Back to Basics: The Ultimate Newbie Guide to Honey

How Bees Make Honey
Honey 101

Everybody knows that honey came from bees and that it tastes sweet and delicious. It is also a known fact that it’s the perfect sweetener for teas and toast but, are you absolutely sure that you know everything there is to know about this golden liquid?

If it is your first time to truly appreciate honey, then read on to know more about it.

How It All Began

The history of honey goes back as far as the biblical times, when Israel was described as “the land of milk and honey”. While this could only be a metaphorical statement, a recent archaeological discovery showed proof that indeed the first apiary or beehive colony can be traced to this period. According to experts, it is believed to be in existence since the 10th to 9th centuries BCE.

The earliest signs of beekeeping may have started in 2400 BC in Cairo where ancient Egyptians used it as a sweetener, tribute to their gods, and used as a part of their embalming fluid. The liquid gold was a symbol of the royalty and the rich.

Honey is even used as a form of currency dating as early as 11th century AD where German peasants used it to pay their feudal lords.

After being a hit in Europe, the honey bees made it to North America through the European settlers during the 17th century. However, it was said that the Native Americans could have collected wild honey from bee hives although there are no historical evidence unearthed to prove this claim.

How Bees Make Honey

It starts with the extraction of nectar from flowers by a honey bee, which it stores inside its extra stomach. In here, the nectar mixes with the bee’s enzymes to transform its pH level and chemical composition, making it plausible for long-term storage.

Only honey bees are capable of producing honey and a worker bee can gather about 70 milligrams of nectar in one trip which is equivalent to more or less 1500 flowers.

Once the conversion is complete, the moisture is then removed through evaporation using the bee’s wings. It is then reduced to the sticky substance everyone loves.

The beekeepers then collect the honeycomb, scrapes the wax caps off, then extract the honey to be sold in the market all-over the world.

How Honey Varietals are Determined

The characteristics of the produced depend on the type of flowers where the nectar was gathered from. If the nectar comes from an orange blossom, then the end product will taste somewhat like oranges.

There are over 300 unique varieties of honey available in the US alone and some of these are:

  • Avocado – taken from the avocado blossoms in California, this type of honey has a rich, buttery flavor and wonderful dark color. It is usually used in making wonderful salad dressings and sauces.
  • Basswood – found widely spread in Southern Canada, Alabama, and Texas, this variety is often distinguished by its unique biting flavor, strong smell, and water-white color.
  • Clover – also known as the most popular and typical honey, it is commonly found ready to serve in most households. However, this flavor has several varieties within its species so the honey produced also varies. There are white clover, yellow sweet clover, and even alsike clover to name a few.
  • Eucalyptus – this type of honey is usually bold in flavor with a slight medicine-like aftertaste. It is best used in sauces, dressings, and baked goodies.
  • Sage – typically found in the Californian coast and Sierra Nevada Mountains, this type of honey has a mild and delicate flavor. Best eaten with strong cheeses.

Besides the different flavors, taste, and smell, honey also differs in forms. Everyone has seen it in its glorious liquid state but this wonderful food can also be eaten in the following forms:

  • Cut Comb – liquid honey but with added bits and pieces of honeycomb inside.
  • Comb Honey – the original form of honey as seen inside of a honeycomb.
  • Crystallized Honey – this usually happens when honey naturally and spontaneously crystallize. It is edible and safe to consume.
  • Creamed Honey – also known as “whipped” honey, this is crystallized honey in room temperature. In most countries, this form is preferred over the liquid form as it can be easily spread on toasts during breakfast.

Liquid – the most popular and typical form of honey, this form is free from crystals and honeycomb. It can be used as a sweetener or spread and can used for baking or cooking.