It was one of the strangest edibles I’d ever seen. Pardon me if I’m a little behind the times here but I’d never heard of bee pollen before my mother brought a jar with her on a recent visit to New York. She stuck it directly in the freezer because it had to be kept "alive." Like clockwork everyday she asked my father if he’d taken his bee pollen. What the heck was this about?
Evidently she’d learned that a spoonful of bee pollen each day would build up my father’s immunity to plant pollen, which hits him hard in the spring as a coat of green dust settles over the world. In addition to taming allergies, though, she said, bee pollen contains all sorts of healthy things – protein, B vitamins and amino acids, for instance.
Yeah, but what is it?
I unscrewed the lid and a potent odor smacked me silly. It was vaguely familiar, though, and I struggled to search my memory files. It took a day or two of subconscious research to finally get it. I used to have two little parakeets and the bee pollen smelled like their bird cage: a combination of bird seed and fowl excrement. Appetizing, no?
Nevertheless I forged ahead with my investigation and placed a few golden crystalline granules of bee pollen on my tongue. They were sweet! But when I shared this observation with my father, he assured me that a spoonful of the stuff was not sweet at all. Then he shivered. Please forgive me, but I didn’t have the guts to validate his claim.
According to the Swarmbustin’ website bee pollen is indeed plant pollen – the dust-size male sperm produced in the stamen – that has been collected by bees. The pollen grains actually stick to the little buzzers as they go from flower to flower. They scrape the stuff from their bodies with their jaws and bristles, called "pollen combs," on their front legs and shove it into their “pollen baskets” on their rear legs. Pollen combs, pollen baskets, sounds like quite a dainty affair, no?
The pollen is collected commercially by placing “a special device” at the entrance of beehives that brushes the substance out of the leg baskets and into a receptacle. Apparently bee pollen collection is a practice that dates back thousands of years. Early Egyptians and ancient Chinese are said to have collected bee pollen for its medicinal and rejuvenating qualities. Today you can buy it in natural and health food stores. Many people claim it's a "super-food," and I've read that Olympic athletes even chow down on it to boost performance.
So can we eat bee pollen any other way than by the gagging spoonful?
Amazingly, people have concocted recipes incorporating bee pollen. Swarmbustin’ has a recipe for “Honeybee Pollen Candy,” made also with raw honey and peanut butter that may actually be good. Mighty Foods natural foods blog recommends a honeybee smoothie recipe and sprinkling bee pollen over soups and buttered popcorn.
So what do you think? A little bee pollen with your vichyssoise, madame?