“What is honey?” is a question often asked; and the simple answer usually given is something like “It is a complicated Sugar that the honeybees make and store for food, made from plant nectar.”
In reality the answer is much more complex, as the Honeybee has had 100,000 years to develop the way in which the colonies of Honeybees find, select, process, refine and mature such a splendid golden liquid. Throughout the world honeybees have refined this process to an efficient mass production spectacle, that has ensured the Honeybee has spread throughout the world; and they still retain the secrets.
Simply; honey starts as plant nectar, from trees, flowers and sometimes insects; although the latter is usually in hotter climates; the bees are very selective in what the choose to use, and in some cases they will overlook suitable plants closer to the Apiary in favour of other varieties further away. Exactly why they do this, like so many other things in Beekeeping, is known only to the Bees!
Pollen is collected as protein for “bee food”, for all castes of bees and grubs; inevitably it finds its way into the honey within the hive and can add its own distinctive flavour, smell and taste to the honey; so different Colonies can have different Honeys even within the same Apiary.
Honey is made from complex sugars, the main sugars are Glucose, Fructose and Sucrose, the complexity of the sugars in the mixture and the enzymes secreted from the bees change the basic sugars and “Invert” them, this means they retain more moisture and tend not to crystallise.
However the exact balance of sugars the bees harvest continually changes, and the added pollen grains can cause natural “local” honey to sometimes have a granular texture or “Set” (Solidify), this is actually a sign the Honey has not been treated or pressure filtered to remove the pollen and other subtle components by heating the Honey.
Shop bought Honeys are heavily processed and blended to remove this characteristic, and this heavily effects the fragrance, texture and taste of the Honey; it can also adversely effect the enjoyment of what is actually one of the most wonderful foods this planet has to offer.
Honey is refined from the nectar by the bees introducing enzymes into the mixture and reducing the water content, the bees transfer the maturing honey into cells, and when the process is judged as complete by the skilled workers within the Hive, the cells are sealed by wax secreted by the bees.
Unfortunately they are in some parts of the world “Fake” honeys that have never been near a Bee, made from flavoured glucose and other ingredients; there are also polluted and disease carrying honeys from foreign parts; these are to be avoided as they are of no use to humans or bees!
Natural or Local Honeys have been shown to have beneficial effects for some conditions like Hay-fever, and have been used for 1000’s of years in medicines and as a food additive.
It is the only food produced on this planet by ANY organism; including humans, that can be consumed by every other living thing with no ill effects, quite something don’t you think?
There is a vast amount of information about Honey in books and on the Internet, a few examples are listed below; however if you are really interested in Honey and how its made you need to ask the experts! – WebBee
British Beekeepers Association – Honey
The National Honey show – The National Honey website
Cornwall Honey – How Bees make Honey