Bees, Beeswax and Honey

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

It’s fascinating to think that the honeybee has 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

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.

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

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 more readily than fructose; and because the glucose level in honey is close to the saturation point, raw honey is also 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 sweeter than store-bought 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.  Read more on crystallized honey

Bees food on chesterhaven beach farm
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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 honey 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.

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

About the Author

kara

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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