Tailless bees, a little known treasure of Brazil

published on Saturday, July 23, 2022 at 8:33 pm.

Luiz Lustosa lifted the lid of a wooden box and immediately thousands of bees came out of small wax craters and formed a buzzing cloud around him.

“Very nice!”, told AFP this 66-year-old civil servant who spends his free time breeding native bees, whose honey is especially sought after in gourmet cuisine, but also in the pharmaceutical or cosmetic industry.

Mr. Lustosa wears only a long-sleeved shirt, jeans, and a hat with a veil to protect her face.

Because native bees (“meliponids”) do not have stingers, and coexist without problems with humans. They play a big role in protecting the environment, and Luiz Lustosa is impressed.

The President of the Abelha Nativa (Native Bee) Institute in Brasilia, Luiz Lustosa fell in love with the propagation of six species when he realized, along with other researchers, that they were in the process of ‘extinction.

“But not just the bees, but all of nature” that is, he said.

“We explain to the children that these bees do not sting, that they are necessary for the environment, for nature, and that they are there to help us”, said Mr. Lustosa, asked by the Institute where he organize reproduction workshops. of bees, and sells native honey.

– Untapped potential –

Although the interest in these bees increased during the Covid pandemic – individuals began to keep them at home – native bees remain a little known treasure in Brazil, where there are many species.

Jatai, uruçu, mandaçaia, mandaguari… of the 550 species of stingless bees recognized in the world — always in tropical or subtropical countries — 250 are found in Brazil, according to Cristiano Menezes, head of research and development of the public body Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Company).

In the fields, growers rely heavily on native bees to pollinate and improve the yield of soft fruit crops, pears or avocados, among others.

But this honey, which has long been known by indigenous tribes and is considered purer and healthier (it has a low glycemic index and bees only eat flowers and fruits) has also begun to interest the gastronomy sector.

The honey from these bees, whose taste and acidity varies according to the species, is more expensive and sought after than the bees with stingers, which produce up to 30 times.

If a kilo of honey from an African bee (with a stinger) sells for around six euros, that of a native bee is exchanged for around 55 euros.

“Bees allow companies to have a positive impact on society, the environment and agriculture,” summarized Mr. Menezes.

– “A world as rich as wine” –

Native bees were forgotten during the colonization of the Americas.

The Jesuits are said to have introduced bees to Africa, which were highly sought after in the early 19th century for their thick wax to make into candles.

Unlike these, meliponids do not eat sugary food scraps, but only native trees. So planting fruit trees is as important to honey growers as breeding insects.

“They depend on plants, on forests. So these beekeepers are agents of conservation,” Jeronimo Villas-Boas, an ecologist and beekeeper in Sao Paulo, told AFP.

Mr. Villas-Boas tried to increase the production of honey so that this product is “consumed by different populations”, such as indigenous tribes and the descendants of slaves, it can be “a trade”.

Among his clients: the famous Brazilian chef Alex Atala, of the restaurant DOM in Sao Paulo, two Michelin stars. Fascinated by the honey from native bees, he put it on his menu.

This is “the most fun part of the menu”, said Mr. Atala to AFP in the kitchen of the restaurant located in the chic Jardins district: a piece of cassava cooked in milk, drizzled with honey from the Brazilian species tubi, which is offered between the main course and dessert.

“We have a world as rich as wine to discover”, marvels the star chef.

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