Monday, 27 April 2015

Let’s Talk About Honey, Honey! – Part 2

It's been harvested for 8,000 years, and its natural properties make it antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-carcinogenic, yet there are still a lot people who don’t know about this nectar of the gods… so we went out and got some answers.

In the first part of the series, we set out to debunk the misconceptions about ‘pure’ honey. Now, Project Leader Jeanette Borg, dishes the facts about crystallisation and the process needed to ensure your honey is pure.

How do I know if the honey I’m buying is pure?

“Well, the only way to be 100 per cent sure is through expensive and extensive laboratory tests. These check for water, sugar and protein content, and will detect whether the honey is adulterated or not.

“What do the results show? Well, for instance, pure honey contains around 17.1g of water per 100g. If the test results show that water content is a lot more, or a lot less, it means that there’s something wrong.

“Another important test to figure out if the honey at hand is local or not, is a pollen analysis for the characterisation of botanical origin. If pollen from a plant species that doesn’t grow in Malta is found, then that means that the honey is not Maltese and thus not local.

“Obviously, like all the other products we consume, we, as consumers, need to decide whether we trust the brand or not. At Merill, we have teamed up with several beekeepers that supply us with the purest and most authentic honey possible. We know these beekeepers personally and work hand in hand with them.

“Nevertheless, we understand that you can’t always take someone’s word as fact, so we explore different kinds of chemical testing to ensure that our product is always 100 per cent genuine.”

My honey’s crystallised. Is it bad?

“I love this question, but let’s start from the very basics: Even the purest of honeys can, and most probably will, crystallise – and that’s okay!

“There are many variables that affect the process of crystallisation in layers or in its totality, and these include the climate, the flora on which the bees have foraged, and whether the jar contains different kinds of honey (i.e. created by bees from different flora) mixed together.

“While many of the people we meet frown when they see crystallised or solid honey, we can assure you that if you had to buy pure honey from Sicily or other countries with similar climates, the chances are that it would come in a crystallised form too.

“Unfortunately, it is never a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer with this question, but what you should keep in mind is that honey that never crystallises is most probably syrup (so sugar, rather than pure honey).”

Is dark honey ‘pure’?

“Not only does the colour of natural honey range from white to dark amber, but studies have shown that the darker the honey, the higher its antioxidant capacity!

“Therefore, yes, dark honey can be pure too.”

Do you have any other questions about the honey you’re buying or the products we sell? Then feel free to drop us a line at or call us on 2141 1388.
 Interviewed by Iggy Fenech

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Strawberries - Keeping it fresh!

When strawberries are this fresh and this sweet, it’s a pity to include them in recipes where they will be altered in any way. There’s something rather special about the ones growing in Mgarr on the island of Malta. This is made amply clear by all the fruit and vegetable vendors in trucks and little shops around the island having signs and boards saying that their strawberries are from Mgarr.

Here are some ways of serving the plump, delicious fruits:

-         With a fresh gbejna and local honey as a starter or cheese plate after a meal

-          In a smoothie with other fruit, ginger and yoghurt/milk.

Overnight oats:

-          Place 2/3 cups of quick-cooking oats in a jar or other container with a wide open top
-          Add 2/3 cups milk of your choice (regular, almond, coconut)
-          Optional: add 1 tablespoon Chia seeds to make the consistency thicker
-          Optional: add 1 tablespoon of any jam of your choice

Place in the fridge overnight. In the morning the consistency would have thickened to a porridge-like one and the oats would have absorbed moisture. Just before eating, add ingredients of your choice, such as nuts, seeds, peanut butter, honey and fresh fruit.  If you prefer, you can add ¼ teaspoon of sugar but if you’re using strawberries there really is no need as they are already very sweet.

This is a healthy and tasty snack that will give you energy for some hours as the oats release sugars into the blood slowly and so you will not have a rapid spike in your blood glucose, followed by a slump which will make you feel tired. Starting out your day with a blood sugar stabilizing food such as oats may make it easier to keep blood sugar levels under control the rest of the day, especially when the rest of your day is also supported with nourishing fiber-rich foods. If you prefer a warm breakfast, you can add about 1/3 cup more milk and heat the mixture up in the microwave for 2-3 minutes before adding the fresh fruit or nuts/seeds.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Let’s Talk About Honey, Honey! – Part 1

Photo by Juan Debono

Growing up, we all learn that Malta’s geographical position is so strategic that empires and civilisations fought over us incessantly. What we should also keep in mind is that, through their differences, one thing united them: they all dubbed us ‘the Land of Honey’.

Malta’s endemic bee population produces some of the tastiest and healthiest honey in the world, yet the majority of people still don’t know the basic facts about this sweet food we’re so renowned for.

So we decided to chat to Jeanette Borg, project leader of the Merill Rural Network, to get to the bottom of the honey jar once and for all.

What is honey? And why is it important?

“Honey is natural syrup containing fructose, glucose and a variety of natural sugars, and it’s the only natural food in the world that contains all the ingredients needed to sustain life, including water. It also contains pollen, and companies selling honey are now obliged to specify the presence of pollen as an ingredient under EU legislation.

“Throughout history, honey has been known to be a natural remedy for many ailments, and it’s been proven, tried and tested by men and scientists the world over that it actually is. These properties mostly come from the phenolic compounds that make it antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-carcinogenic.

“Honey’s properties have not been recently discovered however and, while prehistoric man had no idea of the chemical composition of honey, even he knew that this was indeed the nectar of the gods. Cave paintings in Spain actually show him gathering this sweet food some 8,000 years ago.”

Are mānuka and wild thyme honey the only good kinds?

“What’s important to keep in mind is that Maltese bees do not produce mānuka honey, yet, at the same time, the best place to source good honey is locally – and this is where certain misconceptions arise.

“First of all, we must understand that Maltese beekeepers harvest honey in early and late summer, and in late autumn; and we must always take into consideration the flora available around the beehives and the natural rainfall. After all, no rainfall means no flora, which in turn means no food for the bees, and, ultimately, no honey.

“For example, in 2013, the rainfall was so poor that the honey harvest was negligible. As Merill, we had to tell our clients that we didn’t have any available, and it was tough – both for them and for us. Sales are what keep us going as that revenue goes straight back into our projects. But, even so, we’re people with solid principles, and while we’re committed to supporting and working with Maltese farmers, we want our products to be of the highest standards every time.

“Yet, if Maltese people keep asking for mānuka honey, which is not produced in Malta, or wild thyme honey, which is produced in very limited quantities, then we risk pushing beekeepers to lie about their products… Having said that, I think sometimes people prefer lies to the truth about a product that’s being sold, however, we will never sell a jar of spring honey as a wild thyme one.

“Even so, quantities are what they are, and demand is much greater than the supply. And that’s what makes Maltese honey so covetable: it’s a rare delicacy full of natural nutrients with an origin that is almost always verifiable.”

So, if it’s not mānuka or wild thyme honey, what kind of honey is it?

“In early summer, the honey harvest is produced from spring multi-flora. This usually has a golden yellow hue.

“In late summer, we start getting wild thyme – among other flora – and the colour of this is usually golden amber.

‘In late autumn, we get autumn flora honey, such as carob and eucalyptus. The colour of this is often brownish amber.

“What’s important to keep in mind is that the same bee can produce differently-coloured honeys, depending on what it manages to find while it’s foraging. Yet, just because a honey is not strictly wild thyme or mānuka, doesn’t mean it’s less nutritious or pure.”

Click here for "Let’s Talk About Honey, Honey! – Part 2"

Do you have any other questions about the honey you’re buying or the products we sell? Then feel free to drop us a line at or to call us on 2141 1388.
photo by Edward Ellul
Interviewed by Iggy Fenech

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Filo Parcels with fresh ġbejniet and local honey

Ingredients for 4 parcels:

2 fresh cheeselets (ġbejniet), sliced lengthways
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-4 teaspoons local honey (according to taste)
12 sheets approximately 21x15 cm (A5 size) filo pastry
Sea salt
Choice of other fillings: fresh basil leaves, chopped strawberries, chili sauce / flakes or crushed walnuts


Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius with fan.

Pour the olive oil into a bowl. On a flat surface or chopping board, place one filo sheet and brush it lightly with olive oil. You don’t need to cover the whole surface or saturate it with oil.

Next lay another sheet on top with the corners a little off-set in comparison with your previous sheet. Brush this with oil too. Repeat with a third sheet.

Lay half a cheeselet, ½ or 1 teaspoon honey and any other filling of your choice in the centre of the top sheet. Add a pinch of sea salt.

Gently lift one edge of the three sheets and pinch about one inch from the edge, forming a purse-like shape all around. Push the pastry together towards the centre to close the parcel; the oil will help the pastry to stick to itself.

When all the parcels are ready, place on a baking sheet in the middle of your oven and cook for about 10-12 minutes, until the edges are turning brown.  As a main dish, serve two parcels with a light salad e.g. rocket leaves, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.

Always use a good quality olive oil as the taste of this will really come up, you’re not only using it to stick the pastry sheets together!  It’s easiest to lift two ends of the sheets at once and work with both hands to fold the pastry towards the centre to press together.

Merill products used: fresh cheeselets, olive oil, honey, sea saltstrawberries

Monday, 13 April 2015

Olive & Caper Dip

Olives and olive oil can be considered to be jewels of the Maltese islands. The olive fruit and oil made from the fruit are central to the Mediterranean diet, and many studies cite their benefits and anti-oxidant powers.

Growing in a temperate climate where the weather is not too harsh, the rain is not too hot or too cold, the soil is not too acidic or alkaline, and where the tree is never far away from the sea, the olives obtain a tangy saltiness that is rich and unique.

As far back as the Roman era, areas in many villages across the islands were set aside for agricultural activities, particularly the pressing and processing of olives. The wooden structures of the olive-presses were mounted on large rectangular blocks of stone. Many of these can still be seen in some villages. In fact, this practice was held in such high regard that two towns (one in Malta and one in Gozo) are called Żebbug (Maltese for ‘olives’) and another in Malta is called Żejtun (also the Sicilian-Arabic for ‘olives’).

The olive fruit is not ready for consumption straight off the tree; a process of immersion in water and brine is conducted to render it more palatable and remove some of its bitterness.

Olive Dip Recipe:

200g green olives, bone removed
2 tablespoons capers
1 clove of garlic
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2 heaped tablespoons cream cheese
1/2 cup canellini beans
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Use a blender to make a fine paste. Test taste to see if you want to adjust any of the flavours. For example, if the olive taste is too strong, you may add more beans or cream cheese to your liking. Since the olives and capers are already rather salty, you will not need to add more salt. Using fresh parsley will help to counteract the aftertaste of garlic.

Serve the dip with crackers, bread or vegetable crudités. Keep some parsley and capers to garnish when serving. Keep refrigerated before serving. This dip may be stored in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Merill products used: olives, capers, olive oil