Over the past year, there’s been a lot of buzz about a new local product — TheraBee Culinary Honey. With flavors ranging from chipotle cacao, to herbs de Provence, to cinnamon vanilla, this is definitely not your ordinary honey.
Though the concept had been in the works for a while, TheraBee made its official public debut at the 2013 Sunset’s Savor the Central Coast event, and they’ll be in attendance again at this year’s Main Event on Saturday and Sunday at Santa Margarita Ranch.
The hands-on business is owned and operated by Martha and Curt Van Inwegen, who moved to the Central Coast from San Diego a decade ago. As they settled into the community, they realized that many of their friends were artisanal food producers, “and that really flavored our life,” said Curt.
The thought of beekeeping and honey production began to particularly appeal to the couple, and they eventually began mentoring with a local apiarist (beekeeper).
One hive led to another, and now Martha tends about two dozen local hives, though the number can widely fluctuate with the seasons. (Martha spearheads TheraBee while Curt rides herd on the business’ umbrella company, Life Elements, which also produces the popular waterless Action Wipes.)
“While I source what honey I can, when I can, from our own hives, there’s just not enough for me to keep up with demand,” said Martha. “So I actually barter my time and skills with other beekeepers in exchange for honey — or I purchase it from them.” While the honey might not come from bees she has personally tended, she noted that “what’s important is that it’s all ‘raw, unheated, unfiltered’ honey. This way, it still has all the healthy enzymes and minerals that make honey so good for you!”
Though the goal is to eventually have their own facility, the Van Inwegens currently rent a commercial kitchen to produce their culinary honey, and it is indeed handcrafted — each individual jar at a time.
To maintain the health benefits, the honey is never boiled, and only all-natural ingredients are used. Many of those are locally sourced, such as walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes and dried chiles. In addition, because none of the added items are raising the honey’s moisture content, the TheraBee culinary products have the same indefinite shelf life as the original raw honey.
“A lot of people think that if honey crystalizes, it’s gone bad, but honey never goes bad — unless you’ve raised that moisture content,” explained Martha. To get rid of any crystallization, by the way, just gently warm the honey in a pan of warm (not boiling) water or even on a warm windowsill — but never in a microwave.
That indefinite shelf life is because “anything bees produce (honey, royal jelly) absolutely has to be naturally anti-bacterial because of the climate inside the hive,” explained Curt. “It’s a constant 92-96 degrees F inside, regardless of the outside temperature, and it’s humid — it’s like a gym.”
TheraBee also produces teas and a line of body care products, but it’s really the culinary honeys that have gotten people swarming.
Flavors run the gamut from sweet to savory — cardamom anise, smoked tomato with Thai chile, ginger hibiscus — and there’s also an infused honey sea salt that promises to be “a decadent and healthier version of salted caramel, but without all the sugar,” according to the company’s website.
“People always ask us if we have a ‘plain honey,’” said Martha. “But we aren’t going to do ‘plain.’ We only do ‘Wow!’ because that’s usually the first word out of people’s mouths when they taste our honey.”