History: Thanks to Winnie the Pooh, most of us know that honey is made from bees. But, how do they do it? Bees have a proboscis (think tongue), which is used to collect pollen and nectar. This is then stored in their “honey stomachs.” When filled, the stomach weighs as much as the bee itself (about 70mg of nectar). A bee must visit anywhere from 100 to 1,500 flowers to fill their “honey stomach.”
A bee returning back to the hive offloads their honey by allowing other worker bees to suck it from them. Then, the bee regurgitates by chewing the nectar. While it chews for half an hour, the nectar mixes with protein and enzymes, which breaks down the complex sugar to a simple sugar. Now, this makes it easier for bees to digest (remember, honey is a food source) and also makes the honey less likely to be attacked by bacteria (hence the long shelf life).
After 30 minutes of “chewing,” the bees deposit the honey into a cell wall of the honey comb. Seen in the photo above, each hexagon shape is a cell wall of the honey comb. At this point, water makes up 80% of the honey. The bees want it to be at 14-18 % so they fan the honey with their wings to speed up the evaporation process. When they’re done, they seal off the cell with a plug of wax. In the far right corner of the picture below you’ll notice white plugs. The rest in the middle is the honeycomb which has just been finished straining.
To extract honey from a comb, most beekeepers use a centrifuge. The one depicted below holds 6 panels. Unplugged comb panels are placed inside. Once the centrifuge starts up, the honey is flung along the sides of the centrifuge, which slowly drips and collects at the bottom.
Raw honey: This was my way of depicting honey and characterizing it by what it means to me. Typically we envision overproduction of honey from a hive, dripping out. Enter, Winnie the Pooh sticking his paw in, and honey dripping out on the sides. The type of honey shown above is raw honey, meaning it is minimally processed and extracted from the comb without using heat. Raw honey contains small amounts of pollen and wax. Allergy sufferers desire raw honey, since the hints of pollen may lessen the severity of the hay fever.
Food uses: Honey is used primarily in beverages (mixed with lemon and tea), as a bread spread, or even as a complement to cheese. It is also a commonly used ingredient for baking. The previous examples are cases where the person eating can distinctly taste the honey. Of course, honey is an ingredient in many other dishes where it might be more difficult for the taste buds to pick up.
What do you use honey for? List your comments below along with your favorite honey recipe (whether or not honey is the dominant finalized flavor).
Thank you for reading!