Bees, Beeswax and Honey

Bees and their role in nature are more important than you think.

It’s fascinating to think that the bees have been around since the beginning of time, the time of the caveman, and they’ve made it this far, only to be faced with near-extinction thanks in part to man. The maladies that they face involve everything from starvation, stress, climate change, viruses, dysentery, and varroa mites. If you are interested in the charming life of the honeybee, let’s start with their gift, honey.

A short film by Melina Madara

Do you know how honeys made?

Bees travel from flower to flower to 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.

Honey is primarily sucrose upon evaluation, you will find maltose, minerals, amino acids, and other higher sugars. When tasting honey, take notice that the aroma and flavor are defined by the nectar sources from where it came.

In the hive, bees store nectar in comb that they have formed from gathering beeswax secreted from a gland that produces wax. Beeswax is excrement. Some people say beeswax is poop. The bees cap the liquid nectar below a layer of beeswax. As honey cures, liquids evaporate from the stored nectar, after a few weeks, it becomes honey.

Why does honey crystallize?

Raw honey is under 20 percent water, 70 percent glucose and fructose, and less than 10 percent other sugars and solids.

Glucose crystallizes quicker than fructose; 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 crystallize. Honey is a sweeter tasting then processed sugar. The best way to showcase the flavor of raw honey is in its raw state by adding it to salad dressings, drinks, butter, glazes and anything that doesn’t require it to be cooked.  

Bees food on chesterhaven beach farm

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. Pollination services involve loading hundreds if not thousands of hives onto a tractor-trailer to drive the honeybees to the crop that needs pollinating. Almonds, Oranges, Dates, Blueberries are all monofloral crops that depend on bees. Honey that comes from monofloral crops is varietal honey. Melons, pumpkins, beans and many other crops benefit from honeybee pollination services. Pollinators benefit from pollinator gardens.

Bees on Raw beeswax out of the hive dripping with honey photo by Kirsten Elstner

You can taste the nectar source in every jar of honey. Orange blossom, Blueberry and clover honey, are lightly floral. Bamboo, Buckwheat, and Avocado are bold and strong. At our Honey House, we always compare honey to wine, where a Pinot Noir may be very light and a Cabernet Sauvignon very bold.

Wildflower Honey is called Artisanal honey a cross-section of random flowers. Spring Honey from Chesterhaven Beach Farm is considered Artisanal Honey.

A fun short from Melina Madara

Understanding Baking the Art and Science of Baking Third Edition. Joseph Amendola and Nicole Rees.

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About the Author


Kara waxes about the bees, creates and tests recipes with her friend Joyce, and does her best to share what she’s learned and continues to learn about the bees, honey, ingredients we use and more.

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