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Fake honey is a huge problem, this M’sian biz addresses it with its farm-to-bottle approach

Darlings Honey was born out of an unfortunate incident. Right before the pandemic hit, a family member was diagnosed with cancer,” Danielle and Lewin Pee recalled.

“At the time, we were debating on treatment options and were keen to explore more natural alternatives. Several of our friends had recommended consuming stingless bee honey (or better known locally as kelulut honey).”

It’s easy to brush the recommendation off as an old wives tale, but scientific studies have shown that kelulut honey has various health benefits. For example, it has better antioxidant capacity and anti-inflammatory effects compared to other kinds of honey.

Believing that these benefits could help cancer patients, Danielle and Lewin were more than eager to give it a try.

But the issue was that most honey products on the market had unnecessary added ingredients like sugars. In fact, The Straits Times reported that Dr Zulkifli Mustafa, a senior lecturer at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), found 90% of honey products sold in Malaysia were fake.

Image Credit: Darlings Honey

It’s a staggering number considering that many locals purchase honey from store shelves for a healthier lifestyle. 

Having done their research and realising that not many people knew of kelulut honey’s benefits, the sisters decided to launch a brand highlighting the local gem. Thus, marking the beginning of their family business.

From the forests of Johor to the Klang Valley

Darlings Honey lives by a “Forest to Bottle” concept, where each bottle contains only raw and pure harvests from their stingless bee farm in Kota Tinggi, Johor. “As such, it’s organic and the bees are free to gather nectar from wildflowers and the multitude of fruits available in the forest,” they explained.

So don’t be surprised when you notice that no two bottles are the same colour or taste. These factors heavily depend on the season and vary according to the types of fruits and flowers the bees gather nectar from.

Image Credit: Darlings Honey

It’s also reported that wild honey is also cloudier and can crystallise easily, which doesn’t always look as appealing. But where it lacks in aesthetics, it makes up for in health benefits.

The siblings work with local villagers who help take care of the bees and harvest the honey from tree trunks. This partnership serves as their way of supporting the local economy while also ensuring that the kelulut honey is of premium quality.

Elaborating on this, Danielle and Lewin explained that they avoid commercial methods of obtaining honey. The brand doesn’t transplant bees into man-made boxes for the sake of mass production. The pair shared that doing so allows them to get more nutritious and concentrated honey. 

Image Credit: Darlings Honey

To assure customers that they’re getting authentic kelulut honey, each batch of products undergoes testing by the Malaysia Genome Institute (MGI). This is because they’ve noticed that there are some sellers of kelulut honey who either don’t have certification, or only send their honey for testing when the business first opens. 

“In fact, some brands might produce one batch of pure honey just for testing, while the subsequent batches are fake honey or have added sugars mixed in,” the siblings shared.

Keeping the supply small for sustainability

Image Credit: Darlings Honey

One other way customers can authenticate Darlings Honey’s products is from their inventory size. According to Danielle and Lewin, stingless bee hives can only be harvested two times a year. 

This seems to be supported by Dr Zulkifli Mustafa as well, who told The Star that stingless bees can produce an average of 3kg of honey per colony each year. For context, it’s on the lower end of the spectrum as some bee species can usually produce up to 27kg or more per colony. 

As such, Darlings Honey only harvests in small, exclusive batches to avoid overharvesting. “If we want to increase our supply in the future, we will need to cultivate more hives,” they said.

It takes approximately two months to harvest enough honey from a hive for a single 500ml bottle of Darlings Honey. Part of its Drink Series, customers can drink the honey on its own or use it to marinate meats and salads. 

Image Credit: Darlings Honey

There are three variations of honey available:

Besides that, Darlings Honey offers a Satchel Series where their Obsidian Fresh honey is packaged in small pouches. They’re sold in boxes of 15 pieces (RM129) and 30 pieces (RM239). The convenient packaging is meant to allow customers to carry them wherever they go, so this would be an easy solution if you’re looking to replace sugar.

There’s also a Health Series featuring stingless bee propolis essence serum that’s sold in two bottled variations: 5ml for RM88 and 10ml for RM138.

Image Credit: Darlings Honey

To grow global awareness for kelulut honey

Currently all of their products can be bought either online through their website or at partnering stores. This includes over 30 pharmacies and retail outlets across the Klang Valley.

Occasionally, you might even find them in flea markets, pop-up events, or even food fairs and trade shows. Customers in Singapore and Thailand can get their hands on Darlings Honey items from local distributors like Ittha Boutique Cafe.

Beyond Asia, Danielle and Lewin shared that they’re planning to introduce the brand to European markets as well. “They’re big consumers of honey and don’t have ready access to stingless bee honey, which isn’t commonly found in Europe.”

Image Credit: Darlings Honey

But even closer to home, their goal is to create more awareness for kelulut honey. The trend in superfoods has seriously picked up in recent years with a rise in demand for kombucha. So they want to familiarise Malaysians with their own superfood too.

Convincing consumers shouldn’t be too challenging as honey has already made a name for itself through its health properties. Becoming a global brand in such a competitive market, though, won’t be as easy.

However, the sisters are optimistic about their prospects, especially since they’re both experienced in the business field. When those come to fruition, the sisters said, “Then we’ll know we’ve made it.”

Image Credit: Darlings Honey

Featured Image Credit: Darlings Honey

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