For months, I passed by the beekeeper’s table at my local farmer’s market on Front Street in Toronto. Perhaps it was his proximity to the old guy who croaks Bob Dylan songs from his stackable chair or perhaps it was my fear that the lettuce guy was out of organic arugula that propelled me faster and faster past the beekeeper table. Mostly, I think it was my inability to recognize most of the colorful, jarred substances as food.
But once I had a chance to slow down and have a look, I became hooked on bee pollen. It probably helped that the beekeeper and his son looked the very picture of health (although perhaps this has more to do with a life spent outdoors in the country air of rural Ontario). But the beekeeper assured me that I would feel a difference in my energy and concentration levels and a decrease in my appetite. Because it is the only substance other than honey that worker bees eat (the Queen bee eats Royal Jelly, too), it is often described by enthusiasts as the ‘perfect food.’ But what is it?
When bees enter flowers to collect nectar, the pollen or “male germ plasm” – the seed needed for plant fertilization – rubs onto their legs and collects in small pockets called pollen sacks. When the bees return to the hive, the pollen is used to feed the colony. It is a highly nourishing substance that is meant to encourage and sustain the growth of immature bees and plants. The Vitamin Supplement Reference outlines Bee Pollen’s composition as 55% carbs, 35% protein, 2% fatty acids and 3% vitamins and minerals (including B vitaimins, folic acid, choline, calcium, potassium, magnesium and carotenoids).
The major problem with bee pollen is that many humans are allergic to ragweed, which is frequently included in the pollen sold as a supplement. Certainly, any pollen labeled Ambrosia contains a great deal of ragweed allergens. For these estimated 5% of people, consuming bee pollen can lead to anaphylaxis or hives. Because of its purported energizing properties, pollen is often an ingredient in sports bars, so allergic individuals should study the label before consuming anything marketed as a sports food.
Some purveyors of bee products claim that pollen contains all of the compounds needed for humans to survive. Traditional Chinese medical practitioners swear by its ability to increase sex drive, improve memory and prevent chronic diseases and cancers. None of this is scientifically proven and, in fact, much of it has been scientifically disproved. For an in depth look at the claims and falsehoods of bee pollen nutrition, I like this NYU Medical School site.
What I can say is that my informal study of one has come back conclusive: I definitely feel more energetic and clear-headed since I began taking a daily dose of 2 tablespoons. I also happen to think it’s delicious: a honey bitterness similar to the taste of buckwheat honey mixed with a light floral undertone and the satisfyingly guilty mini-crunch of Fruity Pebbles or Nerds.
My favorite way to eat pollen is sprinkled over a bowl of yogurt and granola, but a close second is this local smoothie, guaranteed to make you feel zen about your impending morning commute:
– 1/4 C Frozen Ontario wild blueberries
– 1/2 C locally-sourced Sheep’s Milk Yogurt
– 1/2 C filtered water
– 1 organic pear
– 2 TB farmer’s market Bee Pollen
– 2 TB Agave Nectar (Okay, this comes from Mexico, but a girl needs to keep those glucose levels steady! You can use sugar or honey or maple syrup instead)
– 2 TB Salba or Chia seed
Mmm. Lunch time, I think!