Spotlight Ingredient: Bee Pollen

I've been searching for power-packed smoothie supplements to get me through the winter doldrums, and bee pollen keeps making an appearance in "superfood" lists. I finally picked up a small bottle from the honey stand at my local farmer's market. Curious about these golden granules? Read on.

Bee pollen (not to be confused with airborne pollen, which causes allergies and hay fever) is what results when honeybees pick up flower pollen granules, mix them with regurgitated honey or nectar, and pack them into "baskets" on their hind legs to take back to the hive. Due to their impressive nutritional profile, bee pollen pellets have a serious superfood reputation. A tablespoonful of bee pollen contains about 45 calories and consists of 35% protein, 55% carbohydrate, 2% fatty acids and 3% minerals and vitamins. Bee collected pollen also reportedly contains 8 flavonoids, at least 11 carotenoids, vitamins C, E, all the Bs, all free amino acids, minerals, more than 100 enzymes and several growth regulators.

Because of this, bee pollen is best consumed raw to preserve as many nutrients as possible. The taste varies according to the type of flower the pollen came from (obviously), but in general bee pollen tends to have a slightly sweet, slightly floral taste. If you're new to bee pollen, we recommend starting with a 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon per day, with a maximum daily intake of 1 tablespoon. Note: If you are allergic to bees and honey, you're probably allergic to bee pollen, so use caution and common sense.

Where To Buy: You can find bee pollen in most health food stores and at farmer's markets. Look for pollen from pesticide-free flowers and trustworthy suppliers. Pollen pellets feed honeybee larvae and worker bees, so harvesting bee pollen is a very sensitive business, and difficult to do without damaging or depleting the food source of the nest. That's why it's "essential," as Local Harvest writes, to obtain bee pollen (and all bee products) only from small, trustworthy suppliers.

How To Store: Buy in small quantities and store in a cool, dark place. Pollen stored at room temperature loses its effectiveness quickly, so freezing is also an option.

How To Use Bee Pollen: Use bee pollen as a garnish over oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, soups, and salads; blend a bit of pollen into your favorite salad dressing (according to Mighty Foods, bee pollen pairs particularly well with honey mustard dressings, poppy seed dressings or slightly sweet vinaigrettes); or add bee pollen to your morning smoothie. Here are a couple recipes to try:

Have you tried bee pollen?

Related: Fact or Fiction? Eating Local Honey Cures Allergies

(Image: Sarah Britton/My New Roots, used with permission)