Israel becomes land of apples and honey during holidays

With Rosh Hashanah just a week away, Israel’s Agriculture Ministry has released consumption figures on some of the most popular holiday foods. Each year the average Israeli eats 24 pounds of fish, 125 apples and 1.6 pounds of honey, with most of the consumption taking place around the High Holy Days.

The month of Tishrei, which this year begins Sept. 19, shows a spike in the consumption of fish. According to the Fish Breeders Association, monthly per person consumption doubles during Tishrei.

The most popular fish is carp. During the holidays, Israelis collectively consume 1,000 tons of the freshwater fish, which is widely used for making dishes such as gefilte fish and the Moroccan chraiymeh (Middle Eastern fish), compared to 350 tons in other months.

Consumption of St. Peter’s fish (also known as tilapia) likewise grows from 500 tons to 800 tons, and that of mullet from 170 tons to 300.

Even so, Israelis are way behind other nationalities in their consumption of fish. Mediterranean countries in Europe eat two to four times as much fish per person per year, and the Japanese eat a staggering five times as much. Israel does, however, surpass the United States by a good measure.

Roughly a third of the fish consumed in Israel comes from the local market, with the rest, mostly frozen, imported from around the world.

Israel is mostly self-sufficient when it comes to apples. According to the Agriculture Ministry, Israeli farmers produce 110,000 tons of produce. A small percentage, 2,000 tons a year, is imported from the United States and Europe.

The biggest apple producers in the world are China (25 to 30 million tons a year), Europe (9 million tons) and the United States (5 million tons).

Because apples grow best in cold climates, Israel is on the fringe of the apple-growing belt. Most of its apples are grown in the north, in the hills of the Galilee and the Golan Heights. Israel exports a small amount of apples, grown by Druze in the Golan, to Syria.

The most popular types of apples are Golden Delicious, Starking, Granny Smith, Jonathan, Gala and Pink Lady. Israeli scientist Aba Stein from Kibbutz Ein Shemer, near Hadera, developed a special breed of apples called Anna, which is well suited to grow in warmer climates and therefore is grown in the south of Israel.

Along with apples, the consumption of honey also jumps during the fall holidays: Roughly 40 percent of Israel’s annual honey consumption happens during this period. Whether in honey cakes, holiday cookies or in combination with apples, 1,500 tons is consumed during Tishrei alone.

Research conducted by the Agriculture Ministry shows that many Israelis have developed a sensitive palate when it comes to honey.

While in previous years people would reach out for the least expensive product on the shelf, they are now reaching for specialty honey. Regular honey is made up of nectar collected by bees from a variety of wild flowers. Specialty honeys are made from nectar collected from specific varieties of plants, which give distinctive flavors and aromas, for example, citrus flowers, avocado flowers or eucalyptus flowers.

China, Turkey and the U.S. lead the world in honey production, with Mexico following closely behind. Israel, though well behind in terms of quantity, is well-known for its high-quality honey. The wide variety of wild plants confined to a relatively small area produces rich and distinctive flavors. In recent years boutique honey producers have sprung up across the country; there’s even an annual honey festival, where beekeepers open their doors to the public and share in the experience of collecting honey from the hives.

There are roughly 500 beekeepers in Israel, who look over some 90,000 beehives.