Mead is the oldest alcoholic beverage known to humankind, predating both beer and wine. Meads' many varieties lend themselves to sipping and to delicious recipes.

Throughout history it has been reputed to prolong life, enhance fertility, and bestow strength. Also known as honey wine, mead’s history is as intriguing and rich as its flavour.

Common mead varieties

Variety Characteristics
traditional a basic mead made of honey, water, and yeast
varietal similar to traditional mead but made from honey from a particular flower source (e.g., clover or orange blossom)
Melomel made with the addition of a single fruit or a blend of fruits
Pyment made specifically with the addition of grape juice
Cyser made specifically with the addition of apple juice (similar to an apple cider)
Metheglin made with herbs and spices
sack mead or fortified mead has a higher alcohol content than other meads; contains more honey

As long as there have been bees and honey, there has been mead. In its basic form, mead is simply honey mixed with water and yeast. Historians believe humans were introduced to this intoxicating brew during the Stone Age when, by chance, honey became wet from rain and wild yeast in the air settled into the mixture, fermenting it. The drink was then replicated throughout the ages and cultures of the world.

History of mead

The Greeks called mead the “nectar of the Gods” and claimed it bestowed virility. In the Middle Ages the Anglo-Saxons were convinced it induced creativity. Remnants of mead’s mythology survive to this day. The term “honeymoon” comes from the ancient practice of plying newlyweds with mead for one month after their nuptials to ensure fertility and male progeny. Similarly, the word “medicine” is derived from the term for spiced meads—Metheglin.

Although mead’s popularity waxed and waned after the Middle Ages, it is currently experiencing a renaissance. Savvy consumers seeking new taste sensations and products that are both healthy and environmentally friendly have sparked renewed interest in mead.

High-quality meads are being produced at meaderies across Canada, and several have garnered international acclaim. Restaurants are beginning to take note too, with many offering mead on their list of wines and spirits.

Benefits of mead

There are some compelling reasons to give mead a try. Scientists have discovered that honey, mead’s main ingredient, is loaded with compounds that confer some amazing health benefits. For instance, recent research has shown that chrysin, a flavonoid found in abundance in honey, has the ability to inhibit the proliferation of and induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells. Chrysin has also been shown to suppress neuroinflammation, which suggests it may be a protective agent for a group of neurodegenerative diseases caused by inflammation.

Honey’s therapeutic edge doesn’t end there. Researchers have also found that the consumption of natural honey reduces cardiovascular risk factors, particularly in individuals who already have an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease.

And for those who suffer grape wine-induced migraines, mead may be the perfect alternative. Many experts feel it is a substance in the grape skin that causes migraines in sensitive individuals. One caveat exists, however: mead is an alcoholic beverage, so moderate consumption is key.

Environmentally friendly

Mead is not only good for you—it’s good for the planet too. Its production doesn’t require the cultivation of any land, minimizing its environmental impact. Furthermore, by drinking mead you support beekeepers who are valiantly trying to keep a threatened honeybee population alive. We desperately need honeybees to sustain our agriculture—one-third of all the food we eat requires pollination by bees.

Because mead has been around so long and embraced by so many cultures, there are many different types of mead and methods of production. It can be sweet or dry, sparkling or still, fruity or spicy, or not. A basic mead made of honey, water, and yeast is called traditional. Once a mead maker begins adding other components it takes on a different character and variety name.

Culinary pairings

Worldwide there are so many varieties of mead it is impossible to make specific suggestions about pairing this beverage with food. The type of honey used to make mead will affect its flavour and aroma.

A traditional mead made with buckwheat honey will taste completely different from one made with a milder honey such as orange blossom or clover. Ask the mead maker, who knows the characteristics of his product, for pairing suggestions to create the perfect culinary marriage.

In general, sweet meads pair beautifully with desserts and cheeses, light crisp meads enhance salads, seafoods, and Asian cuisine. Heartier meads, such as Pyment or Metheglin, marry well with ethnic dishes, stews, and meats.

Of course, mead, like wine, is not just for drinking. Cooking with it imparts enticing flavours to both sweet and savoury dishes. Fill your kitchen with mead’s marvelous aroma, and save a bee by trying one of the following recipes!

To find a mead maker in your area visit winesofcanada.com/mead.html.

Recipes

About the Author

Pamela Durkin is a registered nutritional consultant and freelance health journalist based in Victoria, BC.