Honey is a sweet and viscous fluid produced by honey bees (and some other species), and derived from the nectar of flowers. According to the United States National Honey Board and various international food regulations, "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". This article refers exclusively to the honey produced by honey bees (the genus Apis); honey produced by other bees or other insects has very different properties.
Honey gets its sweetness from the monosaccharides fructose and glucose and has approximately the same relative sweetness as granulated sugar (97% of the sweetness of sucrose, a disaccharide). Honey has attractive chemical properties for baking, and a distinctive flavor which leads some people to prefer it over sugar and other sweeteners.
Most micro-organisms do not grow in honey because of its low water activity of 0.6. However, it is important to note that honey frequently contains dormant endospores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can be dangerous to infants as the endospores can transform into toxin-producing bacteria in the infant's immature intestinal tract, leading to illness and even death (see Precautions below).
The study of pollens and spores in raw honey (melissopalynology) can determine floral sources of honey. Because bees carry an electrostatic charge, and can attract other particles, the same techniques of melissopalynology can be used in area environmental studies of radioactive particles, dust, or particulate pollution.
The beekeeper encourages overproduction of honey within the hive so that the excess can be taken without endangering the bees. When sources of foods for the bees are short the beekeeper may have to give the bees supplementary nutrition.
Typical honey analysis
Different monofloral honeys have a distinctive flavor and colour because of differences between their principal nectar sources. Beekeepers keep monofloral beehives in an area where the bees have access to only one type of flower, because of that flower's properties. In practice, because of the difficulties in containing bees, a small proportion of any honey will be from additional nectar from other flower types. Typical examples of monofloral or varietal honeys are "orange blossom", "sage", "eucalyptus", "tupelo", "manuka", "buckwheat", "sourwood", and "clover".
Germany's Black Forest is a well known source of honeydew-based honeys, as well as some regions in Bulgaria. Honeydew honey is popular in some areas, but in many areas beekeepers have difficulty selling the stronger flavored product.
Honeydew honey has a much larger proportion of indigestibles than light floral honeys, which can cause dysentery, resulting in the death of colonies in areas with cold winters. Good beekeeping management requires the removal of honeydew prior to winter in colder areas.
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 preservation and is easily assimilated even after long conservation. History knows examples of honey preservation for decades, and even centuries. "...small residues of edible honey have even been found in the pharaoh's tombs…
A number of special prerequisites are, however, necessary to achieve the conservation periods of this order. These might include sealing the product in vessels of chosen material, kept in a favorable environment of specific humidity, temperature etc. An example of natural sealing of the honey with wax by the bees in little separated honey comb cells could be taken for reference.
When conventional preservation methods are applied, it is not recommended to preserve the honey for longer than 2 (maximum 3) years. As honey has a strong tendency to absorb outside smells, it is advisable to keep it in clean, hermetically sealed vessels. It is also advisable to keep it in darkened (not lucid) vessels, or in dark store-places. When honey remains in direct sunlight for about one day its lysozyme (an antibacterial albuminous enzyme) is destroyed. Honey should also be protected from oxygen inflow, which brings about accelerated crystallization. Optimal preservation temperature is +4 – 10 °C. The store-place should be dark and dry, preventing the honey from absorbing any moisture. If excessive moisture is soaked up by the honey, it might start fermenting. "Bee honey can absorb the moisture from the air; therefore it might ferment in a damp place"
"Exposure to fresh air brings about the soaking up of external smells, oxygen and moisture, which cause fundamental chemical change of the product—decay of valuable amino acids, vitamins, enzymes and "antibiotics". The light has a similar influence."
Acacia honey is known to be more resistant to crystallization. "The acacia honey would not crystallize (as quick as other types)…
For the aforementioned reasons (high tendency to absorb outside smells and moisture), it is not advisable to preserve honey uncovered in a refrigerator, especially together with other foods and products Honey is considered to gradually become toxic when preserved in metal containers. "Honey must not be preserved in metal containers, because the acids contained in its structure may cause oxidation. This leads to increased content of heavy metals in honey and decreases the amount of valuable healthy ingredients. Such a honey may cause obnoxious sensations in the stomach and even bring about a poisoning… It used to be preserved in ceramic and wooden containers in ancient times. Glass bottles are recommended nowadays. "The wooden vessels of coniferous wood are not suitable for honey preservation (honey soaks up the coniferous smell in such vessels). In the oak wood vessels honey grows black."
Traditionally honey was preserved in deep cellars, but not together with wine or other products. It is considered even more sensitive to the store-place conditions than the best wines.
Honey should not be heated above 40°С (104°F).
"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°С causes loss of nearly 200 components, part of which are antibacterial. Heating up to 40°С destroys the invertase—the main bee enzyme, thanks to which the nectar becomes honey; heating up to 50°С turns the honey into caramel (the most valuable honey sugars become analogous to synthetic sugar). Generally any larger temperature fluctuation (10°С is ideal for preservation of ripe honey) causes decay."
The honey should not lay down in layers. If this is a case, it indicates the excessive humidity (over 20%) of the product, and such a honey would not be suitable for long term preservation.
A fluffy thin layer on the surface of the honey (like a white foam), or marble-coloured and white spots in crystallized honey at the wallsides of the bottle are caused by filling of liquid honey with subsequent sealing—the air bubbles are surfacing and part of them is concentrated at the wallsides. This is an indication of a high quality honey, which was filled without pasteurization (heating).
If the honey is transparent, burning with amber-like colours, then (unless it is very fresh) it has most likely been heated. Transparent and reluctant to thicken honey can also indicate its being a result of feeding the bees with sugar syrup or even sugar itself, which is bad both for the bees and for the honey they produce, as naturally they are supposed to feed on flower nectar.
A true honey that is at least one month old is usually of demure (not translucent) colours.
A 2008 Italian study determined that nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy can be used to distinguish between different honey types, and can be used to pinpoint the area where it was produced. Researchers were able to identify differences in acacia and polyfloral honeys by the differing proportions of fructose and sucrose, as well as differing levels of aromatic amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine. This ability allows greater ease of selecting compatible stocks.
In Jewish tradition, honey is a symbol for the new year—Rosh Hashana. At the traditional meal for that holiday, apple slices are dipped in honey and eaten to bring a sweet new year. Some Rosh Hashana greetings show honey and an apple, symbolizing the feast. In some congregations, small straws of honey are given out to usher in the new year.
In some parts of Greece, it was formerly the custom for a bride to dip her fingers in honey and make the sign of the cross before entering her new home. This was meant to ensure sweetness in her married life, especially in her relationship with her mother-in-law.
In the accounts of the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I, one hundred pots of honey were equivalent in value to an ass or an ox. Ancient Egyptian and Middle-Eastern peoples also used honey for embalming the dead.
Scythians, and later the other Central Asian nomadic people, for many months drove a wagon with a deceased ruler around the country in their last rites mourning procession, carrying the body in a casket filled with honey.
"Honey", along with variations like "honey bun" and "honeypot" and the abbreviation "hon", has become a term of endearment in most of the English-speaking world. In some places it is used for loved ones; in others, such as the American South, it is used when addressing casual acquaintances or even strangers.
"And thy Lord taught the bee to build its cells in hills, on trees and in (men's) habitations…there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is healing for mankind. Verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought".There is an entire Surah in Qur'an called al-Nahl (the Bees). According to hadith, Muhammad(S.A.W) strongly recommended honey for healing purposes.
Honey is the main ingredient in the alcoholic beverage mead, which is also known as "honey wine" or "honey beer" (although it is neither wine nor beer). It is also used as an adjunct in beer. Beer brewed with more than 30% honey as a source of sugar by weight, or mead brewed with malt (with or without hops), is known as braggot. Modern microbrews of this style typically call their product "honey beer" instead, however, as "braggot" is an unfamiliar word to most English speakers.
Its glycemic index ranges from 31 to 78 depending on the variety. (http://www.rirdc.gov.au/reports/HBE/05-027.pdf)
When used topically (as, for example, a wound dressing), hydrogen peroxide is produced by dilution with body fluids. As a result, hydrogen peroxide is released slowly and acts as an antiseptic.
Honey has been shown to be an effective treatment for conjunctivitis in rats.
Though widely believed to alleviate allergies, local honey has been shown to be no more effective than placebos in controlled studies of ocular allergies. This may be because most seasonal allergies are caused by tree and grass pollens, which honeybees do not collect. However, a recent study has shown pollen collected by bees to exert an anti allergenic effect, mediated by an inhibition of IgE immunoglobulin binding to mast cells. This inhibited mast cell degranulation and thus reduced allergic reaction.
A review in the Cochrane Library suggests that honey could reduce the time it takes for a burn to heal - up to four days sooner in some cases. The review included 19 studies with 2,554 participants. Although the honey treatment healed moderate burns faster than traditional dressings did, the author recommends viewing the findings with caution, since a single researcher performed all of the burn studies.
In 2005, China, Turkey, and the U.S. were the top producers of natural honey, reports the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Mexico is also an important producer of honey, providing about ten percent of the world's supply. Much of this (about one-third) comes from the Yucatan peninsula. Honey production began here when the Apis mellifera and the A. Mellifer ligustica were introduced here early in the 20th century. Most of Mexico's Yucatan producers are small, family operations who use primitive techniques, moving hives to take advantage of the various tropical and sub-tropical flowers. The honey-producing cycle depends on the rainy season. The first and best harvest takes place in the dry season between February and May. Many species flower at this time. After the rainy season begins, there are still plenty of flowers but the bees have a difficult time traveling for nectar and producing the honey because of the weather conditions. Bees may not make enough for sale and what may be produced is of lower-quality.
Honey produced from the flowers of rhododendrons, mountain laurels, sheep laurel, and azaleas may cause honey intoxication. Symptoms include dizziness, weakness, excessive perspiration, nausea, and vomiting. Less commonly, low blood pressure, shock, heart rhythm irregularities, and convulsions may occur, with rare cases resulting in death. Honey intoxication is more likely when using "natural" unprocessed honey and honey from farmers who may have a small number of hives. Commercial processing, with pooling of honey from numerous sources generally dilutes any toxins.
Toxic honey may also result when bees are in close proximity to tutu bushes (Coriaria arborea) and the vine hopper insect (Scolypopa australis). Both are found throughout New Zealand. Bees gather honeydew produced by the vine hopper insects feeding on the tutu plant. This introduces the poison tutin into honey. Only a few areas in New Zealand (Coromandel Peninsula, Eastern Bay of Plenty and the Marlborough Sound) frequently produce toxic honey. Symptoms of tutin poisoning include vomiting, delirium, giddiness, increased excitability, stupor, coma, and violent convulsions. As little as one teaspoon of toxic honey may produce severe effects in humans. In order to reduce the risk of tutin poisoning, humans should not eat honey taken from feral hives in the risk areas of New Zealand. Since December 2001, New Zealand beekeepers have been required to reduce the risk of producing toxic honey by closely monitoring tutu, vine hopper, and foraging conditions within 3 km of their apiary.
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