The wonderful gifts of honey and honeycomb have uses are as long and varied as human existence.
Read on to learn more about how honey is produced, along with the history and uses of this precious gift from bees.
- Modern honeybees likely originated in India or Southeast Asia, where they spread to Europe and Africa.
- A rock painting in a cave in Spain from the Neolithic era documents a person collecting wild honey.
- Ancient Romans kept coins in terra cotta vessels that resembled beehives. These savings banks were often given as New Year’s gifts during the Roman Empire.
- Modern Western beekeeping began in the 19th century, with the introduction of smokers and hives with movable frames.
Tidbits and Terminology
- For every pound of honey gathered by humans, bees need to make and consume an additional eight pounds. After all, honey is what allows the hive to survive cold winters and other periods of low resources.
- Mead, also known as honey wine, is made from fermenting honey with water.
- Honey is made up of two types of sugar: glucose and fructose. Honey varieties high in fructose rarely crystallize, while those that are high in glucose are more likely to crystallize over time.
- According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination.
Cultivation and Harvest
- Honeybees turn nectar into honey by first carrying it back to the hive. There it is passed to worker bees who digest the nectar by mixing it with enzymes to break down complex sugars into simple sugars.
- Honeycomb is made from the waxy secretions of worker bees. As these forms are filled with honey, they are capped with another layer of wax.
- In North America, honey is generally harvested starting in late July through mid-September.
- Colony collapse disorder (CCD), a threat to bee populations worldwide, is a devastating disease thought by many to be caused by a neonicotinoid pesticide called clothianidin.
- In large-scale industrial honey production, little honey is left for the bees to consume in the winter. Instead, they are often fed sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
Honey is composed of mostly fructose and glucose, with a small amount of sucrose and other carbohydrates. While honey has been anecdotally reported to lessen symptoms in people with seasonal allergies, these results have not been consistently duplicated in clinical studies. Hydrogen peroxide, naturally present in honey, is partially responsible for its antimicrobial properties.
Honey: A Buying Guide
Raw honey is what bees produce in the hive: natural, unpasteurized honey, nothing added or taken away. It is ready to eat after it has been extracted and filtered through a fine sieve to remove foreign particles that may have found their way into the honey in the extracting process (such as bee parts, pollen and wax). Pasteurized honey is heated and filtered and does not have the same enzymes and health benefits of unpasteurized honey.
There are many supermarket honeys that have been adulterated with additives and are not 100% pure honey, so it’s best to procure your honey from a local beekeeper or known source.
Pure creamed honey is made by mixing crystalized honey that has been powdered into fine granules with liquid honey.
Store honey in a cool, dark place indefinitely. If it becomes crystallized, heat briefly in a glass container in a pot of warm water.
- Honey pairs well with strong cheeses. Try drizzling over Brie, sharp cheddar, or gorgonzola.
- Top a salad with crumbled goat cheese and honeycomb, or make a baguette sandwich with Brie.
- Add to tea or coffee for a natural sweetener.
- Also consider using honeycomb in chili to balance spicy flavors.