SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Step aside, Manuka.
The growing interest in the health-boosting properties of honey have spurred a growing number of Singaporeans to start selling exotic versions of it.
Heard of trigona honey, acacia honey, linden honey or coconut flower honey? Here are other types of exotic honey to check out.
In 2013, Terry Tong and Gary Chin were travelling in the Philippines to source for pili nuts. Along the way, they ran into a group of local beekeepers who were teaching farmers to rear stingless bees as a way to increase crop yield.
"We eventually got to visit the bee farms and tried the honey. The hive structure fascinated us and the honey had a very unique sweet-sour taste. We were completely hooked," says Mr Tong, who used to work in branding, while Mr Chin's background is in digital media.
Though they have been selling the pili nuts in 2013, it took them till early 2015 to start selling honey, as the beekeepers in the Philippines were still relatively new and needed some time to build up a steady supply.
Their signature product is Trigona honey, which they cannot get a lot of because stingless bees produce much less honey than the regular honey bee.
Their raw Trigona honey is now available online and at certain farmers' markets, under the brand Anaya. A 120g bottle goes for S$34.90, while a 650g bottle goes for S$174.50.
"It was unlike any other honey that we've tried. What's interesting is that when they extract the honey, because of the unusual pot-shaped hive structure, everything is extracted together - the honey, the pollen, and the propolis," says Mr Chin.
They are careful to stay away from bigger claims than antibacterial properties however, as Mr Tong explains: "Some people make claims like honey can lower blood pressure, but we're not comfortable with that because it's a very long-term thing.
"What we can say is that our honey is different because of its consistency. Like Manuka's antibacterial properties comes from the nectar. So the higher the content of Manuka flower, the higher the antibacterial level. But with our honey, the propolis is already part of it, so it has antibacterial properties regardless of the nectar source."
For second generation business owner Jason Koh, starting his online health supplement store Go Pure was six years in the making. He spent that time under the tutelage of his father Johnson Koh, who holds a Diploma in Apitherapy and is the secretary at the International Apitherapy and Bee Products Society (IABPS). He also took lessons on subjects like the use of bee venom in acupuncture.
In February this year, the younger Mr Koh finally launched Go Pure's online store featuring the bee-related products from his father's original brand Uniflora, plus a new line of honey under the Go Pure brand.
"During his career, my dad travelled to many countries in search of the best honey in the world, and came across Romania. He decided to work with them for Go Pure because the country is clean, plus they can provide organic certification," says Mr Koh, who studied design and photography in Perth.
Go Pure specialises in natural and organic honey that comes from two specific flowers - Linden and Acacia. For now, they are available only on his website and at pop-ups, ranging from S$30 to S$45 for a 500g bottle.
According to Mr Koh, the Acacia honey is best consumed in the morning as it benefits the respiratory system and blood circulation, while the Linden honey is best taken at night to relieve stress and anxiety.
At least these are the potential effects if taken correctly, but many people do not know the right way to consume honey, he adds. For instance, water above 60 deg C should not be used as it kills the enzymes, while using a metal spoon will also reduce the effects.
"Honey is actually sour, but because of the enzymes, it tastes sweet. So how you test for real honey is by mixing it with hot water. If it turns sour, it's real honey, because the enzymes die. But if it's still sweet then you know there's added sugar," explains Mr Koh.
The Apis Cerana is a species of honey bee from Asia. So it made an apt brand name when Mohamed Imran and his business partner Steve Tan wanted to start a company to raise awareness about honey produced in Southeast Asia.
Cerana now sells honey that is mostly produced in Thailand, at a farm in the Lopburi province which belongs to their relatives. In addition, their brand also carries honey from three independent beekeepers from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Borneo.
"We realised there's a market as a lot of people in Singapore don't have access to good honey. It's either expensive, or there's only the processed honey in supermarkets. So what we promise is farm-to-bottle - no processes or pasteurisation, just filtration and bottling," says Mr Imran.
Though they sell their honey at farmers' markets, Cerana honey can also be found on the shelves of selected stores like SPRMRKT at McCallum St, Mahota Commune, and Naiise. Their products include wildflower honey, longan honey, coconut flower honey, and Borneo rainforest honey, with prices ranging from S$20 to S$68 for jars ranging from 300g to 1kg.
"When we first started out, we noticed that people in Singapore were quite biased against honey that isn't from Australia, or honey that's not Manuka. So we did a blind tasting, and a lot of them were taken aback by the different tastes because they were used to one type of honey," says Mr Imran.
"It's because places like Australia have honey that's limited to seasons because of their place in the hemisphere. But here in Asia, we get different fruits all year round," he explains.
This mindset is slowly changing however, observes Mr Imran. Younger consumers have lately become more knowledgeable about the benefits of consuming honey, and are more inclined to try out their products.
"We feel that tasting is believing. Even if people don't buy our honey on the spot, tasting it just might make them interested enough to go home and Google it, and that will spark the mindset change," he says.