Estonian Choco-propolis

Friends bought a chocolate bar for me. Not just any bit of chocolate, of course. They were in eastern Europe and the stuff they found was really interesting. It contained propolis. And tasted like it. Eating chocolate-propolis is not for the faint-hearted. I liked it, but this particular bar was only 5% propolis – and I have been known to chomp on raw 100% pure bee glue in the bee yard. Propolis is resin from trees, collected by honey bees, dried a bit, and stuck around the hive by the bugs as part of their nationwide preventive health care program. It contains a lot of natural antibiotic properties – it kills germs, and the bees know it. So they coat crevices and untidy hollows with the goo, using the antibiotics to keep biotics away from the nest. The bees have also discovered that propolis is a great sealant. Just as our own ancestors learned to make tar from pines to seal leaky boats, the ancient honey bees discovered they can plug holes that would sink their winter plans by exposing a colony to wind and snow.

Bees can be encouraged to collect propolis if you are sloppy with bee box placement – placing supers askew (as many clueless ex-employees have done) forces the bees to jam the gaps with fresh propolis. A few companies sell gadgets that can be plopped atop the hive skyscraper in lieu of a lid – again giving the bored bees something to fetch and paste into the hive. The beekeeper scrapes the propolis off the offending hive parts (presumably using a sterilized stainless steel propolis scratcher) and carries the meds back to the shop where alchemists dice it and blend it with chocolate for future fine dining.

The company that makes this chocopropo bar, KÕLLESTE KOMMIMEISTRID, is in Estonia, a tiny country bordering on Latvia and Russia and sitting close to Finland and Sweden. The last big thing to come out of Estonia (before this propolis candy) was Skype, the web-camera phone system that indulges little Dvor and Marija if they want to see Nana when Kati skypes the old country from Australia. Kõlleste makes several types of Estonian chocolate bars – using various proportions of propolis or substituting pollen. A blend of up to 50% propolis is sold, which likely becomes something more akin to medicine than a sweet treat. The bar I was given, pictured above, cost about 3 Euros, or roughly 5 dollars for 100 grams. Its energy-factor is pretty high – the label says 500 calories (sugar is the first ingredient) but you’d have to possess rather lame taste buds to eat the whole thing in a day. Or a week.

I was curious about the factory making this chocolate bar, so I traced them online. They claim to be the first and only company in the world that figured out you can mix propolis with chocolate and make candy. This of course is ridiculous. Even I made and sold a similar product years ago. It is not a new idea, nor unique. A quick on-line search turned up a number of companies making the stuff, most probably predating the 2006 start-up of Kõlleste. There even appears to be a competitor in Estonia. Nevertheless, the company’s web site claims they are the inventors and have (they say) two patents, one for adding propolis to chocolate and the other for adding pollen. Surely they jest.

“WE ARRIVED AT THE IDEA TO MIX POLLEN, PROPOLIS AND BEEBREAD WITH CHOCOLATE IN ORDER TO BALANCE THE TASTES AND MAKE THE HEALTH-GIVING SUBSTANCES PLEASANT FOR EVERYBODY. IN THE PROCESS OF DEFENDING THIS IDEA, IT WAS DISCOVERED THAT SUCH APPLICATION IS UNPRECEDENTED IN THE WORLD. TODAY, KÕLLESTE KOMMIMEISTRID HOLDS 2 PATENTS: USE OF POLLEN IN CHOCOLATE CANDY/BARS FROM 5% TO 70% AND USE OF PROPOLIS FROM 2% TO 50%.”

The idea that something as simple as mixing two ingredients should be awarded a patent is strange and would be difficult to defend in any court. Sometimes patents are abused by companies that do not have rights (although it could be that some Estonian patent clerk actually granted a certificate to this outfit). Even worse, companies may claim patents years after they have expired. This is somewhat common and can lead to incredibly huge fines, in the USA, at least. It is against the law to place a patent number on any item sold after the patent is expired. The law exists to stop outfits from intimidating competitors after the patent has expired.

The fine is severe – $500 for each and every item sold that has ax expired patent number on it. Even big companies are guilty – major pharmaceuticals were fined millions of dollars for printing “US Patent Number 1234567890” (using the actual expired patent number) on bottles of a common pain killer. If you manufacture any neat little beekeeping product and have a “US Patent” stamp on it, you are libel for the same $500 per item sold if your beekeeping gizmo’s patent is expired. That’s $500 per item – sell ten expired patent hive covers, for example, and pay $5000 in fines – if you still have the patent number on it. Sounds brutal, but the idea is to prevent extended monopolies. Free the technology for the next entrepreneur. Obviously, I am only giving American laws here – you can read about it in this Wall Street Journal newspaper article. It is entirely possible that in Estonia, mixing chocolate and propolis can be patented. But the company would also have to try to file patents in each country where it hopes to have exclusive rights – including Australia, Serbia, Italy, Brazil, the USA, and a whole bunch others where chocolate and propolis have already met.

About that chocopropo bar… Did I mention it is good? Better than any propolis I’d ever nibbled in the bee yard.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a geophysicist who also does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and is based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has written two books, dozens of magazine and journal articles, and complements his first book, Bad Beekeeping, with a popular blog at www.badbeekeeping.com. Ron wrote his most recent book, The Mountain Mystery, for everyone who has looked at a mountain and wondered what miracles of nature set it upon the landscape. For more about Ron, including some cool pictures taken when he was a teenager, please check Ron's site: miksha.com.
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