Scroll to top
Keen to grow your brand
Reach out to us at
Keen to grow with us?
Reach out to us at
The Lab Mag Headquarters
D-115, Dron Marg
Defence Colony, New Delhi - 110024

Where do restaurants in Mumbai get their honey from?

In the heart of Mumbai is Chetan Soorenji who supplies raw Indian honey to restaurants in Mumbai such as The Table, Americano, Mag St Café, and more.
Beekeeping and honey in Mumbai

The minute I saw Chetan Soorenji’s Instagram page—Forest Garden Microfarms India—I knew this would be a story interesting enough to write about. A corporate employee who is also an urban farmer and a beekeeper in the heart of Mumbai and supplies his passionfruit puree and honey to few of the top restaurants in the city? My interest piqued immediately.

But the fact that this was in Chembur—a central residential suburb in Mumbai, added to the coolness quotient even more. It reminded me of a story I had worked on a year-and-a-half ago where a family owned a patch of land in Chembur, surrounded by buildings, but it was their farming land. It is not every day that you come across such green patches amidst a concrete jungle.

The initial plan

“We started this project in 2017,” starts Soorenji. The motivation for this idea was “to create a green roof that would protect our building from the summer heat,” he shares. To reduce the dependency on air conditioners, he, along with the residents, decided to grow something on the roof for shade. Thus the journey began with a lot of trial and error where they tried many plants. “We started growing passion fruit on of the trellis to see whether it would serve the purpose.” Almost eight years down the line, it is obvious that the growing passion fruit served its purpose.

Urban beekeeping, farming and honey in Mumbai

Photo: Chetan Soorenji

Eventually, Soorenji noticed that the flowering season for passionfruit was sometime in July—coinciding with the monsoon. This caught the urban farmer’s attention because “normally in India, there are very few plants that flower in monsoon. If you look at mango, jamun, and even coconut—the flowering usually occurs in December or January onwards.” Because of this most pollinators don’t get nectar and pollen sources during monsoon because most flowering gets over by April. So when these flowers [passionfruit] started flowering, Soorenji noticed a lot of bees.

Buzz… A new bee in the hive

Because of this unusual pattern, Soorenji noticed about five to six types of native bee species in Mumbai itself—all thanks to the passionfruit. Some of the species he noticed in his rooftop garden were Apis Cerana (The Indian Honey bee), Apis Florea, Carpenter Bee, Trigona (or stingless bee), and Apis Dorsata. “So when we saw them getting attracted to the passionfruit flowers, we thought that if in an uncontrolled environment, there can be so many bees coming in, especially in a polluted area like Chembur in Mumbai, then why not do proper beekeeping where we keep a box and see if it supports the ecosystem.”

Thus, Soorenji contacted an NGO called Under The Mango Tree Society, who are now his knowledge partner for urban beekeeping. They also help him to cultivate organic passionfruit through their network of beekeeper tribal farmers who produce most of the honey. With Under The Mango Tree Society’s help and guidance, Soorenji decided to get into beekeeping and got the first box of Apis Cerana bee—the Indian honeybee.

The challenges and concerns

“They [The NGO] were skeptical whether this [a box of bees] was going to work because their other urban beekeeping projects in Mumbai were mostly failing due to many reasons,” states Soorenji. Some of the reasons being, not having enough flora, excessive pollution, and construction which means taking extra care of the bees, and ensuring that the bees are protected from predators such as spiders, lizards, and red ants. “It’s an active project where you need to take care of the bees so that beekeeping in areas like Mumbai is successful,” he says.

Soorenji recalls that the NGO warned him of a very specific thing. The Apis Cerana aka the native Indian bee is a very selective and fussy bee and as a native Indian bee, it will only go to native Indian flowers. So this meant that his rooftop garden should have a lot of native flora. “I told them that there is no harm in trying and if it doesn’t work, then they can take the box back,” says Soorenji. However, they witnessed something which they had never seen. “The Apis Cerena started working very aggressively on the passion fruit flowers and even they [NGO] were surprised. I also documented five Indian bees—Apis Cerana, Apis Dorsata, Apis Florea, Carpenter Bee, and Trigona—all working in tandem with each other inside one flower and that is a phenomenon which is not easily documented,” explains Soorenji.

What makes honey from these bees stand apart?

Soorenji explains that the usual honey used by most in India is from the bee called Apis Mellifera aka the Western Honey bee. “A lot of people don’t know about that but Apis Mellifera is a European bee. It was introduced in India, somewhere in the 1980s, because the government wanted to focus on honey farming. So experts, who only knew about Apis Mellifera, started to train people in India and that’s how this bee came to India and we started consuming its honey,” he explains. It is because of this that the awareness about these Indian bees is very low. Most big brands selling honey, claiming to be natural and organic are actually from Apis Mellifera. “Another thing people don’t understand is that when non-native bees are introduced to an Indian environment, they spread pathogens in the Indian bees,” he explains. Soorenji also explains how the honey derived from native Indian bees versus the honey from European native has clear differences in terms of taste, flavour, and aroma. “Most importantly, native Indian honey is packed with health benefits , helps in promoting environmental sustainability and rural livelihood creation,” he adds.

Beekeeping and honey in Mumbai

Photos: Chetan Soorenji

Soorenji also got the opportunity to have former MasterChef Australia judge, Gary Mehigan, try his brand—Forest Nectar’s—honey. “Between Apis Cerana and Apis Dorsata, he liked Apis Cerana more because it is a very floral honey whereas Apis Dorsata is a bit more neutral with spice notes,” says Soorenji.

Sourcing the honey and building connections

“We started with our passionfruit purees because restaurants and cafes wanted to avoid importing it and it also came with preservatives. Upon sharing some samples, restaurants loved this ‘Made In India’ passionfruit puree because the flavour and taste were also different,” he shares. Soorenji received feedback that passionfruit cocktails soon became a crowd favourite at these restaurants. This slowly led to offering them honey once he started beekeeping.

Soorenji along with the NGO, started a small pilot project in Gujarat where the farmers grow passionfruit and have a few boxes of honey. “So around 99% of the honey comes from Vandevi—a Farmers’ Producer Organisation—set up by the NGO with whom I work to cultivate passionfruit and the NGO helps in the beekeeping part,” says Soorenji.

A few of the notable places Soorenji has supplied Forest Nectar—his honey—to are The Table, Mag St Café, Americano, The Taj in Santacruz, Grand Hyatt in Gurugram, Taj MG Road in Bengaluru, and more.

While Soorenji is not focusing much on retail sales at the moment one can order by reaching out to his Instagram page—Forest Garden Microfarms India to place an order for honey. However, the honey is available exclusively at The Turn Around shop in Gamdevi for the ones who want to taste the honey before buying.