When someone says honey, the first thing that comes to mind is a sweet, viscous amber-coloured liquid that’s sold on the supermarket shelves.
Not the slightly runny, dark amber concoction carrying a taste that varies considerably from fruity to sweet, sharp to bitter, that I sampled from Madu Maanggaris – Brunei’s foremost purveyor of wild honey.
Madu is easily understood as honey. So what exactly is Maanggaris?
Towering over much of Borneo’s rainforest is Koompassia excelsa; known locally as the Maanggaris tree. Those brave enough to scale it will find a buzzing treasure: huge combs belonging to Apis dorsata – colloquially referred to as the giant honey bee.
“The honey imports from the supermarket all looks and taste the same,” says founder of Madu Maanggaris, Firdaus Sapli whose imposing frame and bushy beard aptly matches his passion for the wild. “True wild honey will never taste exactly the same.
“Sometimes it can be a bit runny, sometimes a bit thick; a lot of factors, from the nectar of the flowers the bees consume to the climate of the surrounding hive, affect the taste and consistency of the honey produced in the wild,” he added.
Anecdotes of the physiological benefits to consuming honey are found throughout history; foretelling descriptions of its antiseptic, antioxidant and immune boosting qualities.
Firdaus argues it is the wild, raw honey that is top dog when it comes to nutritional benefits. It has no equal, he says. Modern research can back this up: more than 30 amino acids, vitamins and minerals are found in raw honey along with thousands of enzymes. His personal discovery came down to have spoonful of it.
“One of my old friends, Ben, first introduced me to it,” said Firdaus, who like many of us, have only tasted the regular, store bought honey before. ” I had no knowledge whatsoever about wild honey. Just a spoon in and I felt really warm and energised.”
After he began to inquire more. The 32-year-old learned that in Brunei, there was dearth of local producers of wild, dark honey. Most that are offering are foreigners, and the product sold, without guarantee of an undiluted end product.
Firdaus isn’t one to shy away from a challenge and in 2015, threw his hat into the ring. Traveling hours to the Sultanate’s most remote jungles with a friend and an older advisor, the team of three would precariously hunt for wild honey. I use hunt because, when you first have to scale a large tree and then smoke a hive full of giant bees, things can get pretty risky.
“It’s a lot of work and very tiring,” said Firdaus with a rueful smile. “The honey you harvest is very valuable. But not everyone is up for the fight. Many have been enticed by the money, only to quit soon after because it was too hard.”
Firdaus, who still works a day job at a financial institution, has sacrified most, if not all, of his free time and other hobbies in pursuit of his business. But as the receipts roll in at the end of the month; there is a sign that the hard work is beginning to pay off.
“We have 25 cubes spread throughout Bandar and Kuala Belait and we plan to have a presence in all four districts,” said Firdaus, spends about $600 to $700 a month in rental fees. Gross sales typically hit $5,000 a month, with special expos and fairs allowing the 32-year-old to make five figures.
The pursuit itself, arguably isn’t purely about money. More can be made in the confines of air-conditioned offices, than traversing off the beaten path into environments where not every trip is fruitful, and giant bees aren’t the only concern.
“My mission and vision is that every household in Brunei consumes honey,” said Firdaus. “Honey in Islam is prophetic medicine and food. Why have your kids consuming junk while they could instead be enjoying honey.”
When hunting the wild, thinking on your feet is critical. To stay grounded the outspoken 32-year-old keeps his philosophy simple. “If you look at all the successful businesses around the world, they didn’t make any excuses and they didn’t know how to quit,” said Firdaus. “I keep that in mind as much as I can. Do not be afraid of failure, I always tell myself. It is necessary for you to succeed.”
To learn more follow @madumaangaris on Facebook and Instagram and contact +6738326711 to get in touch directly.