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Yemen's famous honey provides a sense of place and pride to residents


The country of Yemen offers a precious export we don't hear much about - its honey. Yemen produces some of the finest honey in the world. It's an industry that has suffered great losses in the nine-year civil war, but it's still a source of pride for Yemenis. NPR's Fatma Tanis got a taste.

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: As I was preparing for a reporting trip to Yemen, I spoke to a lot of Yemenis - refugees who fled the war and some experts, too. One thing that unexpectedly came up a lot was the honey and how amazing it was. You must try it, they said. There's nothing like it. I was intrigued but a little skeptical, too. It would be hard to find, I was told. The near-decade-long civil war has devastated much of Yemen's natural resources and its production infrastructures.


TANIS: With the help of our driver in Aden, we found a trusted beekeeper named Yusuf Alazazi.

YUSUF ALAZAZI: (Speaking Arabic).

TANIS: He tells us us the best and rarest honey comes from bees who feed on sidr trees, also known as a lote tree in English. It's an ancient tree, mainly in the mountainous parts of Yemen. Nowadays, he says, many honey shops sell counterfeit sidr honey, which is made when bees are fed sugar water. But here in this shop, he has the real stuff hidden in a locked cabinet. Alazazi pulls out jugs filled with golden liquid. It's finally time for us to have a taste. But first, we're given a warning.

ALAZAZI: (Speaking Arabic).

TANIS: If you taste it once, you will crave it a thousand times, Alazazi says. My colleague Claire Harbage and I decide to take the risk and try some of the best honey Yemen has to offer.

This is the best one. Very floral, right?

CLAIRE HARBAGE, BYLINE: Floral but, like, with caramel.

TANIS: Very caramelly.

HARBAGE: There's a rich undertone that's, like, nutty.


Flavors hit the tongue in waves, one after the other. It's smooth, and there's no stinging in your throat from the sweetness. Alazazi has his own take on the taste.

ALAZAZI: (Through interpreter) It's better than the best chocolate in the world. Nothing compares. But there's so much more to it than its taste.

TANIS: Researchers say sidr honey has antibacterial and other healthy qualities similar to the more accessible manuka honey from New Zealand. Honey is a key ingredient in Yemeni cuisine, and this one in particular used to be abundant and popular around the country.

ALAZAZI: (Speaking Arabic).

TANIS: But now most Yemenis don't have access to this honey. In the past decade, climate change and the war wreaked havoc. Flash floods destroyed many Sidr trees. And, Alazazi says, beehives were damaged in the fighting by airstrikes and missile attacks. Now the war has slowed down to a stalemate, and Alazazi is hopeful. Peace is coming soon, he says, and with it, Yemen will get its dignity and its honey back. Fatma Tanis, NPR News, Aden, Yemen.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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