About Honey

Nutrition:

Honey is a mixture of sugars and other compounds. With respect to carbohydrates, honey is mainly fructose (about 38.5%) and glucose (about 31.0%), making it similar to the synthetically produced inverted sugar syrup which is approximately 48% fructose, 47% glucose, and 5% sucrose.

Honey’s remaining carbohydrates include maltose, sucrose, and other complex carbohydrates. Honey contains trace amounts of several vitamins and minerals. As with all nutritive sweeteners, honey is mostly sugars and is not a significant source of vitamins or minerals. Honey also contains tiny amounts of several compounds thought to function as antioxidants, including chrysin, pinobanksin, vitamin C, catalase, and pinocembrin.

The specific composition of any batch of honey will depend largely on the mix of flowers available to the bees that produced the honey. Typical honey analysis: Fructose: 38.5% Glucose: 31.0% Sucrose: 1.0% Water: 17.0% Other sugars: 9.0% (maltose, melezitose) Ash: 0.17% Other: 3.38%

Honey has a density of about 1.36 kilograms per liter (36% denser than water). The best honey is in the uncut honey combs. After being pumped out from there it is very vulnerable, and the main losses of quality take place during preservation and distribution. Heating up to 37°C causes loss of nearly 200 components, part of which are antibacterial. Heating up to 40°C destroys the invertase—the main bee enzyme, thanks to which the nectar becomes honey; heating up to 50°C turns the honey into caramel (the most valuable honey sugars become analogous to synthetic sugar).

Generally any larger temperature fluctuation (10°C is ideal for preservation of ripe honey) causes decay.

Formation:

Honey is created by bees as a food source. In cold weather or when food sources are scarce, bees use their stored honey as their source of energy. By manipulating bee swarms to nest in artificial hives, people have been able to semi-domesticate the insects, and harvest excess honey.

In the hive the bees use their “honey stomachs” to ingest and regurgitate the nectar a number of times until it is partially digested. The bees work together as a group with the regurgitation and digestion until the product reaches a desired quality. It is then stored in honeycomb cells. After the final regurgitation, the honeycomb is left unsealed. However, the nectar is still high in both water content and natural yeasts which, unchecked, would cause the sugars in the nectar to ferment.

The process continues as bees inside the hive fan their wings, creating a strong draft across the honeycomb which enhances evaporation of much of the water from the nectar. This reduction in water content raises the sugar concentration and prevents fermentation, then the bees cap the honeycomb cells. Ripe honey, as removed from the hive by a beekeeper, has a long shelf life and will not ferment if properly sealed.

Preservation and Strorage:

Because of its unique composition and the complex processing of nectar by the bees which changes its chemical properties, honey is suitable for long term storage and is easily assimilated even after long preservation.

Honey should not be preserved in metal containers, because the acids in the honey may promote oxidation of the vessel. This leads to increased content of heavy metals in honey, decreases the amount of nutrients, and may lead to stomach discomfort or even poisoning.

Traditionally honey was stored in ceramic or wooden containers, however glass and plastic are now the favored material. While ceramic vessels are still a viable option, honey stored in wooden containers may be discolored or take on flavors imparted from the vessel.

Traditionally honey was preserved in deep cellars, but not together with wine or other products. As honey has a strong tendency to absorb outside smells and moisture, it is advisable to keep it in clean, hermetically sealed vessels. For the same reasons, it is not advisable to preserve honey uncovered in a refrigerator, especially together with other foods and products.

It is also advisable to keep it in opaque vessels, or stored in a dark place. Optimal preservation temperature is +4 to +10 °C (39 to 50 °F). Honey should be stored in a dark, dry place, preventing it from absorbing any moisture. If excessive moisture is absorbed by the honey, it can ferment. When conventional preservation methods are applied, it is not recommended to preserve the honey for longer than 2 (maximum 3) years.

Mead:

Mead is a typically alcoholic beverage, made from honey and water via fermentation with yeast. Its alcoholic content may range from that of a mild ale to that of a strong wine. It may be still, carbonated, or sparkling. It may be dry, semi-sweet, or sweet. Depending on local traditions and specific recipes, it may be brewed with spices, fruits, or grain mash. It may be produced by fermentation of honey with grain mash; mead may also, like beer, be flavored with hops to produce a bitter, beer-like flavor. Mead is independently multicultural. It is known from many sources of ancient history throughout Europe, Africa and Asia, although archaeological evidence of it is ambiguous.

Ye Olde Mead Recipe:

Take of spring water what quantity you please, and make it more than blood-warm, and dissolve honey in it till ’tis strong enough to bear an egg, the breadth of a shilling; then boil it gently near an hour, taking off the scum as it rises; then put to about nine or ten gallons seven or eight large blades of mace, three nutmegs quartered, twenty cloves, three or four sticks of cinnamon, two or three roots of ginger, and a quarter of an ounce of Jamaica pepper; put these spices into the kettle to the honey and water, a whole lemon, with a sprig of sweet-briar and a sprig of rosemary; tie the briar and rosemary together, and when they have boiled a little while take them out and throw them away; but let your liquor stand on the spice in a clean earthen pot till the next day; then strain it into a vessel that is fit for it; put the spice in a bag, and hang it in the vessel, stop it, and at three months draw it into bottles. Be sure that ’tis fine when ’tis bottled; after ’tis bottled six weeks ’tis fit to drink.

Organic Honey:

Certified Organic Honey is honey or honey combs produced, processed, and packaged in accordance with national regulations, and certified as such by some government body or an independent organic farming certification organisation. In the United Kingdom, the standard covers not only the origin of bees, but also the siting of the apiaries. These must be on land that is certified as organic, and within a radius of 4 miles from the apiary site, nectar and pollen sources must consist essentially of organic crops or uncultivated areas.

According to TheOrganicReport.com, organic honey is quite scarce to find because most beekeepers “routinely use sulfa compounds and antibiotics to control bee diseases, carbolic acid to remove honey from the hive, and calcium cyanide to kill colonies before extracting the honey, not to mention that conventional honeybees gather nectar from plants that have been sprayed with pesticides.”

Processing Variety:

  • Crystallized honey is honey in which some of the glucose content has spontaneously crystallized from solution as the monohydrate. Also called “granulated honey.”
  • Pasteurised honey is honey that has been heated in a pasteurization process.Pasteurisation in honey reduces the moisture level, destroys yeast cells, and liquefies crystals in the honey. While this process sterilizes the honey and improves shelf-life, it has some disadvantages. Excessive heat-exposure also results in product deterioration, as it increases the level of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) and reduces enzyme (e.g. diastase) activity. The heat also affects appearance, taste, and fragrance. Heat processing can also darken the natural honey color (browning). Heat-treatment can effectively reduce moisture reduction, reduce and delay crystallisation, and destroy yeast cells completely, it does also result in product deterioration. The heating increases the level of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) considerably. The maximum permissible statutory level of HMF is 40mg/kg. Furthermore, heating reduces enzyme (e.g. diastase) activity and affects sensory qualities and reduces the freshness of the honey.
  • Raw honey is honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat above 120 °F. Raw honey contains some pollen and may contain small particles of wax. Local raw honey is sought after by allergy sufferers as the pollen impurities are thought to lessen the sensitivity to hay fever.
  • Strained honey is honey which has been passed through a mesh material to remove particulate material (pieces of wax, propolis, other defects) without removing pollen, minerals or valuable enzymes.
  • Ultrafiltered honey is honey processed by very fine filtration under high pressure to remove all extraneous solids and pollen grains. The process typically heats honey to 150–170 °F to more easily pass through the fine filter. Ultrafiltered honey is very clear and has a longer shelf life, because it crystallizes more slowly because of the high temperatures breaking down any sugar seed crystals, making it preferred by the supermarket trade. The heating process degrades certain qualities of the honey similar to the aforementioned pasteurization process.
  • Ultrasonicated honey is honey that has been processed by ultrasonication, a non-thermal processing alternative for honey. When honey is exposed to ultrasonication, most of the yeast cells are destroyed. Yeast cells that survive sonication generally lose their ability to grow. This reduces the rate of honey fermentation substantially. Ultrasonication also eliminates existing crystals and inhibits further crystallization in honey. Ultrasonically aided liquefaction can work at substantially lower temperatures of approx. 35 °C and can reduce liquefaction time to less than 30 seconds. As a non-thermal processing technology, it causes lower HMF increase and better retention of diastase, aroma and flavor. Also because less thermal energy is needed, the application of ultrasound helps to save processing costs when compared to conventional heating and cooling.
  • Whipped honey, also called creamed honey, spun honey, churned honey, candied honey, and honey fondant, is honey that has been processed to control crystallization. Whipped honey contains a large number of small crystals in the honey. The small crystals prevent the formation of larger crystals that can occur in unprocessed honey. The processing also produces a honey with a smooth spreadable consistency.

Manuka Honey:

Manuka honey is produced by honeybees which gather nectar from the flowers of wild Manuka bushes that are indigenous to New Zealand. This particular honey is distinctively flavoured, with a rich taste and dark appearance. Although all types of honey contain hydrogen peroxide (particularly known for its antibacterial properties), Professor

Peter Molan of the Honey Research Centre at Waikato University in New Zealand has undertaken extensive research into maunka honey and believes it contains unique properties which provide additional support to the body’s natural healing process.

Molan’s research has shown that manuka honey has a high antibacterial potency which heals a range of conditions, from external skin infections to aiding digestion. Molan has also shown that manuka honey can help to fight throat infections and reduce gum disease. When eaten regularly it can aid memory, increase energy levels, improve well-being and reduce feelings of anxiety.

Well being elixir:

Honey is an all-round healing elixir which can promote general health and well-being. A daily dose of honey, whether as a sweetener in hot drinks, by the spoonful or spread on toast, will boost the body’s supply of antioxidants – essential for protecting the body against free radicals. Flush out your system and give yourself a daily boost with this cleansing tonic: mix a spoonful or two of honey and the juice of half a lemon into a cup of hot water and drink each morning before breakfast.

Honey Energy Boost:

Next time you go to the gym, have a spoonful of honey beforehand. Honey is a source of natural unrefined sugars and carbohydrates, which are easily absorbed by the body, providing an instant energy boost with long-lasting effects. For this reason, many athletes include honey in their daily diets. It was even used by runners in the original Olympic Games in ancient Greece.

Homemade Cough and Cold Remedy:

Honey is widely used as a complementary remedy for the relief of the symptoms of colds, coughs, sore throats and flu. For a sore throat, take it on its own or gargle with a mixture of two tablespoons of set honey, four tablespoons of cider vinegar and a pinch of salt.

A traditional drink made from hot water, lemon juice and honey will help to soothe cold and flu symptoms. Adding a little eucalyptus oil or root ginger will help to ease congestion and, to help enhance sleep, try a drop of whiskey in the mixture.

A home made cough mixture can be achieved by mixing roughly chopped onion with honey, let it sit like this for 24 hours. Strain out the chunks of onion using a colander or a metal grid from the grill. The resulting onion infused honey can be used to treat coughs!

Treating Cuts and Grazes:

Honey is a mild antiseptic and can help to keep external wounds, such as cuts and minor burns, clean and free from infection. By absorbing the moisture around the wound, honey can help to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Digestion Healer:

It was the Romans who first discovered the beneficial effects of honey on digestive disorders when they would prescribe honey as a mild laxative. Funnily enough, honey has also been used as a treatment for diarrhoea. The principle behind these theories is that honey is believed to help destroy certain bacteria in the gut by acting as a ‘preserving’ agent.

Better Baking with Honey:

You can use honey in cooking instead of sugar. Because it is sweeter than sugar, you need to use less.

If you are experimenting with honey in a recipe, try replacing half the sugar with honey as the flavour can be very strong. Honey is hygroscopic (meaning it attracts water) so it is good for baking cakes as it keeps them moister for longer. Look on our recipe pages for some delicious recipes using honey.

What flavours honey:

Honey is produced all over the world, from the heat of the tropics to the crisp cold of Scandinavia, Canada and Siberia. The warm climate of equatorial countries allows honey to be produced for most of the year, whilst beekeepers in Finland have a short season of just 2-3 weeks each year!

The distinct aroma, flavour and colour is determined by the type of flower from which the bee collects the nectar. Some honey closely mimics the characteristics of the herb or tree whose flower the bee has visited, such as Orange Blossom and Lime Blossom, or Rosemary and Thyme. Most honey comes from bees foraging on many different floral sources, and are known as polyfloral. However some plants provide enough nectar during their short flowering season, and are so irresistible to the local bee population, that a hive can yield honey from one single type of flower.

This honey, known as monofloral, is keenly sought by beekeepers. Here in Britain, honey is produced primarily for the local market. With over 35,000 beekeepers throughout the country harvesting honey from Apple Blossom, Cherry Blossom, Hawthorn, Lime Blossom, Dandelion, and the more popular and commercially viable Borage and Heather; an excellent range of different honey types are available on our own doorstep. The beekeeper also plays an important role in the pollination of fruit crops, and he travels for miles with his bees in a season to help pollinate plants and trees that produce the fruit we see in our supermarkets.

Unfortunately production in Britain is limited due to the unpredictable climate in this country. In a normal year around 4,000 tonnes is produced in Britain, but we consume over 25,000 tonnes per year spread on bread, in cereals, in baking and cooking, or simply by the spoonful! Fortunately, this demand is met thanks to areas of the world with longer production seasons, and a surplus of honey available to trade. This also introduces us to a whole new range of aromas and exotic flavours from different parts of the world.