Honey is collected from wild bee colonies or from domesticated beehives. On average, a hive will produce about 29 kilograms (65 lb) of honey per year.
Wild bee nests are sometimes located by following a honeyguide bird.
To safely collect honey from a hive, beekeepers typically pacify the bees using a bee smoker. The smoke triggers a feeding instinct (an attempt to save the resources of the hive from a possible fire), making them less aggressive, and obscures the pheromones the bees use to communicate.
Before the invention of removable frames, bee colonies were often sacrificed to conduct the harvest. The harvester would take all the available honey and replace the entire colony the next spring.
Since the invention of removable frames, the principles of husbandry led most beekeepers to ensure that their bees have enough stores to survive the winter, either by leaving some honey in the beehive or by providing the colony with a honey substitute such as sugar water or crystalline sugar (often in the form of a “candyboard”).
The amount of food necessary to survive the winter depends on the variety of bees and on the length and severity of local winters.
Many animal species are attracted to wild or domestic sources of honey.
Because of its composition and chemical properties, honey is suitable for long-term storage, and is easily assimilated even after long preservation.
Honey, and objects immersed in honey, have been preserved for centuries. The key to preservation is limiting access to humidity.
In its cured state, honey has a sufficiently high sugar content to inhibit fermentation. If exposed to moist air, its hydrophilic properties pull moisture into the honey, eventually diluting it to the point that fermentation can begin.
The long shelf life of honey is attributed to an enzyme found in the stomach of bees.
The bees mix glucose oxidase with expelled nectar they previously consumed, creating two byproducts – gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide, which are partially responsible for honey acidity and suppression of bacterial growth.
Honey is sometimes adulterated by the addition of other sugars, syrups, or compounds to change its flavor or viscosity, reduce cost, or increase the fructose content to stave off crystallization.
Adulteration of honey has been practiced since ancient times, when honey was sometimes blended with plant syrups such as maple, birch, or sorghum and sold to customers as pure honey.
Sometimes crystallized honey was mixed with flour or other fillers, hiding the adulteration from buyers until the honey was liquefied. In modern times the most common adulterant became clear, almost-flavorless corn syrup; the adulterated mixture can be very difficult to distinguish from pure honey.
According to the Codex Alimentarius of the United Nations, any product labeled as “honey” or “pure honey” must be a wholly natural product, although labeling laws differ between countries.
In the United States, according to the National Honey Board (NHB; supervised by the United States Department of Agriculture),“honey stipulates a pure product that does not allow for the addition of any other substance… this includes, but is not limited to, water or other sweeteners”.
Isotope ratio mass spectrometry can be used to detect addition of corn syrup and cane sugar by the carbon isotopic signature.
Addition of sugars originating from corn or sugar cane (C4 plants, unlike the plants used by bees, and also sugar beet, which are predominantly C3 plants) skews the isotopic ratio of sugars present in honey, but does not influence the isotopic ratio of proteins.
In an unadulterated honey, the carbon isotopic ratios of sugars and proteins should match. Levels as low as 7% of addition can be detected.
|Production of natural honey – 2018|
In 2018, global production of honey was 1.9 million tonnes, led by China with 24% of the world total (table). Other major producers were Turkey, Argentina, and Iran.