Apr 20, 2016

Pollen Count

As I'm coming up on the one year anniversary of incorporating Curio Spice Company, I've been reflecting on one of the questions I've been asked a lot: "how did you get into this?" Sometimes I answer with a story about a poem I wrote in college about the saffron crocus (an esoteric beginning to a spice business), other times about farming.  But a recent study of bees and bee pollen made me realize this simple fact: I like to collect tasty things and bring them home to share.

There are other species besides humans and honeybees who collect. Male bowerbirds build elaborate nests and collect piles of objects of similar colors to attract their mate. Leaf cutter ants have entire societies built around the duties of cutting and collecting leaves for the ant colony. Collecting behavior ranges from the need for food storage to attracting mates to well, in my case, collecting spices because they make me feel alive.

It turns out bee pollen is loved for just that quality - if not making you feel alive, at least energized. While not a true spice, bee pollen resembles a spice in that it forms tiny "seeds" packed with flavor and nutrients. The small granules of bee pollen are made up of the pollen grains that honeybees collect as a protein source for brood rearing. It is stored in the comb to make what's called "bee bread" and the excess pollen, at least for certain honeybee species, is then collected by humans who want to put it in their smoothies.

The pollen clusters are like jewels. They can range in color from deep amethyst purple to tangerine to dull yellow. I think of each colorful spice on my kitchen shelf as a version of each bee's pollen cluster; just like a wanderlusty 20 year old buying exotic paprika and stuffing it in her suitcase, a bee wanders the garden visiting flowers and packing pollen on her legs. Though the bee's desire for collection is survival and not curiosity, I still think it's a romantic comparison.

The flavor is vaguely sweet and honey-like, with a pleasant mustiness, like hay stuck in your wool sweater. There's even a trace of what it smells like after a heavy rain—like leaves and dirt and atmosphere. This complex flavor inspired me to include it in one of Curio's blends, Kozani Spice, to accentuate the hay-like flavor of saffron.

But it's also just a fun ingredient to use like sprinkles atop smoothies, cakes and ice cream. I'm not about to tout any health benefits but there is a longstanding relationship between humans and bee products, so that's got to count for something. For now, I'll enjoy it as a tasty treasure among other curiosities of our world.

"Food Rule #28: Eat your colors. "
                 - Michael Pollan, Food Rules

Make Your Own Wicked-Trendy Smoothie Bowl

Bee pollen has been gracing many social media posts lately atop beautiful "smoothie bowls" - essentially a very thick smoothie you eat like oatmeal for breakfast, topped with a variety of fruits, nuts, spices and pollens. While I'm not the hippest girl on the block, I really enjoyed making and eating this bowl of colorful goodness. One great benefit? They are best made with frozen bananas. So if your bananas are looking spotty but you're tired of banana bread, peel 'em and freeze 'em. They're ready for breakfast. Note: use caution with bee pollen if you have a bee allergy or you're preggers.

Combine in your blender and blend to desired smoothness:

1 frozen banana
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/4 cup raw oats
1/2 cup water or juice
1/2 cup yogurt 

Pour in a bowl and add your toppings - use as many colors as possible.
Ideas: apple, kiwi, fig, raspberries, raisins, nuts, peanut butter, honey, spices, dandelions, bee pollen.

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