The red eucalyptus (Eucalyptus robusta), known in Madagascar as kininina mena, is a large tree that thrives in the highlands in the central part of the island. Although not originally from Madagascar, this species is widespread in the Analamanga and Amoroní Mania regions, where it was introduced during the colonial period. The eucalyptus has a long flowering period, which allows beekeepers to prolong the harvest period for over 5 months. Thanks to the high yields, this is the most commonly sold honey on the local market. Its commercialization reached its peak during the 1930s, when more than 30 tonnes were exported each year. Today its price on the overseas market does not guarantee a high margin. The biggest threat to this honey, however, does not come from its low market value, but from two insect pests that were accidently introduced to Madagascar, and which are creating huge problems for the local plants and the bees.
The first is the red gum lerp psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei, a parasite that is a particular problem for eucalyptus. The psyllid feeds on the sap of the tree, leaving large amounts of a very viscous honeydew on the leaves, and this provokes the formation of a mold that reduces the tree’s photosynthetic activity. The second pest is the varroa mite, Varroa destructor, which attacks honey bees. This forces beekeepers to constantly monitor and intervene in order to prevent the spread of this mite, which could bring a total collapse to the beehive. There is also a third danger, deforestation, which is tied to the increased use of eucalyptus wood for furniture and charcoal production.
The red flowers of kininina mena contain nectar that produces a very sugary monofloral honey. It is not excessively acidic and has a flavor similar to caramel. The honey has an amber color in its liquid form, though it is easier to find it crystallized, in which case the color changes and tends towards a greyish-beige. Kininina mena honey is predominately used in pastry preparations or to accompany to canapes, especially for breakfast or for snacks. It is also used as a sweetener for milk and tea and can be used to marinate meat for barbecuing. Other than its gastronomic uses it is also often used therapeutically, to cure common cold and other respiratory illnesses.