Man extracting honeycomb from nest. Courtesy of Brian Wood.

Whether you add it to your tea or use it to sweeten a bowl of oatmeal, honey is a tasty addition to a number of recipes. But have you ever consumed half a liter of raw honey, straight? Neither had Yale anthropologist Brian Wood, until he started living with the Hadza.

The Hadza are an ethnic group of hunter-gathers living in northern Tanzania who consume a diet that is nearly 20 percent honey. For those of us who think of honey as a condiment, that’s pretty fascinating.

“The Hadza eat most of the honey they collect straight-up, without mixing or combining it with other foods,” Wood told me via email. “Often men will leave camp and start their day foraging on an empty stomach, and when doing so, they set themselves up for a breakfast/lunch – an entire meal – of just honey.”

What makes the story even more interesting is that the Hadza get much of this honey by following a bird known as the greater honeyguide. In a recent study, Wood estimated that 8 to 10 percent of the Hadza’s yearly diet is obtained with help from honeyguides. In addition, the birds lead Hadza to higher-yielding nests than they find on their own. The relationship is both useful and unique, as no other wild animals are known to actively lead humans to food.

While the Hadza eat much of the honey they collect straight, they do combine some of it with other foods, specifically the baobab fruit, according to Wood. The tough shell of the baobab pod encases both a white, brittle fruit that is high in carbohydrates and seeds that are loaded with protein and fat. The fruit is easily ground into a powder, so Hadza will mix the honey and baobab with water to make a drink or porridge. The baobab fruit is somewhat sour, so the honey’s sweet flavor is a perfect fit.

Wood suggests buying some baobab powder and testing out the combination yourself. Famous for its high vitamin C content, powder from the baobab is popular in health food stores. While you may not be ready to down the contents of your squeezable honey bear in one sitting, you can still get a taste of the Hadza diet.