Two years ago, Harry Grover followed the trail of the new Gold Rush, or honey, along the Margaret River.
More affectionately known as the guy who had a hand in Singapore’s cafe boom and the influx of speciality coffee, Harry was only at the start of a journey towards his latest venture, The Rare Honey Company. Dedicated to sustainably sourced, raw, and high quality Australian honey, the company’s inaugural launch offers a selection of pure, raw honey across three main product categories: Daily Dose, Holistic, and High Potency Range.
Ranging from everyday consumption to packed with medicinal properties, the honey also comes in a myriad of flavours that reflect the local produce of Western Australia, such as Karri, Jarrah, and our personal recommendation, the Redgum Honey. The latter boasts of an acidic sweetness, and goes magnificently with savoury treats. One of the more unique creations is the Creamed Karri, which features honey that has been aerated, churned, and chilled so that it has a thick consistency with marshmallow and butterscotch nuances.
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We speak to Harry on his new journey, the buzzing fraud plaguing the industry, and what consumers should look out for picking the right sweet treat for themselves.
It all started when…
A few factors coalesced. I was spending more time back in Perth and there was a growing interest in honey as the Gold Rush of Western Australia (WA). WA produces some of the best colony honey in the world for their antibacterial properties, quality, and purity due to the nature of the native trees. It was coming up more in the media that this is a new industry with an entirely new generation of beekeepers, which is interesting because this is a very old profession. What really piqued my interest was that the old uncles are dying but there’s a couple of young guys going into it. After a decade of running coffee bars, I was looking for something different to inspire me. I tried to get in touch with people but it was hard as no one really knew about the scale and demands of the Asian market.
When I got back to Singapore, the co-founders of this company turned up at Common Man with some samples. They knew that it was an Australian cafe but they did not know that I was from Margaret River. I grew up there so I am familiar with the landscape and where they do the beekeeping, so I know how pristine and beautiful the project is. That was about two years ago and since then, the idea has bubbled into a business collaboration. It is so fascinating how, in Asia, we have an understanding, to an extent, about Manuka and therapeutic and/or medicinal honeys, but there is so much misinformation. People do not really know what they buying, the price point is all over the place, and no one is doing any active education or advocacy about honey. It becomes a random criteria when we pick honey out at, for example, Honey World.
Just like when I started bringing coffee beans into Singapore, there is a long road ahead to educate the market and establish yourself, particularly when you have various brands that have already dominated the market, and others who are doing nefarious practices in the industry. We have to take it a step at a time to stand out from the noise, for example, having a tasting bar to help educate consumers about their choices.
Tell us about some of your new products?
The mono-floral or single-origin honeys, like the Jarrah or Redgum, have really distinct flavour profiles and they are incredibly difficult to harvest, in terms of commercial quantity. They have a lot of naturally-occurring antibacterial properties, like Manuka. They are really special as usually raw honey comes from mix sources of crops and florals, but these come from unique parts of WA. The trees are not in abundance but when they flower, they all flower at once. They are able to capture a nectar bloom where all the bees are all feeding off the same flowers to create the distinct flavour.
Our beekeepers practice the philosophy of minimal intervention, meaning the bees are left to naturally create the honey with minimal handling of the product from hive to jar. All packing is done below 30 degrees to ensure all the natural goodness is locked in and we only select the finest grade honeys from our family apiaries to be shipped directly to Singapore. It has also just been discovered that these honeys are all eucalyptus species and tested to have really high levels of antibacterial and hydrogen peroxide—TA, total activity of the active bacterial trait in the honey. So they are rare, taste good, and are good for you, medicinally.
We have heard of rules like not using metal spoons and hot water; what is the right way to have honey?
Quite a lot of that is debunked, so that goes back to the misinformation around the use of honey. As the ingredient is active in the honey, it is probably not good to boil or bake the honey as it will kill off the naturally-occurring properties. It is also raw, which means that it goes through a very simple filtration process before going into the jar, as compared to most honey, which is pasteurised to have a more consistent viscosity and colour.
There is no right way really, it is up to the individual. People in Singapore usually take it straight from the jar, but it is quite versatile. Honey can be used as a spread, such as on crumpets, and goes great with cheese because of the salty and sweet contrast. Traditionally, they are used topically. Aboriginal people used them on wounds, burns, scrapes, as they create a barrier that repels the bacteria and keeps infections away.
What is something that consumers should know when choosing the right honey?
If you look online, there will be tons of videos that say things like burn the honey, but non of it is provable. Sadly, it is very easy to adulterate honey and hard for tests to pick it up. Macquarie University did an independent study recently, where they took a hundred samples from all over the world, including Australia, and tested them. They found that almost 30% was adulterated, 18% of which is from Australian. This is shocking because most of the time they are mixed with rice or corn syrup, or combined with fillers to make the product go a lot further and push up profits, while pushing down the price. It turns honey into a commodity, like coffee. I am pretty sure if you are getting your honey at $10 for a 1KG tub, it is corn syrup. This is quite scary if you think about what you are using it for, especially if it’s meant to replace sugar for someone who is pre-diabetic.
The only infallible test is called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, and only a few labs in the world have it, like one in Germany. They shoot magnetic pulse into the honey to see the sugar spikes and determine if something is sticking out like a sore thumb. There is a guy in WA who is paying for honey samples to be sent there for this test and creating a database of what’s real because it is so hard to figure out if you are getting the real deal. The Singaporean mentality is that “we’ll go to Australia and get our honey there because it is going to be real”, but because of global warming and other factors, many large factories have taken to importing foreign honey and mixing it with their produce to create enough for the market. Even if the producers were doing the right thing, they had to import a portion to keep up with the demand and if they were getting it from China, more than 50% is fake.
My advice is to buy honey at farm gate, small producers, or places where there is a story behind the brand. For Rare Honey, it is the three of us handling everything—two guys are managing the entire process in WA, such as running the apiary, hive management, extraction, bottling, and then it’s over to me. The challenge for us is to maintain the transparency around this story; right now it is just my words versus getting it actually tested at the labs.
Can you explain more about the process of getting the honey TA-rated?
They send the honey to an independent lab in Australia called ChemCentre, where it is put on agar dishes with bacteria spores to see how much they would kill within a certain diameter. This determines the strength of the TA. It can go up to 20+, or even 30+, but it is currently warehoused because they are still trying to determine what to do with it. When I see products with a TA rating of 40+, I am sceptical. Sure, it is possible, but is it certified? Certification is important because a consumer wouldn’t be able to pick up the difference by blind tasting and comparing the higher TA honey with one that has a lower rating.
Do you have a daily wellness routine, and if so, could you share it with us?
Every morning I take a spoonful of the Redgum honey and I think it is working quite well because I have not had a cold for the last three to four years. I use a lot of honey for breakfast, such as the Jarrah on yogurt, as I find that it is low GI but it is really filling.
What are your plans for The Rare Honey Company in the future?
Skincare, probably ointments or balms, way down the track, but for now, it is a passion project and tiny business that I am doing on the side with whatever spare time I have because I love it and believe it in. I think we will do more pop-ups, open the tasting bar, and join some markets so we can physically get out there and people can have first-hand experience of with products. It is a bit different from my previous experience with coffee as I had big help from the Spa Esprit Group and once you achieve good retail, you can custom the space to educate people. But honey is not like caffeine, it is not a drug—it’s not like you wake up and you have to have honey.
Rather, the more you scratch the surface of this industry, the more you realise the grim underneath it. It is the third most fraud food item in the world. I thought it would be nice to shine a light on these aspects, just like what we did with coffee, so people are more aware of the reality, speciality or sustainability of these products.
The Rare Honey Company products are available on their website here
The TRHC Honey Bar is only open for appointments, located at 315 Outram Road, #10-01, Tan Boon Liat Building, Singapore 169074