This post describes what is honey, how bees make it from the nectar of flowers and store it, its composition and health benefits.
What is honey?
Honey is a thick, golden liquid produced by bees. These insects make honey from the nectar of flowers and preserve it inside the beehive for consumption during times of scarcity.
Honey is evaluated according to its color with the clear amber color fetching a higher value than the darker varieties.
It is marketed both as raw and pasteurized variety. Raw honey is removed from the hive and directly bottled for sale. It, therefore, will contain trace amounts of impurities such as yeast, wax, and pollen.
Pasteurized honey is heated and processed to remove impurities. Heating is done at high temperatures to kill the yeast that may be present and to prevent its fermentation.
However, this process of pasteurization also destroys enzymes, amino acids, minerals, and vitamins that are present in the honey, thereby reducing its nutritional value.
How do bees produce honey?
The food of the bees is made of nectar, the sugary juice of the flowers, and pollen made by the anther of the male reproductive part of the flower.
Though bees tend to stay as close to the beehive as possible, they will forage within a five-mile radius in search of sweet nectar and high-protein pollen.
The “collector” bees suck the nectar from the flowers with the help of their long proboscis (a long and complex tongue) to be stored in her second specially designed honey stomach, which is solely used to store the nectar.
Part of the nectar is used for her own energy and the rest she preserves for making honey. She returns to the beehive only when her nectar sacs are full. The weight of the nectar is almost equal to her own weight, so much for her flight competence.
In the beehive, the “collector” bee regurgitates the nectar and passes it into the mouth of an indoor bee. The nectar is then passed on from mouth to mouth among the indoor bees until the moisture content of the nectar is brought down from 70% to 20%.
This regurgitation process is repeated until the partially digested nectar is finally deposited into a honeycomb.
The nectar mixes with the enzymes present in the saliva of the bee and by the process of ingestion, regurgitation, and partial digestion of the nectar, the bee produces honey.
How do bees store and preserve honey?
After the bees produce honey, they then deposit it into the cells of the wall of the beehive, which has a typical honeycomb appearance. Once the honey is mature enough, the bees seal it off with wax-like caps, which they produce themselves.
This sealing is necessary because honey is hygroscopic and absorbs moisture from the atmosphere.
The fluttering of the wings of the bees acts as a dehumidifier to reduce the moisture content in honey. It is sweet to taste and a healthier alternative to white sugar.
Honey is harvested in summer and winter and that is the time, it is the freshest. These tireless bees collectively visit some 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey. This post describes the process of making and storing it in detail.
Composition, nutritional content and health benefits
Natural honey has a complex chemical composition, which depends on the vegetation, the type of bees (breed), the conditions at the time of collection, and how the beekeeper manages his act.
In general, it contains саrbоhуdrаtеѕ (about 82%), wаtеr, mіnеrаls, рlаnt аntіbіоtісѕ, еnzуmеѕ, оrgаnіс асіdѕ, еѕѕеntіаl оіlѕ, hоrmоnаl ѕubѕtаnсеѕ, аntіохіdаntѕ, and аntі-саnсеr аgеntѕ.
Here is a more specific description:
- Honey in its raw form contains traces of 27 minerals, 22 amino acids, and some 5000 live enzymes.
- One tablespoon contains 64 calories while one tablespoon of sugar contains 49 calories.
- Honey contains about 70 to 80 percent sugar and the carbohydrates present are mainly in the form of fructose and glucose. It also contains other complex carbohydrates.
- It contains small amounts of compounds such as chrysin, pinobanksin, pinocembrin, Vitamin C, and catalase, which exhibit antioxidant properties.
- Being slightly acidic, the growth of microorganisms is inhibited. This is responsible for its antiseptic and antibacterial properties, which promote wound healing.
Other contents include:
- Traces of vitamins B (riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, thiamin, and pyridoxine)
- Traces of fats – almost negligible
- Traces of minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, manganese, sodium, and selenium
- Traces of protein
- Traces of dietary fiber
Word of caution
Infants below 12 months of age should never be given honey because it is sometimes found to contain spores and toxins of Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium, which produces a very powerful neurotoxin.
These bacteria cause botulism, which is a terminally paralytic disease. Infants, particularly those under the age of 12 months are very susceptible to this disease. You can safely give it to babies after the age of 12 months.