey

12mp Honey

Choosing Tapoa honey as a milestone product was a deliberate choice by Slow Food to show solidarity with farmers and food producers in Africa who are defending food traditions, and by doing that defending food biodiversity. This in the face of terrorism and constant political instability. It is also significant that the product is made by bees, whose declining populations are a clear indicator of a planet in peril.

Over the past 22 years, the Ark of Taste has embraced products from 150 different countries: Makah Ozette potato from the United States, Guatemala’s Ixcán cardamom, ræstur fiskur (fermented and dried fish) from the Faroe Islands and maqaw , a mountain spice gathered by the indigenous Atayal people of Taiwan.

There are also 107 products from India currently on board, many of which are from the North East, specifically Meghalaya which has an active Slow Food community. Products include the Wild Khasi Grape from Meghalaya, Hallikar Cattle from Karnataka, Zampung Black Corn from Arunachal Pradesh, Patsy Mushroom from Nagaland and Lyha Wood Larva from Jharkhand.

India also has distinctive honeys to highlight. There’s Bijakol Bitchi, a smooth, fruity, thick honey from orange orchards in the East Garo hills in Meghalaya. And Jenu, a multi-floral forest honey collected from the combs of the Giant Rock Bee, which nests in the rock shelves and tall trees of the Nilgiris. This honey is harvested by Kurumba and Irula tribes between March and June.

“The Ark is the moment when Slow Food reveals to the world a wealth that deserves to be saved,” says Carlo Petrini, over e-mail from Bra, Piedmont, where the organisation is based.

He adds, “It is the first step. It is a catalogue, but it is also an exhortation to restore value and set in motion economic and market mechanisms that counteract the drift that has led us to lose 70% of our biodiversity heritage in a few decades. The Ark calls on everyone to mobilise with Slow Food for this cause.”

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