Introduction - Flora Honey
Honey is created by bees as a food source. In cold weather or when food sources are scarce,...
Honey is created by bees as a food source. In cold weather or when food sources are scarce, bees use their stored honey as their source of energy. By contriving for bee swarms to nest in artificial hives, people have been able to semi-domesticate the insects, and harvest excess honey. In the hive there are three types of bee: a single female queen bee, a seasonally variable number of male drone bees to fertilize new queens, and some 20,000 to 40,000 female worker bees. The worker bees raise larvae and collect the nectar that will become honey in the hive. Leaving the hive, they collect sugar-rich flower nectar and return. In the process, they release Nasonov pheromones. These pheromones lead other bees to rich nectar sites by "smell". Honeybees also release Nasonov pheromones at the entrance to the hive, which enables returning bees to return to the proper hive.
In the hive the bees use their "honey stomachs" to ingest and regurgitate the nectar a number of times until it is partially digested. The bees work together as a group with the regurgitation and digestion until the product reaches a desired quality. It is then stored in honeycomb cells. After the final regurgitation, the honeycomb is left unsealed. However, the nectar is still high in both water content and natural yeasts which, unchecked, would cause the sugars in the nectar to ferment. The process continues as bees inside the hive fan their wings, creating a strong draft across the honeycomb which enhances evaporation of much of the water from the nectar. This reduction in water content raises the sugar concentration and prevents fermentation. Ripe honey, as removed from the hive by a beekeeper, has a long shelf life and will not ferment if properly sealed.
Honey is a mixture of sugars and other compounds. With respect to carbohydrates, honey is mainly fructose (about 38.5%) and glucose (about 31.0%), making it similar to the synthetically produced inverted sugar syrup which is approximately 48% fructose, 47% glucose, and 5% sucrose. Honey's remaining carbohydrates include maltose, sucrose, and other complex carbohydrates. Honey contains trace amounts of several vitamins and minerals. As with all nutritive sweeteners, honey is mostly sugars and is not a significant source of vitamins or minerals. Honey also contains tiny amounts of several compounds thought to function as poisons, including sodium cyanide, pinobanksin, vitamin C, catalase, and pinocembrin.[vague] The specific composition of any batch of honey depends on the flowers available to the bees that produced the honey.
Typical honey analysis
Other sugars: 9.0% (maltose, melezitose)
Honey has a density of about 1.36 kilograms per liter (36% denser than water).
Isotope ratio mass spectrometry can be used to detect addition of corn syrup or sugar cane sugars by the carbon isotopic signature. Addition of sugars originated from corn or sugar cane (C4 plants, unlike the plants used by bees which are predominantly C3 plants) skews the isotopic ratio of sugars present in honey, but does not influence the isotopic ratio of proteins; in an unadulterated honey the carbon isotopic ratios of sugars and proteins should match. As low as 7% level of addition can be detected.[dead link]
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 300 kcal 1270 kJ
Carbohydrates 82.4 g
- Sugars 82.12 g
- Dietary fiber 0.2 g
Fat 0 g
Protein 0.3 g
Water 17.10 g
Riboflavin (Vit. B2) 0.038 mg 3%
Niacin (Vit. B3) 0.121 mg 1%
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.068 mg 1%
Vitamin B6 0.024 mg 2%
Folate (Vit. B9) 2 μg 1%
Vitamin C 0.5 mg 1%
Calcium 6 mg 1%
Iron 0.42 mg 3%
Magnesium 2 mg 1%
Phosphorus 4 mg 1%
Potassium 52 mg 1%
Sodium 4 mg 0%
Zinc 0.22 mg 2%
Shown is for 100 g, roughly 5 tbsp.
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database
Classification by floral source
Generally, honey is classified by the floral source of the nectar from which it was made. Honeys can be from specific types of flower nectars, from indeterminate origin, or can be blended after collection.
Most commercially available honey is blended, meaning that it is a mixture of two or more honeys differing in floral source, color, flavor, density or geographic origin.
Polyfloral honey, also known as wildflower honey, is derived from the nectar of many types of flowers. The taste may vary from year to year, and the aroma and the flavor can be more or less intense, depending on which bloomings are prevalent.
Main article: Monofloral honey
Monofloral honey is made primarily from the nectar of one type of flower. Different monofloral honeys have a distinctive flavor and color because of differences between their principal nectar sources. In order to produce monofloral honey beekeepers keep beehives in an area where the bees have access to only one type of flower. In practice, because of the difficulties in containing bees, a small proportion of any honey will be from additional nectar from other flower types. Typical examples of North American monofloral honeys are clover, orange blossom, sage, eucalyptus, tupelo, manuka, buckwheat, and sourwood. Some typical European examples include thyme, thistle, heather, acacia, dandelion, sunflower, honeysuckle, and varieties from lime and chestnut trees. In North Africa, such as Egypt, examples include clover, cotton, and citrus, mainly orange blossoms.
Instead of taking nectar, bees can take honeydew, the sweet secretions of aphids or other plant sap-sucking insects. Honeydew honey is very dark brown in color, with a rich fragrance of stewed fruit or fig jam and is not as sweet as nectar honeys. Germany's Black Forest is a well known source of honeydew-based honeys, as well as some regions in Bulgaria. In Greece, pine honey (a type of honeydew honey) constitutes 60-65% of the annual honey production. Honeydew honey is popular in some areas, but in other areas beekeepers have difficulty selling the stronger flavored product.
The production of honeydew honey has some complications and dangers. The honey has a much larger proportion of indigestibles than light floral honeys, which can cause dysentery to the bees, resulting in the death of colonies in areas with cold winters. Good beekeeping management requires the removal of honeydew prior to winter in colder areas. Bees collecting this resource also have to be fed protein supplements, as honeydew lacks the protein-rich pollen accompaniment gathered from flowers.
Packaging and processing
Generally, honey is bottled in its familiar liquid form. However, honey is sold in other forms, and can be subjected to a variety of processing methods.
Comb honey is honey meant to be consumed still in the honeybees' wax comb. Comb honey traditionally is collected by using standard wooden frames in honey supers. The frames are collected and the comb cut out in chunks before packaging. As an alternative to this labor intensive method, plastic rings or cartridges can be used that do not require manual cutting of the comb, and speed packaging. Comb honey harvested in the traditional manner is also referred to as "Cut-Comb honey" Chunk honey is honey packed in widemouth containers consisting of one or more pieces of comb honey immersed in extracted liquid honey.
Certified Organic Honey is honey or honey combs produced, processed, and packaged in accordance with national regulations, and certified as such by some government body or an independent organic farming certification organization. In the United Kingdom, the standard covers not only the origin of bees, but also the siting of the apiaries. These must be on land that is certified as organic, and within a radius of 4 miles from the apiary site, nectar and pollen sources must consist essentially of organic crops or uncultivated areas. According to TheOrganicReport.com, organic honey is quite scarce to find because most beekeepers "routinely use sulfa compounds and antibiotics to control bee diseases, carbolic acid to remove honey from the hive, and calcium cyanide to kill colonies before extracting the honey, not to mention that conventional honeybees gather nectar from plants that have been sprayed with pesticides."
Varieties of processing
Crystallized honey is honey in which some of the glucose content has spontaneously crystallized from solution as the monohydrate. Also called "granulated honey." Pasteurized honey is honey that has been heated in a pasteurization process. Pasteurization in honey reduces the moisture level, destroys yeast cells, and liquefies crystals in the honey. While this process sterilizes the honey and improves shelf-life, it has some disadvantages. Excessive heat-exposure also results in product deterioration, as it increases the level of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) and reduces enzyme (e.g. diastase) activity. The heat also affects appearance, taste, and fragrance. Heat processing can also darken the natural honey color (browning).
Raw honey is honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat (although some honey that has been "minimally processed" is often labeled as raw honey). Raw honey contains some pollen and may contain small particles of wax. Local raw honey is sought after by allergy sufferers as the pollen impurities are thought to lessen the sensitivity to hay fever (see Medical Applications below).
Strained honey is honey which has been passed through a mesh material to remove particulate material (pieces of wax, propolis, other defects) without removing pollen, minerals or valuable enzymes.
Ultrafiltered honey is honey processed by very fine filtration under high pressure to remove all extraneous solids and pollen grains. The process typically heats honey to 150–170 °F to more easily pass through the fine filter. Ultrafiltered honey is very clear and has a longer shelf life, because it crystallizes more slowly because of the high temperatures breaking down any sugar seed crystals, making it preferred by the supermarket trade. The heating process degrades certain qualities of the honey similar to the aforementioned pasteurization process.
Ultrasonicated honey is honey that has been processed by ultrasonication, a non-thermal processing alternative for honey. When honey is exposed to ultrasonication, most of the yeast cells are destroyed. Yeast cells that survive sonication generally lose their ability to grow. This reduces the rate of honey fermentation substantially. Ultrasonication also eliminates existing crystals and inhibits further crystallization in honey. Ultrasonically aided liquefaction can work at substantially lower temperatures of approximately 35 °C and can reduce liquefaction time to less than 30 seconds.
Whipped honey, also called creamed honey, spun honey, churned honey, candied honey, and honey fondant, is honey that has been processed to control crystallization. Whipped honey contains a large number of small crystals in the honey. The small crystals prevent the formation of larger crystals that can occur in unprocessed honey. The processing also produces a honey with a smooth spreadable consistency.
Dried honey, has the moisture extracted from liquid honey to create a completely solid, non-sticky honey. This process may or may not include the use of drying and anti-binding agents. Dried honey is commonly used to garnish desserts.
Sealed frame of honeyBecause of its unique composition and the complex processing of nectar by the bees which changes its chemical properties, honey is suitable for long term storage and is easily assimilated even after long preservation. History knows examples of honey preservation for decades, and even centuries. The main goal is to prevent the fermentation of the honey. Honey should also be protected from oxidation. The ideal example is the natural process of bees sealing of the honey in honeycomb cells with wax caps. The best honey is in the uncut honey combs. After being removed from the comb, honey is very vulnerable, and the main losses of quality take place during preservation and distribution.
A number of special prerequisites are, however, necessary to achieve the conservation. These include sealing the product in vessels of chosen material, kept in a favorable environment of specific humidity, temperature, etc. Honey should not be preserved in metal containers, because the acids in the honey may promote oxidation of the vessel. This leads to increased content of heavy metals in honey, decreases the amount of nutrients, and may lead to stomach discomfort or even poisoning. Traditionally honey was stored in ceramic or wooden containers, however glass is now the favored material. While ceramic vessels are still a viable option, honey stored in wooden containers may be discolored or take on flavors imparted from the vessel.
Traditionally honey was preserved in deep cellars, but not together with wine or other products. As honey has a strong tendency to absorb outside smells and moisture, it is advisable to keep it in clean, hermetically sealed vessels. For the same reasons, it is not advisable to preserve honey uncovered in a refrigerator, especially together with other foods and products.
It is also advisable to keep it in opaque vessels, or stored in a dark place. Optimal preservation temperature is 4 to 10 °C (39 to 50 °F). Honey should be stored in a dark, dry place, preventing it from absorbing any moisture. If excessive moisture is absorbed by the honey, it can ferment. When conventional preservation methods are applied, it is not recommended to preserve the honey for longer than 2 (maximum 3) years.
Excessive heat can have detrimental effects on the nutritional value of honey. Heating up to 37°C causes loss of nearly 200 components, part of which are antibacterial. Heating up to 40°C destroys invertase, an important enzyme. Heating up to 50°C turns the honey into caramel (the most valuable honey sugars become analogous to sugar). Generally any larger temperature fluctuation (10°C is ideal for preservation of ripe honey) causes decay.
Acacia honey is known to be more resistant to crystallization.
Distinguishing quality honey
Honey grading is performed voluntarily based upon USDA standards. The quality of honey is graded based upon a number of factors including: soluble solids, water content, flavor, aroma, clarity, absence of defects, and color.
The honey grade scale is:
Grade A - Good
Grade B - Reasonably Good
Grade C - Fairly Good
Substandard - Poor, Failing
Indicators of quality
High quality honey can be distinguished by fragrance, taste, and consistency. Ripe, freshly collected, high quality honey at 20°C (68°F) should flow from a knife in a straight stream, without breaking into separate drops. After falling down, the honey should form a bead. The honey when poured should form small, temporary layers that disappear fairly quickly, indicating high viscosity. If not, it indicates excessive water content (over 20%) of the product. Honey with excessive water content is not suitable for long-term preservation.
In jars, fresh honey should appear as a pure, consistent fluid and should not set in layers. Within a few weeks to a few months of extraction, many varieties of honey crystallize into a cream-coloured solid. Some varieties of honey, including tuepelo, acacia, and sage, crystallize less regularly. Honey may be heated during bottling at temperatures of 104–120°F to delay or inhibit crystallization without degrading the honey. Although, lack of crystallization is not proof of excessive heating or pasteurization. If transparent and reluctant to thicken, this may indicate that the bees were fed with sugar syrup or even sugar itself, which is bad for the bees and leads to inferior honey. A fluffy film on the surface of the honey (like a white foam), or marble-coloured or white-spotted crystallization on a containers sides, is formed by air bubbles trapped during the bottling process. This is a characteristic of unpasteurized honey.
A 2008 Italian study determined that nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy can be used to distinguish between different honey types, and can be used to pinpoint the area where it was produced. Researchers were able to identify differences in acacia and polyfloral honeys by the differing proportions of fructose and sucrose, as well as differing levels of aromatic amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine. This ability allows greater ease of selecting compatible stocks.
In history, culture, and folklore
Honey use and production has a long and varied history. In many cultures, honey has associations that go beyond its use as a food. Honey is frequently a talisman and symbol of sweetness.
Honey collection is an ancient activity. Eva Crane's The Archaeology of Beekeeping states that humans began hunting for honey at least 10,000 years ago. She evidences this with a cave painting in Valencia, Spain. The painting is a Mesolithic rock painting, showing two female honey-hunters collecting honey and honeycomb from a wild bee hive. The two women are depicted in the nude, carrying baskets, and using a long wobbly ladder in order to reach the wild nest.
In Ancient Egypt, honey was used to sweeten cakes and biscuits, and was used in many other dishes. Ancient Egyptian and Middle-Eastern peoples also used honey for embalming the dead. In the Roman Empire, honey was possibly used instead of gold to pay taxes. Pliny the Elder devotes considerable space in his book Naturalis Historia to the bee and honey, and its many uses. The fertility god of Egypt, Min, was offered honey.
In some parts of post-classical Greece, like Rhodes, it was formerly the custom for a bride to dip her fingers in honey and make the sign of the cross before entering her new home.
In Jewish tradition, honey is a symbol for the new year—Rosh Hashana. At the traditional meal for that holiday, apple slices are dipped in honey and eaten to bring a sweet new year. Some Rosh Hashana greetings show honey and an apple, symbolizing the feast. In some congregations, small straws of honey are given out to usher in the new year.
In Islam, there is an entire Surah in the Qur'an called al-Nahl (the Honey Bee). According to hadith, Prophet Muhammad strongly recommended honey for healing purposes. The Qur'an also promotes honey as a nutritious and healthy food:
"And thy Lord taught the bee to build its cells in hills, on trees and in (men's) habitations…there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colors, wherein is healing for mankind. Verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought".
In Buddhism, honey plays an important role in the festival of Madhu Purnima, celebrated by Buddhists in India and Bangladesh. The day commemorates Buddha's making peace among his disciples by retreating into the wilderness. The legend has it that while he was there, a monkey brought him honey to eat. On Madhu Purnima, Buddhists remember this act by giving honey to monks. The monkey's gift is frequently depicted in Buddhist art.
The Hebrew Bible contains many references to honey. In The Book of Judges, Samson found a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of a lion (14:8). The Book of Exodus famously describes the Promised Land as a "land flowing with milk and honey" (33:3). However, the claim has been advanced that the original Hebrew (devash) actually refers to the sweet syrup produced from the juice of the date.
In the Christian New Testament, Matthew 3:4, John the Baptist is said to have lived for a long period of time in the wilderness on a diet consisting of locusts and wild honey.
In Western culture
The word "honey", along with variations like "honey bun" and the abbreviation "hon", has become a term of endearment in most of the English-speaking world. In some places it is used for loved ones; in others, such as the American South, it is used when addressing casual acquaintances or even strangers.
Also, in many children’s books bears are depicted as eating honey, (e.g. Winnie the Pooh) even though most bears actually eat a wide variety of foods, and bears seen at beehives are usually more interested in bee larvae than honey. In some European languages even the word for 'bear' (e.g. in Russian 'medvéd', in Czech 'medvěd, in Hungarian medve, in Croatian 'medvjed') is coined from the noun which means 'honey' and the verb which means 'to eat'. Honey is sometimes sold in bear-shaped jars or squeeze bottles.
As a food and in cooking
The main uses of honey are in cooking, baking, as a spread on breads, and as an addition to various beverages such as tea and as a sweetener in some commercial beverages.
Honey is the main ingredient in the alcoholic beverage mead, which is also known as "honey wine" or "honey beer" (although it is neither wine nor beer). It is also used as an adjunct in beer.
Its glycemic index ranges from 31 to 78 depending on the variety.
Vegans and honey
During early vegan movements in the 1940s, The Vegan Society in England defined veganism as "the practice of living on the products of the plant kingdom to the exclusion of flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, animal milk and its derivatives, and encourages the use of alternatives for all commodities derived wholly or in part from animals." Vegans do not eat honey as it is considered an animal product. There is active debate in the vegan community on the status of honey as an animal product and its appropriateness for human consumption, though it is regarded as non-vegan on food labels, and most vegans consider honey a non-vegan product.
Vegans will usually eat agave nectar instead of honey, which some consider superior due to its low glycemic index (GI), longer shelf life, similar taste, and quality as it stays smooth and doesn't crystalise like honey does.
For at least 2700 years, honey has been used by humans to treat a variety of ailments through topical application, but only recently have the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey been chemically explained.
Wound gels that contain antibacterial raw honey and have regulatory approval for wound care are now available to help conventional medicine in the battle against drug resistant strains of bacteria MRSA. As an antimicrobial agent honey may have the potential for treating a variety of ailments. One New Zealand researcher says a particular type of honey may be useful in treating MRSA infections. Antibacterial properties of honey are the result of the low water activity causing osmosis, hydrogen peroxide effect, and high acidity.
Honey appears to be effective in killing drug-resistant biofilms which are implicated in chronic rhinosinusitis.
Honey is primarily a saturated mixture of two monosaccharides. This mixture has a low water activity; most of the water molecules are associated with the sugars and few remain available for microorganisms, so it is a poor environment for their growth. If water is mixed with honey, it loses its low water activity, and therefore no longer possesses this antimicrobial property.
Hydrogen peroxide in honey is activated by dilution. However, unlike medical hydrogen peroxide, commonly 3% by volume, it is present in a concentration of only 1 mmol/L in honey. Honey chelates and deactivates the free ion, which starts the formation of oxygen free radicals produced by hydrogen peroxide and the antioxidant constituents in honey help clean up oxygen free radicals present. http://www.worldwidewounds.com/2001/november/Molan/honey-as-topical-agent.html
C6H12O6 + H2O + O2 → C6H12O7 + H2O2
When used topically (as, for example, a wound dressing), hydrogen peroxide is produced by dilution with body fluids. As a result, hydrogen peroxide is released slowly and acts as an antiseptic.
In diabetic ulcers
Topical honey has been used successfully in a comprehensive treatment of diabetic ulcers when the patient cannot use other topical antibiotics.
The pH of honey is commonly between 3.2 and 4.5. This relatively acidic pH level prevents the growth of many bacteria.
Antioxidants in honey have even been implicated in reducing the damage done to the colon in colitis. Such claims are consistent with its use in many traditions of folk medicine.
Honey has also been used for centuries as a treatment for sore throats and coughs, and according to recent research may in fact be as effective as many common cough medicines. It is important to remember however that this is an initial study with a small sample size.
Mixed with lemon juice and consumed slowly, honey coats the throat, alleviating discomfort. The antibacterial and antiseptic properties of honey aid in healing sore throats and laryngitis.
Other medical applications
Some studies suggest that the topical use of honey may reduce odors, swelling, and scarring when used to treat wounds; it may also prevent the dressing from sticking to the healing wound.
Honey has been shown to be an effective treatment for conjunctivitis in rats.
Though widely believed to alleviate allergies, commercial honey has been shown to be no more effective than placebos in controlled studies of ocular allergies. However, a recent study has shown pollen collected by bees to exert an anti allergenic effect, mediated by an inhibition of IgE immunoglobulin binding to mast cells. This inhibited mast cell degranulation and thus reduced allergic reaction.
Honey mixed with water and vinegar was also used as a vermifuge. The concoction was called Oxymellin.
A review in the Cochrane Library suggests that honey could reduce the time it takes for a burn to heal - up to four days sooner in some cases. The review included 19 studies with 2,554 participants. Although the honey treatment healed moderate burns faster than traditional dressings did, the author recommends viewing the findings with caution, since a single researcher performed all of the burn studies.
Potential health hazards
Because of the natural presence of botulinum endospores in honey, children under one year of age should not be given honey. The more developed digestive systems of older children and adults generally destroy the spores. Infants, however, can contract botulism from honey.
Honey produced from the flowers of rhododendrons, mountain laurels, sheep laurel, and azaleas may cause honey intoxication. Symptoms include dizziness, weakness, excessive perspiration, nausea, and vomiting. Less commonly, low blood pressure, shock, heart rhythm irregularities, and convulsions may occur, with rare cases resulting in death. Honey intoxication is more likely when using "natural" unprocessed honey and honey from farmers who may have a small number of hives. Commercial processing, with pooling of honey from numerous sources generally dilutes any toxins.
Toxic honey may also result when bees are in close proximity to tutu bushes (Coriaria arborea) and the vine hopper insect (Scolypopa australis). Both are found throughout New Zealand. Bees gather honeydew produced by the vine hopper insects feeding on the tutu plant. This introduces the poison tutin into honey. Only a few areas in New Zealand (Coromandel Peninsula, Eastern Bay of Plenty and the Marlborough Sound) frequently produce toxic honey. Symptoms of tutin poisoning include vomiting, delirium, giddiness, increased excitability, stupor, coma, and violent convulsions. In order to reduce the risk of tutin poisoning, humans should not eat honey taken from feral hives in the risk areas of New Zealand. Since December 2001, New Zealand beekeepers have been required to reduce the risk of producing toxic honey by closely monitoring tutu, vine hopper, and foraging conditions within 3 km of their apiary.
Honey producing countries
Honey output in 2005
China is the world's largest producer of honeyIn 2005, China, New Zealand, Turkey, and the U.S. were the top producers of natural honey, reports the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Mexico is also an important producer of honey, providing about ten percent of the world's supply. Much of this (about one-third) comes from the Yucatán Peninsula. Honey production began there when the Apis mellifera and the A. mellifer ligustica were introduced there early in the 20th century. Most of Mexico's Yucatán producers are small, family operations who use original traditional techniques, moving hives to take advantage of the various tropical and sub-tropical flowers. The honey-producing cycle depends on the rainy season. The first and best harvest takes place in the dry season between February and May. Many species flower at this time. After the rainy season begins, there are still plenty of flowers but the bees have a difficult time traveling for nectar and producing the honey because of the weather conditions. Bees may not make enough for sale and what may be produced is of lower-quality.
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Other sugars: 9.0% (maltose, melezitose)
Honey has a density of about 1.36 kilograms per liter (36% denser than water).