Honey is a sweet, viscous food substance made by honey bees and some related insects.

Bees produce honey from the sugary secretions of plants (floral nectar) or from secretions of other insects (such as honeydew), by regurgitation, enzymatic activity, and water evaporation. Bees store honey in wax structures called honeycombs.

The variety of honey produced by honey bees (the genus Apis) is the best-known, due to its worldwide commercial production and human consumption.

Honey is collected from wild bee colonies, or from hives of domesticated bees, a practice known as beekeeping or apiculture.

Honey gets its sweetness from the monosaccharides fructose and glucose, and has about the same relative sweetness as sucrose (table sugar).

It has attractive chemical properties for baking and a distinctive flavor when used as a sweetener.Most microorganisms do not grow in honey, so sealed honey does not spoil, even after thousands of years.

Fifteen millilitres (1 US tablespoon) of honey provides around 190 kilojoules (46 kilocalories) of food energy.

French honey from different floral sources, with visible differences in color and texture

Honey use and production have a long and varied history as an ancient activity. Several cave paintings in Cuevas de la Araña in Spain depict humans foraging for honey at least 8,000 years ago.

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Formation

A honey bee on calyx of goldenrod with its proboscis extended

 

Honeycomb displaying hexagonal prismatic wax cells in which honey bees store honey

Honey is produced by bees collecting nectar and honeydew for use as sugars consumed to support metabolism of muscle activity during foraging or to be stored as a long-term food supply.

During foraging, bees access part of the nectar collected to support metabolic activity of flight muscles, with the majority of collected nectar destined for regurgitation, digestion, and storage as honey.

In cold weather or when other food sources are scarce, adult and larval bees use stored honey as food.

By contriving for bee swarms to nest in human-made hives, people have been able to semidomesticate the insects and harvest excess honey. In the hive or in a wild nest, the three types of bees are:

Leaving the hive, a foraging bee collects sugar-rich flower nectar, sucking it through its proboscis and placing it in its proventriculus (honey stomach or crop), which lies just dorsal to its food stomach.

The honey stomach holds about 40 mg of nectar, or roughly 50% of the bee’s unloaded weight, which can require over a thousand flowers and more than an hour to fill. The nectar generally begins with a water content of 70 to 80%.

Salivary enzymes and proteins from the bee’s hypopharyngeal gland are added to the nectar to begin breaking down the sugars, raising the water content slightly.

The forager bees then return to the hive, where they regurgitate and transfer nectar to the hive bees. The hive bees then use their honey stomachs to ingest and regurgitate the nectar, forming bubbles between their mandibles repeatedly until it is partially digested.

The bubbles create a large surface area per volume and a portion of the water is removed through evaporation.

Bee digestive enzymes hydrolyze sucrose to a mixture of glucose and fructose, and break down other starches and proteins, increasing the acidity.

The bees work together as a group with the regurgitation and digestion for as long as 20 minutes, passing the nectar from one bee to the next, until the product reaches the honeycombs in storage quality.

It is then placed in honeycomb cells and left unsealed while still high in water content (about 50 to 70%) and natural yeasts which, unchecked, would cause the sugars in the newly formed honey to ferment.

Bees are among the few insects that can generate large amounts of body heat, and the hive bees constantly regulate the hive temperature, either heating with their bodies or cooling with water evaporation, to maintain a fairly constant temperature of about 35 °C (95 °F) in the honey-storage areas.

The process continues as hive bees flutter their wings constantly to circulate air and evaporate water from the honey to a content around 18%, raising the sugar concentration beyond the saturation point and preventing fermentation.

The bees then cap the cells with wax to seal them.As removed from the hive by a beekeeper, honey has a long shelf life and will not ferment if properly sealed.

Some wasp species, such as Brachygastra lecheguana and Brachygastra mellifica found in South and Central America, are known to feed on nectar and produce honey.

Some wasps, such as Polistes versicolor, consume honey, alternating between feeding on pollen in the middle of their lifecycles and feeding on honey, which can better provide for their energy needs.

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