Possible health benefits
Impressive health claims have been made for royal jelly, the substance that is fed to bee larvae that can transform them into a queen bee. The transformation from a drone with a lifespan of just a few weeks to a queen bee, which can live for a long as five years, has led some to attribute almost magical qualities to the substance. Among the health benefits claimed for the substance are alleviating arthritis, encouraging hair growth, improving sexual performance, lowering cholesterol, slowing signs of aging, easing menopause and curing insomnia, fatigue, ulcers and skin irritations.
“It used to be the main product that we sold,” Li said, of the time in the 1970s when he entered the industry. “The price for royal jelly was very high at that time, and unlike honey there is a constant supply.” He offered me a taste of the creamy golden paste. There was a sharp tartness beneath the thin layer of sweetness, and it lacked the depth of flavor and the floral scents of a good honey.
“It is not as popular as it used to be,” Li said, “and much production has now been transferred to China, where labor is cheaper.”
Fuchang now puts its emphasis on improving the hives and finding good environments for the bees, cooperating with government agencies and universities, making use of experimental forests and the grounds of establishments such as the Zichang Minimum Security Prison (自強外役監獄) in Hualien, which is being developed as an area for organic agriculture.
As Li took me around the seemingly haphazard arrangement of hives, he pointed out that the company was gradually moving across to the use of more advanced, eco-friendly hives. “In the past, we used painted wood, and some farmers would even use tar to seal the hives,” he said. “Now we have a better knowledge about what paint and other (chemical) substances might do, so we have shifted to using undressed wood and beeswax to make hives. This is more expensive, but we must do what we can to make a better environment for the bees,” he said.
Fuchang sells most of its honey and royal jelly under the label Honey Bee Town (蜂之鄉). More information can be found at www.bee-pro.com.