It was one of the first Australian foods to be included in Slow Food International’s Ark of Taste – a catalogue of products that are significant to world cultures and are at risk of disappearing. Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey has a distinctive flavour and is only produced in Tasmania.
The leatherwood trees (Eucryphia lucida) grow in the rainforest of Tasmania’s west coast, much of which has been proclaimed as a World Heritage Area. The trees are an ancient species tracing back to the Gondwanaland era. Protected from urban incursion, the environment is unspoiled and free of insecticides and artificial fertilisers.
According to the University of Tasmania’s Companion to Australian History, Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey was first produced commercially in the 1920s at Strahan on the state’s west coast, where it was sold locally and to the crews of visiting ships. By 1938, it was being promoted internationally, with the honey exhibited at the Glasgow Empire Exhibition and on sale at the grocer’s shop in the pavilion.
It wasn’t until the 1940s that the practice of transporting hives to the leatherwood forests began. The trees flower from January to March. Each year, in summer, apiarists relocate their hives from other parts of the state to the western forests so their bees can gather the nectar from the leatherwood blossoms. Methods of transport have included road, railway and even, in a time of flood, helicopter.
In 2015, Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey was named the best-tasting honey in the world at the Apimondia International Apicultural Congress in South Korea. The flavour was described as “clean and fresh, very balsamic, with lightly spicy notes in its long finish”.
The location of the leatherwood trees makes them vulnerable to bushfires. In 2016, the CSIRO expressed alarm that fires in that year had impacted around 10 per cent of apiary sites in western Tasmania, with the potential to cause further damage. As Leatherwood honey makes up about 70 per cent of Tasmania’s honey production and with climate change suggesting bushfires are likely to worsen, the Tasmanian honey industry may face significant challenges in the future.