The Jandaíra species of bee (Melipona subnitida) lives only in the Caatinga, a semi-arid ecoregion found in the Brazilian states of Alagoas, Bahia, Ceará, Maranhão, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Piauí, Sergip and especially Rio Grande do Norte.
In the Tupi language, jandiá-ira means “honey bee.” This bee belongs to the Meliponini group of stingless bees. Jandaíra honey production is dependent on rainfall from January to March, and in good years can reach two liters of honey per comb. The honey is collected directly from the combs and filtered through a small screen before being jarred for sale or storage. The color ranges from amber to straw yellow to very pale off-white to clear depending on the flowers, which can include mallow, jurema, marmeleiro and velame. The liquid honey is slightly acidic and has notes of spices and herbs.
The municipality of Jandaíra is named after the insect, which has always been found in this area. The local people have long reared the bees, and the town is located in the Mato Grande, the genetic cradle of the species. The presence of large swarms was already noted in the mid-19th century, when caravans transporting firewood and charcoal to the coast to exchange for salted fish would overnight in the area. Along the way the travellers would look for honey in the hollow trunks of the imburana, a tree native to the Caatinga. The honey was already highly prized back then, and the travellers would either consume it themselves or, if enough was found, keep it to trade for other foods.
Over time, small settlements began to spring up along the side of the roads known as tropeiras (because they were used by the herdsmen known as tropeiras), one of which was Jandaíra, officially founded in 1964. The honey from the native bee gained increase fame, and was considered medicinal by the folk culture. Its trade flourished and the honey was even sought after in the city of Natal, the Rio Grande do Norte state capital. “Jandaíra honey is made by the gods,” people would say, and it was believed to cure flus and colds. Visitors to Jandaíra couldn’t return without bringing home some honey, which at the time was commonly eaten with cornmeal. Today Jandaíra is known as the “honey town.”
But despite the honey’s properties, its versatility and popularity with cooks, the local gastronomy has still not developed all of its potential.
Cabeço community, Jandaíra municipality, Mato Grande, Rio Grande do Norte