How is honey made?
Honey is primarily sucrose. Bees collect and store nectar from flowers in their “honey belly”. Enzymes in the bees’ saliva break down the sucrose into fructose and glucose, making honey similar to invert sugar. Sucrose, maltose, minerals, amino acids, and other higher sugars are also present in small amounts, as are flavors from the nectar’s plant source.
In the hive, bees store nectar in comb that they have formed from gathering beeswax secreted from a gland which produces wax. Beeswax is actually bee sweat. The bees cap the liquid nectar below a layer of beeswax. As it cures water and other liquids evaporate and that is how honey is made.
Why does honey crystalize?
Raw honey is under 20 percent water, 70 percent glucose and fructose, and less than 10 percent other sugars and solids. Glucose crystallizes more readily than fructose; and because the glucose level in honey is close to the saturation point, raw honey is slightly grainy when minimally filtered.
Interesting to note about honey varietals is that the ratio of fructose to glucose differs in each one, each harvest.
The higher the fructose level, the more resistant to crystallization the honey. Tupelo honey has the highest ratio of fructose to glucose, and takes the longest amount of time to crystalize. Honey is sweeter than store-bought processed sugar. The best way to showcase flavor of raw honey is in it’s raw state by adding it to salad dressings, drinks, butter, glazes and anything that doesn’t require it to be cooked. More on crystallized honey.
What causes honey to have different flavors?
The flavor of honey is dependent on the plant source of the nectar. Bees may visit a variety of plants, or if there is a single crop nearby to the hives, the bees are more likely to stay closer to home. The closest plants to the hive will likely be the most dominant source of flavor to raw honey.
Commercial beekeepers make the majority of their income from pollination services. This is when the beekeeper loads hundreds of hives onto a tractor trailer and literally drive the bees to the crop that needs pollinating. Almonds, Oranges, Dates, Blueberries are all crops that depend on bees. Melons, pumpkins and beans also benefit from bee pollination services.
Orange blossom and clover honey are delicately flavored, while bamboo, buckwheat, and chestnut honeys are strongly, flavored. We always compare honey to wine, where a Pinot Noir may be very light and a Cabernet Sauvignon very bold. Both are wines, but depending on the nectar source, the grape in this instance, the wine has a different flavor profile.
Understanding Baking the Art and Science of Baking Third Edition. Joseph Amendola and Nicole Rees.