Costa Rica’s central volcanic region is a unique transitional ecosystem, characterised by traditional agrarian lifestyles. In this cloudy high-altitude forest environment, the stingless bee (Melipona costaricensis) – one of the three species native to Costa Rica – finds a hospitable habitat in which to thrive, thanks to the abundant rainfall throughout the year which favours the presence of plants from the Melastomataceae family, which these bees love to feed on.
Jicote Barcino honey is characterised by its low viscosity, light consistency, high transparency and brilliant colouring that reflects light in shades of green-gold. Its aroma is distinctly floral, and its flavour is characterised by notes of acidity that surprise and stimulate the palate. Its production is lower than that of other honey bees: about 4 litres per year compared with 150 for common bees. In addition, not all of the honey is collected, which allows the Jicote Barcino to feed on it in the event of a shortage of flowers, pollen or nectars.
The Meliponia costaricensis builds a unique hive that requires specific methods for harvesting. The wooden hives are constructed in such a way as to allow two methods of extraction: the first through gentle suction of the honey, the second requires lifting and tipping the honey from the bulbous cavities constructed by the Jicote Barcino. The process is made easy by the bees’ quiet nature and the fact that they are stingless. Once the honey is collected, it is filtered to remove debris.
In Costa Rica, Jicote Barcino honey belongs to a history that dates back to pre-Columbian times. Their docile temperament, lack of a stinger, as well as how easy it is to extract honey from the hive, has meant that this bee has been domesticated since antiquity. Over the years, rural communities adopted artificial hives made of wood that were kept at home. Their docility made them an ideal source of honey, to be collected at home by families to sweeten traditional drinks, including medicinal tea. The medicinal properties of this honey have been documented as antibacterial, with a known use in the treatment of eye diseases.
The presence of stingless native bees is crucial to the health of the region’s ecosystem. As pollinators of endemic and native plant species, they play a key role in preserving the forest. Local populations benefit from the recovery and conservation of a heritage of domestic production that is linked to traditional drinks and dishes.
The Melipona costaricensis bees are at risk of extinction due to the destruction of their natural habitats: deforestation, pesticide use and climate change.