One of my friends asked me the other day “What is tualang honey? Like a tree honey?
Well, not quite. The tree is offering a sort of shelter, a place for a safer home for the bees, but the honey is made from all the flowers of the jungle.
So, here is the answer: The tualang honey is a multifloral jungle honey, produced by an Asian type of bee called Apis dorsata, in nests hanging from the high branches of the tualang trees.
The Tualang tree
The tualang tree is scientifically named “Koompassia excelsa”, and is also known as Tapang, or Mengaris.
It is found in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
It is one of the tallest tropical tree species: the tallest measured specimen is of 88 m (289 ft) tall.
The tualang grows in lowland rainforests, and like most tall rainforest trees, it has huge buttress roots, necessary to support its weight. The roots widely spread at the surface, not very deeply, because in the rainforest, the nutrients are more at the surface.
Tualangs have branches above the canopy (around 30 m or 100 ft) and have slippery trunks.
The giant bees Apis Dorsata like these kind of trees a lot, because they can build their nests very high on them, out of the reach of animals and humans. A synergy is created there, the trees offer the bees a home and the bees protect the trees from the loggers. How? To humans, the honey they create is more valuable than the timber the tree can offer. In one of Malaysia’ states only naturally felled trees (due to storms) are used for timber.
The honeycombs can be up to 6 feet across, and the nest can contain up to 30,000 bees. On one tualang tree there can be more than 100 nest. It will mean almost 450 kg (about 1000 pounds) of honey.
The bee – Apis Dorsata
The bee, Apis dorsata, it is also known as the giant honey bee. It lives in southern and southeastern Asia, mainly in forested areas like the Terai of Nepal. It measures around 17–20 millimeters (0.7–0.8 in) long, but the largest Apis Dorsata bees are the bees living on Himalayan cliff, Apis dorsata laboriosa.
Apis dorsata is a defensive bee and has never been domesticated. Each colony consists of a single vertical comb (sometimes approaching a square metre) suspended from above, and the comb is typically covered by a dense mass of bees in several layers (see the picture above).
If they are disturbed, they will adopt a defensive behavior known as defense waving. Bees in the outer layer thrust their abdomens ninety degrees in an upward direction and shake them in a synchronous way. This may be accompanied by stroking of the wings. The signal is transmitted to nearby working bees, that will also adopt the posture, thus creating a visible — and audible — “ripple” effect across the face of the comb, in an almost identical manner to an audience wave at a crowded stadium. It’s a warning sign!
The tualang honey
The composition of the tualang honey:
• sugars: fructose (29.6%), glucose (30%), and other sugars. The ratio between fructose and glucose for pure Malaysian honey should be between 0.9 and 1.35.
• more than 180 substances, including amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Of course, this compositions is not standard, it depends on the floral source found around the trees.
Na: 268.23 mg/kg
K: 1576.40 mg/kg
Ca: 165.10 mg/kg
Fe: 128.13 mg/kg
Zn: 13.20 mg/kg
Mg: 35.03 mg/kg
• a pH of 3.55–4.00 and a specific gravity of 1.335. It is more acidic than the other local Malaysian honeys, such as Kelulut Hitam, Kelulut Putih, and Gelam.
• moisture content 23.3%, higher than in the regular honeys.
• it contains six phenolic acids: gallic, syringic, benzoic, transcinnamic, p-coumaric, and caffeic acids, and five flavonoids: catechin, kaempferol, naringenin, luteolin and apigenin. There are more phenolic acids and flavonoids than in Manuka honey and other local Malaysian honeys.
• It contains 58.5 % hydrocarbons. They include alcohols, ketones, aldehydes, furans, terpenes, flavonoids, and phenols.
· high concentration of phenolic compounds (352.73 ± 0.81 mg galic acid/kg),
· flavonoids (65.65 ± 0.74 mg catechin/kg),
· DPPH (59.89%),
· FRAP values (576.91 ± 0.64 μM Fe (II)/100 g)
· protein content (4.83 ± 0.02 g/kg)
· low AEAC values (244.10 ± 5.24 mg/kg), all these indicating strong antioxidant properties.
• There are compounds found only in tualang honey and not (yet) reported in other types of honeys: stearic acids, 2-cyclopentene-1,4,-dione, 2[3H]-furanone or dihydro-butyrolactone, gamma-crotonolactone or 2[5H]-furanone, 2-hydroxy-2-cyclopenten-1-one, hyacinthin, 2,4-dihydroxy-2,5-dimethyl-3[2H]-furan-3-one, and phenylethanol.
• Distinct differences from manuka honey include higher phenolics, flavonoids, and 5-(hydroxymethyl) furfural (HMF).
The honey has a dark brown color.
In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of studies published in medical databases regarding its potential health benefits.
It seems that tualang honey, has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimutagenic, antitumor, and antidiabetic properties, in addition to wound-healing attributes. Some of its properties are similar to Manuka honey, which has been more researched. Compared to Manuka honey, it is also more effective against some gram-negative bacterial strains in burn wounds. (according to Ahmed, Sarfarz; Othman, Nor Hayati, 2013-05-01)
Read more about Tualong honey benefits for health
Harvesting the honey:
The trees are very high, above the jungle, the trunk is really slippery, the bees are huge… There is no easy job to gather honey. That’s why some skilled honey hunters are needed.
The hunting doesn’t happen like a regular apple harvesting. 🙂 There is a ritual first, performed by the locals, with a mixed Islamic and Hindu symbolism.
Singers chant ancient prayers to cajole, charm and calm the bees. On moonless nights in February and March, honey hunters climb the tualang trees with smoldering torches, banging them on the branches above the nests. This creates a rain of fire, and as the sparks fall to the ground the awakened and enraged bees take off in pursuit of the embers. The bees become disoriented and remain on the ground until dawn, leaving the nests unprotected. The honey hunters will be able to harvest, and about 1,000 pounds of honey can be gathered from only one tree.
The mith behind harvesting tualang honey
A Hindu myth tells us about a handmaiden called Hitam Manis, or “Dark Sweetness”, who fell in love with the son of the reigning Sultan. Although he answered her love, they could not get married because she was a commoner. When the Sultan discovered their love he decided to kill her. She and some other maidens try to escape and ran away, but she was hit by a metal spear, straight into her heart. Hitam Manis and her friends turned into bees and flew away into the forest.
Some years later the prince went into the forest and saw some giant honey combs, high, in a tualang tree. He climbed up the tree, discovering the sweet honey, and called down to his servants for a knife and a bucket. But when they lowered the bucket, they found the body of the prince hacked to pieces. A voice called out from the tree, explaining that he had committed a sacrilege by using a metal implement to cut the comb like that, which had killed Hitam Manis.
Later a “golden shower” made by the bees restored the prince back to life.
To this day no metal is used in harvesting the honey as a sign of respect to Hitam Manis.
At dusk the bees fly from their nests and defecate en masse, showering the surrounding ground and foliage with a golden rain. The nitrogen-rich bee feces fertilizes the tualang tree that hosts the bees, giving it life as it did for the prince.
Here is an incredible video National Geographic made, on how honey is gathered by the honey hunters of Malaysia.
Where can we find it?
There are some online shops that sells it, it is expensive, but if you manage to go there, the locals will sell it for a lot less. tualanghoney.com.sg; tualanghoney.com.my, and recently a good tualang honey from Indonesia can be found on Amazon.com.
Tualang honey benefits for health
References and picture credits:
“Koompasia excelsa” by Bobbean – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons;
“tualang roots” picture credit tian yake via flickr.com licensed under CC;
“apis dorsata bee” picture credit satish nikam via flicr.com licensed under CC;
“Koompassia excelsa” picture credit Dick Culbert via flickr.com licensed under CC;
“bees on a nest” picture credit Luke Mackin via flickr.com licensed under CC;
“jar of tualang honey” picture source tualanghoney.com.my