What is Bee Honey?
Honey is a supersaturated sugar solution made by bees. It is an aromatic sweet viscous liquid made and stored in the honeycomb by honeybees. Throughout human history bee honey has been in use for different purposes from time immemorial.It had been used as food, a sweetener, medicine, a measure of value, a ceremonial material and a raw material for preparation of other products.
Who started using bee honey?
The use of honey by man started from the time immemorial, it is recorded in the holy writings of some religious books, for example in the Holy Quran in these verses (16:68) ;( 16:69) and (16:69). Also honey has been mentioned in the Holy Bible, for instance Proverb 24:13; Exodus 3:8: and Mathew 3:4, .In the Hindu religion bee honey has been mentioned as one of the substances that sustain life. The Vedas mention the use of honey as a great medicinal and healthy food. In Jewish tradition, honey is a symbol for the New Year (Rosh Hashanah). In ancient Egypt, honey was used for embalming the dead especially the kings (Farao). In Ayurveda medicine (originated in India about 4000 years ago) honey is considered to have positive effect in the three material imbalances of the body and that it promotes healing. In Ethiopia honey was primarily used to produce the country’s national drink (Tej), a traditional honey wine or mead. . In the modern world honey is a food supplement, sweetener, medicine and a raw material in pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food and beverage industries.
How Honey is made?
Bees are the only insects which make honey, both stinging bees and stingless bees make honey. Honey is made from nectar (sweet juices) collected by bees from flowers of plants. Bees suck nectar from flowers, mix it with special enzymes secreted from their bodies then reduce the amount of water and convert sucrose (sugar in nectar) to fructose and glucose by a process known as regurgitation. The mixture is then put into honey comb cells where it continues to be evaporated by bees. This process reduces the amount of water from about 80% (in nectar) to about 17% to 20% (in honey). In making honey, bees may collect nectar from flowers of a few types of plants to hundreds of plant varieties depending on the vegetation of the location, thus the density of nutrients, aroma(smell),colour and flavor of honey depends on the type and number of flowers where nectar is collected from.
What are types of Honey?
In terms of how it is made these are common types of bee honey:
a) Monofloral honey is made by bees in areas where one type of plant flowers is dominant e.g. manuka honey from New Zealand, clover and blueberry honey from America, orange blossom honey from Spain, cotton honey from Egypt ,sunflower honey from central Tanzania and miombo honey from western Tanzania.
Average honey is a mixture of approximately 80% sugar, 17% water and 3% other nutrients such as minerals, vitamins, enzymes and proteins. Also it contains a small amount of acids about 0.6%. A greater part of sugars present in honey are fructose (38%) and glucose (31.3%). These are simple sugars which when ingested are easily absorbed by the body and do not necessarily need digestion in the alimentary canal. Other minor types of sugar in honey are maltose (7.3%) and sucrose (1.3%.
b) Polyfloral honey is made in areas where there are many varieties of flowers i.e. nectar is collected by bees from varieties of plant flowers to make honey, e.g. most of the forest honey from East Africa is polyfloral honey.
c) Stingless bee honey is made by small stingless bees from nectars of a variety of trees. This honey has high nutrient content and higher water content. It has a low shelf life due to a high water content (about 21% to 26%). It has low viscosity with a characteristic dark brown colour.
d) Honeydew honey is a type of honey made by bees from honeydew excreted by plant sucking insects such as aphids. During times of nectar scarcity (dry seasons) bees collect honeydew, process it just like nectar into honeydew honey.It has a characteristic wood smell with a higher nutrient content and low sugar content. Honeydew honey is dark in colour due high nutrient content. In western Tanzania it is usually harvested in forests from mid –October to November.
What are the contents of Honey?
The amount of water (moisture content) in honey is between 17% to 21%. This amount differs depending on seasons, environment and the type and ability of a bee colony.The highest water content acceptable internationally is 21%.Water content in honey higher than 21% causes honey to ferment easily into acid which results into low viscosity and sour taste hence lower quality. Honey is hygroscopic therefore should be kept in closed containers; if left open for a long period of time it absorbs moisture from the air and its water content may increase and cause it to ferment. Thus water content in honey is one of the major determinant of quality and shelf life of honey.
What is the potency of Honey?
Bee honey is full of nutrients which makes it quality food and medicine for many ailments.Due to its high sugar concentration (about 80%) and low water content (about 20%) bee honey has an antibiotic property which prevents production and growth of germs. In addition honey contain enzymes such as glucose oxidase which cause chemical reactions in honey to produce hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) an anti-bacteria, this make it possess broad spectrum antibiotic property. Bee honeys possess several minerals, vitamins, enzymes and other nutrients. Minerals contained in honey are Calcium,Potassium,Sodium,Chlorine,Sulfur,Zinc,Copper,Iron, Manganese,Magnesium,Phosphorus etc.Vitamins present in honey are B-vitamins (B1,B2,B3,B5,B6, B9) and vitamin C. In addition usually honey contains bee pollen in small quantities which is a blend of minerals, vitamins and amino acids in small quantities. As an added health benefit honey has antioxidants, dietary fibers and is fat free.