Move over, mānuka? Firm claims stingless bee honey 'better for health and environment'

Trigona biroi bees are native to the Philippines. ©GTCL

Honey from a stingless bee species native to the Philippines is being touted as superior to mānuka honey, with a Singapore firm marketing products made from the former.

Trigona honey, from Trigona biroi bees, is purported to be low in sugar, highly sustainable, and strongly antibacterial. Its GI is also said to be 3.5 times lower than that of mānuka honey.

Produced in the Philippines and sold in Singapore by The GTCL Company under its Anaya brand, the honey is organically farmed, the company’s co-founder Terry Tong says.

“The bees are reared for pollination, not so much for their honey. What you get is honey that’s pure, in terms of fructose content.”

According to Gary Chin, GTCL’s other co-founder, Our honey contains only 17% sugar, which means it’s low-GI. There’s practically no glucose in it; it’s pure fructose, from fruit nectars.”

He says,“The flavour is generally sweet-sour, but we really like its complexity and rawness.”

Bees against bacteria

He adds that it kills 83% of bacteria, just like the honey-based Trigona propolis throat spray the company developed, which is marketed as an immunity booster that soothes sore throats and freshens breath.

GTCL says the main difference between mānuka and Trigona honey is consistency. While the former’s antibacterial properties come from the nectar collected by Apis mellifera bees, the latter’s come from the beehives themselves, which the company claims boosts the consistency of the honey's antibacterial qualities.

Chin says, “There are different kinds of stingless bees around the world, and we were very fortunate to come across the Filipino variety”, citing a Japanese study he had read pegging the species as “one of the strongest in the world, compared with other Trigona bees”.

Spreading the sweetness

At the moment, GTCL has three Trigona honey products under its Anaya brand: raw Trigona honey, raw Trigona propolis throat spray, and Anaya natural beeswax. They are sold on the company's web store, online grocery store RedMart, and organic product retailers such as SuperNature and Four Seasons Organic Market.

The company is testing two new products, beeswax food wraps and propolis extract, and plans to increase its product range and introduce them overseas. It also seeks to educate consumers by participating in local markets and sharing articles about the Trigona biroi bees on its social media pages.

Tong says, "Our Trigona honey and propolis can be incorporated in other consumer products; we do have some plans to introduce new products with this honey but are open to working with partners who are interested in doing so."

Furthermore, Trigona honey is said to be suitable for skincare purposes, not unlike mānuka honey. According to GTCL, the honey's antibacterial properties can fight acne and blemishes, with some customers apparently using it as a face mask.

"We currently focus on the packaged food space but are open to working with partners who are looking to incorporate our honey into skincare products."

Honey, it’s sustainable

To produce their Trigona honey, GTCL works with beekeepers and fruit farmers mostly in the agricultural areas of the Philippines, such as Mindoro and Mindanao.

After noticing that fruit farmers would use pesticides to kill insects (including Trigona biroi bees) attracted to their blossoming fruit trees, the beekeepers began to collaborate with the country’s Department of Agriculture to educate the farmers on the importance of bee pollination.

The beekeepers teach the farmers how to sustain and eventually replicate the beehives. When they are replicated, the farmers will give five beehives to someone else so the practice grows.

The farmers have also seen a 40% increase in their crop yield, and to encourage them to continue using the beehives.

The company’s primary motivation for stirring the honeypot was not to sell honey products. After all, Trigona biroi bees produce only 2kg of honey a year, while Apis mellifera bees can produce 30kg of honey annually.

Tong says, “It’s all about sustainability. If they continue to rear these bees, they will continue to organically farm their own crops, which will help to increase their livelihood.”

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