Midnite Bee-Beekeeper's: October 2000
As I listen to people
talk about honey, particularly when they are trying to sell some of their crop,
I am appalled at how little people seem to know about their product. Hence,
I thought you should know the answers to some of the questions that often are
asked, as well as showing your interest in helping a customer by telling them
things they should know.
1) HOW IS HONEY
MADE, AND WHAT DOES THE BEEKEEPER HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
Unless you are a chemist,
you think that sugar is that white powder in the sugar bowl on your table. You
are right, since table sugar is chemically the di-saccharide, SUCROSE. However,
there are many, many different sugars, some very complex poly-saccharides; and
others are simple mono-saccharide like glucose and fructose; and strangely,
some are sweeter than others. The nectar of a flower from a plant, tree, or
shrub is primarily 80%-90% water and the di-saccharide chemical, sucrose. A
honey bee's stomach emits an enzyme, invertase, that chemically breaks down
the di-saccharide into two different monosaccharides, GLUCOSE and FRUCTOSE.
After the worker bee adds the microscopic amount of invertase to the nectar
and evaporates the water concentration to only about 16-18% water, we now have
HONEY! Hence, honey consists of primarily two simple sugars, glucose and fructose
dissolved in about 16-18% water. Just like you might keep a food like orange
juice in a sealed bottle, the bee keeps the honey in a sealed wax comb that
they have made. The ONLY thing that a beekeeper does to the honey is remove
the combs of honey from the bees, cut off the wax cappings of the comb, drain
(extract) the honey from the comb, filter out any particles of wax and bottle
it - READY FOR YOU TO EAT! When I mention the enzyme, invertase, some people
get a little squeamish, but you should not; because your own body does exactly
the same thing with table sugar, sucrose. Your pancreas manufactures invertase,
and when you eat sugar, like in tea or candy, the invertase breaks that sucrose
down into glucose and fructose which is sometimes called "blood sugar" and is
found in your blood. I'll bet you did know how much we are like bees in handling
should be able to explain "How honey is made"!
2) HOW MUCH DOES
Since the density of honey
varies slightly with the percentage water that is in the honey, a "specific
gravity" figure cannot be given. However, for the most part, honey is half again
heavier than water. Hence, a 5 gallon can of honey contains 60 pounds of honey,
but it would only hold about 40 pounds of water. The 1 pound "queenline" honey
jar that we are familiar with holds 16 ounces of honey, but only about 1 1 ounces
of water. Old Timers used to sell honey in pint or quart Mason Jars (same as
"moonshine" whiskey), but a pint Mason jar contains about 24 ounces (1 1 /2
pounds) of honey which makes pricing difficult. It is always best to bottle
honey in 1 /2 lb., 1 lb., 2 lb., or 5 lb.
honey jars, just like we sell eggs by the dozen, and never just 10 or 15 eggs.
3) WHY DOES HONEY COME
IN DIFFERENT COLORS?
Although the nectar of
two different flowers of a plant like clover or buckwheat essentially consist
of maybe 85% water and
14% sucrose (sugar), that other 1 % or less has all kinds of many different
things in it, like minerals in tiny quantities. Dependent on what these different
minerals are as well as how much of them are present, such as sodium, calcium,
iron, or copper, etc. will determine the color of the honey. For example, clover
honey is a light amber color, whereas buckwheat honey coming from a tiny white
flower is almost pitch black in color, like old axle grease. Although not totally
true, generally one can say that "THE DARKER THE COLOR, THE STRONGER THE FLAVOR".
I don't want to start any arguments, but most beekeepers prefer the darker honeys
for their own eating and ignore the light colored honeys as "sweet like sugar
syrup, but little flavor". My favorite is Tulip Poplar, and it has a pronounced
reddish caste to its color in the bright sunlight.
Some foolish people
have said the "dark honey is OLD honey"
. They are WRONG!
4) WHY DOES HONEY
CRYSTALLIZE, GRANULATE, OR TURN TO SUGAR? HAS IT GONE BAD?
Almost all honey will crystallize
if left long enough with the exception of sage honey or tupelo honey. Honey
is composed of a mixture of glucose and fructose, and the relative percentage
of each determines whether it crystallizes slowly or rapidly. In nature, glucose
is normally found as a solid, whereas fructose is normally found as a liquid.
Hence, when a honey has a relatively high relationship of glucose to fructose,
the honey crystallizes quickly, like goldenrod honey or alfalfa honey. Oppositely,
honey that is lower in glucose compared to fructose tend to be quite slow to
crystallize, like tulip poplar or locust honey. Based on White et al in 1962,
the list below gives the relative speed of crystallization in
descending order of various honeys found in Maryland:
to Light Amber
Dark Amber to black
is the honey you get when you mix nectars from different floral
color of the rainbow
Amber to Amber
to Light Amber
Amber with reddish caste
Has water gone
"bad" when it freezes to ice? Of course not. Just warm the ice, and it turns
back to water. The same is true for crystallized honey, just warm it SLOWLY
in a double boiler to no more than 120° and you convert those solid crystals
to liquid honey again. Don't use a microwave oven, because you might burn the
5) WHERE IS THE
BEST PLACE TO KEEP
Well, the WORST place
is a temperature near 57deg F., because that is the temperature that Dr. Dyce
of Cornell University found was the absolutely best temperature to make honey
crystallize the fastest. Hence, probably the worst place around a home is in
the basement, garage, or outside shed. The best place to keep honey that is
being used often is in a sealed bear or jar sitting on a sunny table or on a
sunny shelf. If you want to keep honey for several weeks or months, put it in
your freezer and
keep it near 0°. NEVER PUT HONEY IN YOUR REFRIGERATOR! Make sure that you
tell your customer's to never put honey in a refrigerator, but a freezer is
6) HOW DO YOU EAT COMB
At my old age, that is
such a silly question, but people under about 50 years old ask it all the time,
or look at it as if it had "bugs" in it. During the Depression days of 1930-36
when many were unemployed, if you had a 60 hour/week
job, your pay was $5/week, a quart of milk delivered to you home was just 8cents,
buss fare all over Washington DC-was 3cents and double feature movies were 15cents.
Honey producers could not
afford to buy jars or an extractor, so almost all honey was sold as 4"x4" wooden
section comb honey for 25cents each if you were lucky.
You laid the section flat
on a dish, dipped into the wax comb with a fork or spoon, and spread it on hot
rolls, cornbread, toast, blueberry.muffins, or best of all - JUST RIGHT IN YOUR
MOUTH. The honey that dripped into the dish, you used to sweeten your tea or
lemonade or the sweetner to make fruitcake. Most everybody swallowed the wax,
and because it totally inert, you did not have to spend money for some fancy
cereal to "put bulk in your diet".
Chewing gum was 5cents
a package, so we used to call comb honey "poor man's chewing gum". I still love
to eat comb honey, but my dentures don't like it, because the wax sticks to
false teeth. You "ain't lived" until you just take a big bite of comb honey,
swirl the delectable honey around in your mouth, chew on the wax for the next
half hour, and then swallow. WOW! I also love to eat raw oysters - after all,
Maryland is Chesapeake Bay country, the "the land of pleasant living"! Now I
sell comb honey for $5.00/pound or a 3 ounce sample for $8.00/pound. How much
are you selling your honey for? Seeing a comb honey section of nice clean white
(not dirty yellow) wax reminds me of the prom queen dressed in a white satin
evening gown. Yum Yum!
7) DOES HONEY HAVE
ANY MEDICAL OR HEALTH USES?
You gotta be kidding! Didn't
your grandmother treat your sore throat with hot tea, lemon, and
honey? Mine did! Now, we have been taught to rely on antibiotics to cure everything
from too much flatulence to a hang nail. For centuries, in the days before guns,
when the sword was a major weapon, honey was known for its healing properties
and effective antimicrobial agent, and hence was used as a dressing for wounds
and burns. Germs have difficulty living in antimicrobial agents, and since honey
has relatively high acid content, pH about 4.0, and even the presence of a low
concentration of hydrogen peroxide, a dressing of honey promotes healing, helps
prevent scarring, and keeps a wound from adhering to a bandage.
No sense buying Neosporin
when there is plenty of honey around.
DOES EATING LOCAL HONEY
HELP ALLERGY (HAY FEVER) SUFFERERS?
Yes and no. If you are
allergic to the pollen of some flower visited by honey bees in their searches
for pollen or nectar, eating of the local honey from that area may desensitize
your immune system and hence, work like a vaccine. But if one gets hay fever
from some floral source that honey bees don't visit, eating all
the honey in the world will have no effect on that allergy. Recently, many of
us saw on television the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia with those sport
people "burning the candle at both ends" in energy consumption. It is amazing
how many of these athletes swallowed a teaspoon of honey just before their event
to get a sudden boost of energy, and many of the marathon racers by foot or
on bicycles added a teaspoon of honey to their water bottle, not because it
tasted good, but to give them "instant energy". Just "plain old sugar" won't
so that, because the body has to break this sucrose down into the simple
sugars glucose and fructose
(blood sugars) before it will provide energy to a human.
8) OTHER THAN "JUST
EATING IT", WHERE ELSE IS HONEY FOUND?
It is used as a topping
on biscuits, muffins, rolls, cornbread, and toast. It is a sweetner in tea,
barbecue sauces, and ham glazes. It is an ingredient when used in honey beers,
honey breads, honey cereals, honey mustards, honey salad dressings, honey cough
syrup, and honey-shampoo. Half of all the honey sold in the U. S. is used in
9) WHAT IS "CREAMED"
HONEY OR HONEY "SPREAD"?
First, let my say it is
NOT honey butter or 'spun" honey. Honey butter is honey mixed with butter and
"spun" honey is honey mixed with air and looks like a cobweb on a stick. As
previously said, all honeys will eventually crystallize except tupelo or sage
honey; but when they crystallize naturally, the crystals are large and coarse,
and feels like sand in your mouth.
A beekeeper selects some
of these large coarse crystals of a honey he likes, and GRINDS them with a pestle
in a mortar until they are a tiny, fine crystal almost like talcum powder. This
is used as the
seed to make a jar of selected honey crystallize into a "cream" or "spread"
of honey, whose crystals are tiny and not sharp.
About 2 ounces of this
ground "seed" honey is added to about to about 14 ounces of the honey you want
to make into honey spread, placed in a controlled temperature of 57deg; and
kept there about 10 days, and VOILA, you have a pound of honey spread. It is
100% honey - nothing has been added, nor anything removed!
Honey spread MUST be kept
at a temperature of less than about 70deg; or it will go right back to liquid
honey. Now if you want to get real fancy, you can flavor this honey spread with
cinnamon, strawberries or other tasty things. It may come as quite a surprise
to you, but outside the U.S., particularly in Europe, the great majority of
honey sold is honey spread rather than liquid honey. I love it, because it doesn't
drip and spill on your clothes, and it is so spreadable with a knife like peanut
butter, and I sell it for $5.00 per pound.
10) HOW DOES ONE
GET ALL CLOVER HONEY, OR ALL BUCKWHEAT HONEY, OR ALL TULIP POPLAR HONEY?
First and most important,
different nectar sources bloom at different times, e.g., Tulip poplar blooms
in May, clover blooms in June, and buckwheat blooms in August. In advance, you
find a farmer who plants these crops and ask his permission for you to set your
beehives in his fields during the bloom. Generally, he is delighted to get the
pollination of his crop done free by your bees. Sometimes, two different floral
sources might bloom a the same time. Then you have to be satisfied with the
one with giving the nectar with the highest sugar content, because that is where
the bees are going to select as long as the bloom produces.