Honey by Any Other Name…

Date Honey from the Galilee

Date Honey from the Galilee

Here in the Galilee, a modest but auspicious ease in the heat is rousing us out of our summer torpor.  That and the impending preparations for Rosh Hashana – with the questions that are on everyone’s lips: who is eating where and preparing what?

Our holiday table, like most, will be graced with a plate of sliced apples, and a bowl of honey to dip them in – to remind our tongues and the pleasure centers of our brains how sweet life can and hopefully will be in the coming year. This year, however, the honey we’ll be dipping into will have a darker hue and more complex flavor than usual.

The research I’ve been doing on the origins and history of the seven species of the Land of Israel (wheat, barley, vines, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey) has changed the way I understand this last and sweetest of the seven.

Nogah Reuveni, one of the pioneering scholars of Israel’s biblical agricultural landscape, astutely observed that, of all the seven species, there is only one which is not a plant or plant product (guess which).  While today, we think of honey as what comes out of a beehive, in ancient times, it referred to any sweet syrup made out of boiled-down fruit.

Reuveni, like the Talmudic sages, was convinced that the seventh specimen had to be honey made from dates – that would make it consistent with the rest of the list, with pollination by wind being the common denominator.   Makes sense, no?

And by the way, the expanded notion of honey isn’t just an antique culinary curiosity – there are Palestinians here in the Galilee who still produce “dibis” or honey made out of carob or grapes (note the linguistic similarity between “dibis” and “dvash” – Hebrew for honey).

So, if you want to add an authentic flavor to that which makes life sweet, this holiday, try honey made from dates – in stores here in Israel, it’s marketed as “Silan”.

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6 Responses to “Honey by Any Other Name…”

  1. Renee Levine-Blonder Says:

    You can also make it yourself. Joan Nathan has a recipe for it in The Foods of Israel Today. I made it with a class I teach in Jewish Food and Culture. It does harden up once it is made but it will soften when heated.

  2. Rabbi Tuvia Says:

    Is it available in all the supermarkets or only in the Galil?

    Thought you might be interested in this:

    She’eilot Uteshuvot Radvaz (962), suggests that devash in Tanach can refer to either date honey or bee’s honey, while in rabbinic literature, it is always bee’s honey. Thus, according to Radvaz, in the phrase “Eretz zavat chalav udevash” the image of flowing honey can be either that of honeycombs melting in the hot Mediterranean sun or, as most of the commentators understand it, dates or figs dripping nectar.

  3. Abbie Rosner Says:

    In my experience, the Silan sold in supermarkets in Israel is imported (from Turkey), but local Galilee Silan is available in health food stores.

    I haven’t yet studied the history of honey in this region in depth, but I imagine that the emerging domestication of bee honey production as opposed to hunting for wild combs had something to do with the semantics of honey in the older and newer texts…

  4. Rabbi Tuvia Says:

    An interesting discovery of ancient hives was found at excavations in the Beit Shean.


    “Archaeological proof of the Biblical description of Israel really as “the land of milk and honey” (or at least the latter) has been uncovered by researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Institute of Archaeology.

  5. Hannah Lee Says:

    Recently, I learned that artichokes develop purple thistly flowers when allowed to mature (most farmers harvest their chokes when the plants are young). These flowers are so enticing to bees that they’ll fly from miles around to get to their nectar. However, Tom Culton of Silver Spring, PA found that his hives all died last year and when the scientists at Penn State tested them, they found traces of 75 chemicals, none of which are used by Tom on his organic farm. An agricultural disaster is occurring with “colony collapse disorder” in which worker bees abruptly disappear. Although such disappearances have occurred throughout the history of apiculture, the term colony collapse disorder was first applied to a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of Western honey bee colonies in North America in late 2006. Scientists have not pinpointed the cause of this disorder, which is disrupting agriculture that relies on pollination by bees. Anyway, learning from Tom’s disaster, it doesn’t seem possible to produce organic honey, as the bees themselves do not discriminate between organic and chemically enhanced fields.

  6. Leah Koenig Says:

    There’s also a recipe for date honey right here on The Jew & The Carrot

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