Welcome to the FRB blog, where every month we explore the world of honeybees! Today we are going to discuss honey; how it's made, why it's so unique and what its benefits are.
Besides being delicious, honey is a singularly amazing substance. It is produced by only one animal in the entire world and is one of the few foods on the planet that will naturally never spoil.
The process of making honey is a difficult one for honeybees, as a great amount of effort, time and resources must be put into its creation. It takes 12 honeybees their whole lives to produce just a teaspoon of honey, and this is all so the colony can have food sources for the winter.
The process of honey creation starts with nectar, the sugar-rich liquid produced by flowers. Honeybees visit flowers and take in the nectar through their proboscis. Rather than eating the nectar, however, honeybees have a special, second stomach meant for the storage and augmentation of nectar. The bee will place the majority of the nectar into this “honey stomach”, eating only a small amount to keep herself fed while she forages, and bring it back to the hive. There the bee will regurgitate the nectar, passing it off to bees that stay within the hive. These bees will pass the nectar between each other for up to 20 minutes, reducing the water content of the nectar and adding enzymes to the liquid as they do so. The enzymes the honeybees introduce chemically break down the nectar in a way that changes the acidity and sugar structure of the liquid. Whereas raw nectar is sucrose, honey is made up of glucose and fructose. Once the nectar has been sufficiently processed by the bees, it is stored in a honeycomb along with natural yeasts. The bees then engage in the process of evaporating moisture from the nectar. They do so by beating their wings to maintain a temperature of 95 degrees and to create air circulation. They evaporate water out of the nectar until it reaches 17% water concentration or lower (nectar out of the flower is 80%), at which point they seal the honeycomb with a wax cap to keep it safe until it is needed.
There are several reasons why bees put this much effort into creating honey instead of just storing nectar, but the greatest reason is because doing so ensures that it does not spoil, rot, ferment or go bad in any way. 3000 year old honey has been found in an ancient Egyptian tomb and it was still unspoiled. The two main factors that contribute to this impressive longevity are low water content and high acidity. Due to its extremely low moisture content, mold and bacteria are incapable of growing in honey and the honey can
even dehydrate bacteria, killing them if they try. When the honey is processed by the honeybee enzymes it is made acidic (with a pH of 4) and is imbued with small amounts of hydrogen peroxide, which makes the honey environment even more hostile to the microorganisms which would seek to spoil it.
Because of these amazing properties honey has several additional health benefits. The very things that keep honey from spoiling make it a great antimicrobial, since it naturally kills bacteria and mold. It is so effective at doing so, in fact, and because the simple sugars and enzymes in the honey stimulate healing, that hospitals will use sterilized honey to treat major burn wounds. Honey is also a good source of antioxidants, which protect the body in many different ways, and it has a variety of other nutrients that the human body needs.
To learn more about honeybees, honey itself, and to potentially get your own supply of Colorado foraged honey check out the Free Range Beehives home page or reach out to us using the links at the bottom of the page.