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What Exactly is Honey?

When people think about honey bees, there is one word that immediately comes to mind; honey. What exactly is honey? We see it in bottle lining up grocery stores and farmers markets, but how do we get from sweet flower water to, basically, gold?

Honey is created by the nectar honey bees collect from flowers but you can’t just pull the nectar from the flower and call it honey. For a colony to produce 1 lb of honey, they must collect nectar from over two million flowers. As the nectar is collected, it is stored in a separate stomach called the “crop”. While stored, it begins to go through a chemical and pH change as it mixes with glucose oxidase, an enzyme.

Once the honey bee returns to the hive, the nectar has had plenty of time to mix with the enzymes, but not long enough. The worker bees begin to pass their stored nectar from bee to bee, each time exposing it to more enzymes. That process is continued until it is deemed ready to store in a comb cell, where we now have “almost honey”.

Before the bees cap over the almost honey, it needs to thicken up and lose a lot of its moisture content. It is this process that complete the process and gives honey its long lasting shelf life. To remove the unnecessary moisture, worker bees fan the uncapped honey to help expedite the evaporation. Honey is considered complete when it has 18% or less moisture. With so little moisture, it keeps the honey from producing mold or other forms of bacteria. If you find some uncapped honey as you are harvesting, you can use a refractometer to check the moisture to see if it is ready and you just pulled it out before the bees had time to cap over.

Once the honey has thickened up enough, the bees cap it over with a thin film of wax and it stays like that until it is ready to be extracted or devoured, whichever comes first. Who knew so much work went into the creation of honey? Next time you enjoy honey on your toast, think of the colony and acreage of flowers it took to make that honey.

Information found in this blog was collected by the following articles:

“The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life” by Natasha Geiling;

“What Is Honey” by Elizabeth Palermo;