Honey is a sweet and viscous fluid produced by honey bees from the nectar of flowers. According to the United States National Honey Board 2003 and various international food regulations, "honey stipulates a pure product that does not allow for the addition of any other substance...this includes, but is not limited to, water or other sweeteners". This article refers exclusively to the honey produced by honey bees (the genus Apis); honey produced by other bees or other insects has very different properties.
Honey is significantly sweeter than table sugar and has attractive chemical properties for baking. Honey has a distinctive flavor which leads some people to prefer it over sugar and other sweeteners.
Liquid honey does not spoil. Because of its high sugar concentration, it kills most bacteria by crenation. Natural airborne yeasts cannot become active in it because the moisture content is too low. Natural, raw honey varies from 14% to 18% moisture content. As long as the moisture content remains under 18%, virtually no organism can successfully multiply to significant amounts in honey, though, importantly, enough bacteria survive to make honey dangerous for infants (especially Clostridium botulinum).
The study of pollens and spores in raw honey (melissopalynology) can determine floral sources of honey. Because bees carry an electrostatic charge, and can attract other particles, the same techniques of melissopalynology can be used in area environmental studies of radioactive particles, dust, or particulate pollution.
A main effect of bees collecting nectar to make honey is pollination, which is crucial for flowering plants.
Honey is laid down 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 the bee swarm to make its home in a hive, people have been able to semi-domesticate the insects. In the hive there are three types of bee: the single queen bee, a seasonally variable number of drone bees to fertilize new queens and some 20,000 to 40,000 worker bees. The worker bees raise larvae and collect the nectar that will become honey in the hive. They go out, collect the sugar-rich flower nectar and return to the hive. As they leave the flower, bees release Nasonov pheromones. These enable other bees to find their way to the site 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. It is then stored in the honeycomb. Nectar is high in both water content and natural yeasts which, unchecked, would cause the sugars in the nectar to ferment. After the final regurgitation, the honeycomb is left unsealed. Bees inside the hive fan their wings, creating a strong draft across the honeycomb. This enhances evaporation of much of the water from the nectar. The reduction in water content, which raises the sugar concentration, prevents fermentation. Ripe honey, as removed from the hive by the beekeeper, has a long shelf life and will not ferment.
The beekeeper encourages overproduction of honey within the hive so that the excess can be taken without endangering the bees. When sources of foods for the bees are short the beekeeper may have to feed the bees other forms of sugar so they can survive.
Composition of honey
Nutritional value per 100 g
|Energy 300 kcal 1270 kJ|
|Percentages are relative to US
recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database
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%). The remaining carbohydrates include maltose, sucrose, and othER carbohydrates.
In addition, honey contains a wide array of vitamiNs, such as vitamiN B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. Essential minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc as well as several different amino acids have been identified in honey.
Honey also contains several compounds which function as antioxidants. Known antioxidant compounds in honey are chrysin, pinobanksin, vitamin C, catalase, and pinocembrin. Unlike most other sweeteners, honey contains small amounts of a wide array of vitamins, minerals, amino acids , and antioxidants.
The specific composition of any batch of honey will depend largely on the mix of flowers consumed by the bees that produced the honey. Honey has a density of about 1.5 kg/liter (50% denser than water) or 12.5 pounds per US gallon.
- Typical honey analysis
- Source: Sugar Alliance
The analysis of the sugar content of honey is used for detecting adulteration.
Types of honey
Most commercially available honey is blended, meaning that it is a combination of honeys from different sources. China is the world's largest producer of honey (256,000 tonnes in 2001), followed by the United States (100,000 tonnes), Argentina (90,000 tonnes), Turkey (71,000 tonnes), Mexico, Ukraine and India
Polyfloral honey is derived from the nectar of many types of flowers.
Instead of taking nectar, bees can take honeydew, which appears similar to honey and consists of the sweet secretions of aphids or other plant sap-sucking insects. Most important of these in Europe is the aphid Marchalina hellenica which feeds on the sap of the Turkish Pine. Honeydew from pine forests has a piney taste and is prized for medicinal use in Europe and Turkey. Bees collecting this resource have to be fed protein supplements, as honeydew lacks the protein-rich pollen accompaniment gathered from flowers.
Honeydew has strong markets in some areas, but in many areas beekeepers are disappointed with a honeydew crop, as they are unable to market the stronger flavored product. Honeydew honey has a much larger proportion of indigestibles than light floral honeys, which can cause dysentery, 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.
Honeydew honey is 16 % water, 38 % fructose, 27 % glucose, 3 % sucrose, 9 % dextrose, 7 % acids and minerals.
Use of honey
The main uses of honey are in cooking, baking, spreading on bread, biscuits, or toast, and as an addition to various beverages such as tea. Because honey is hygroscopic (drawing moisture from the air), a small quantity of honey added to a pastry recipe will retard staling. Raw honey also contains enzymes that help in its digestion, several vitamins and antioxidants.
Honey is the main ingredient in the alcoholic beverage mead, which is also known as "honey wine" or "honey beer" (although it is not wine or beer), and metheglin. It is also used as an adjunct in beer. Beer brewed with greater than about 30% honey as a source of sugar by weight, or mead brewed with malt (with or without hops), is known as braggot
Most vegans consider honey to be an animal product and avoid using it, instead choosing sweetening alternatives such as agave nectar, rice syrup or stevia.
Without commercial beekeeping, large-scale fruit and vegetable farming and some of the seed industry would be incapable of sustaining themselves, since many crops are pollinated by migratory beekeepers who contract their bees for that purpose.
In ancient history, the Ancient Egyptian and Middle-Eastern peoples also used honey for embalming the dead. However, only rich and powerful people had the luxury of this type of funeral. Scythians, and later the other Central Asian nomadic people, for many months drove a wagon with a deceased ruler around the country in their last rites mourning procession, carrying the body in a casket filled with honey.
Medicinal uses and health effects of honey
For at least 2700 years, honey has been used to treat a variety of ailments through topical application, though it was not until modern times that the cause of infection was understood. Now, it is understood that the folk remedy of using honey to treat wounds has a scientific explanation: it acts as an antiseptic/antibacterial agent. As an antimicrobial agent honey has potential for treating a variety of ailments, including MRSA. Antibacterial properties of honey are the result of the low water activity causing osmosis, hydrogen peroxide effect, and high acidity.
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.
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. Iron in honey oxidizes the oxygen free radicals released by the hydrogen peroxide.
- glucose + H2O + O2 → gluconic acid + 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. Unlike 3% medical hydrogen peroxide, this slow release does not cause damage to surrounding tissue.
The pH of honey is commonly between 3.2 and 4.5]. This relatively acidic pH level prevents the growth of many bacteria responsible for infection. Nutraceutical effects
According to recent findings, honey may have some significant nutraceutical effects (or positive long-term health effects resulting from honey's consumption). In addition to its primary carbohydrate content, honey often contains polyphenols, which can act as antioxidants. As a nutritional element, antioxidants prevent oxidative stress to cells throughout the body; however, the nutritional significance of antioxidation remains in dispute. Antioxidants in honey have even been implicated in reducing the damage done to the colon in colitisFurthermore, some studies suggest that honey may be effective in increasing the populations of probiotic bacteria in the gut, which may help strengthen the immune system, improve digestion, lower cholesterol and prevent colon cancer.
Such claims are consistent with its use in many traditions of folk medici
Other medical applications
The most common medicinal use of honey is as an anti-microbial agent used for dressing wounds, burns and skin ulcers. This application has a long history in folk medicine, though its efficancy has not been proven .
Nevertheless, some studies suggest that the use of honey may reduce odors, swelling, and scarring; it may also prevent the dressing from sticking to the healing wound
Due to its antiseptic properties, honey (especially when combined with lemon) can be taken orally by Pharyngitis and Laryngitis sufferers, in order to soothe them.
Though widely believed to alleviate allergies, local honey has been shown to be no more effective than placebos in controlled studies. This may be due to the fact that most seasonal allergies are caused by tree and grass pollens, which honeybees do not collect.
Honey as a product
- Comb honey Honey sold still in the original bees' wax comb. Comb honey was once packaged by installing a wooden framework in special honey supers, but this labor intensive method is being replaced by plastic rings or cartridges. With the new approach, a clear cover is usually fitted onto the cartridge after removal from the hive so customers can see the product.
- Raw honey Honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat above 120 degrees fahrenheit. 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' above).
- Chunk honey Honey packed in widemouth containers consisting of one or more pieces of comb honey surrounded by extracted liquid honey. This type is preferred in the US South.
- Strained honey or filtered honey Honey which has been passed through a mesh material to remove particulate material (pieces of wax, propolis, other defects) without removing pollen. Preferred by the health food trade - it may have a cloudy appearance due to the included pollen, but it also tends to crystallize more quickly than ultrafiltered honey.
- Ultrafiltered honey 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 degrees to more easily pass through the fine filter. Ultrafiltered honey is very clear and has a longer shelf life, because it crystallizes more slowly due to the high temperatures breaking down any sugar seed crystals. Preferred by the supermarket trade.
Honey, corn syrup and other natural sweeteners are a potential and acute threat to infants. Harmless to adults because of a mature person's stomach acidity, botulinum endospores are widely present in the environment and can persist in a dormant state in honey. Since an infant's digestive excretions are non-acidic, ingestion of honey creates an ideal medium for botulinum endospores to grow and produce sufficient levels of toxins to cause infant botulism. For this reason, it is advised that neither honey, nor any other sweetener, be given to children under the age of 18 months. Once a child is eating solid food, the stomach produces enough gastric acid to prevent the germination of the endospores.