This post describes how the bees make honey from the nectar of the flowers and how they store it. We have also explained the nutritional ingredients that make up the composition of honey.
What exactly is honey?
Honey is a thick, golden liquid produced by the 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 to be sold. It, therefore, will contain trace amounts of impurities such as yeast, wax, and pollen.
Pasteurized honey is heated and processed to remove the impurities. Heating is done at high temperatures to kill the yeast that may be present and prevent fermentation of the honey.
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 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 the 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 Bees Store and Preserve Honey?
The honey is then deposited into the cells of the wall of the beehive, which has a typical honeycomb appearance. Once the honey is mature enough, the bees seal off the honey 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, honey 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 honey in detail.
Composition and nutritional content of honey that provides 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 on how the beekeeper manages his act.
In general, honey 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 of honey contains 64 calories while one tablespoon of sugar contains 49 calories.
- Honey contains about 70 to 80 percent sugar and the carbohydrates present in honey are mainly in the form of fructose and glucose. Honey 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, 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)
- Negligible fat content
- Traces of minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, manganese, sodium and selenium
- Traces of protein
- Traces of dietary fiber
Picture showing composition of honey
Word of caution about honey
Infants below 12 months of age should never be given honey. Honey 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 under the age of 12 months are very susceptible to this disease. You can safely give honey to babies after the age of 12 months.