Honey is a remarkable substance that results from a unique chemical process within a bee hive. Everyone is familiar with honey’s sweet, authentic flavor, but you might not be familiar with the complex chemical process by which bees make it. Dive into this guide to the chemistry of honey production to learn exactly how bees create honey.
Honey’s Primary Purpose
Bees make honey to feed their colony, and they produce it, along with royal jelly and beebread, from pollen, nectar, and water that they harvest from plants and flowers. Nurse bees feed the beebread and royal jelly to developing larvae, and honey is the primary food source for adult bees.
By making honey, bees are able to produce their own food source that lasts for long periods when they cap it with beeswax. They store it inside the hive to feed the colony through the winter and other shortages throughout the year.
How Bees Make It
The nectar from plants and flowers is the primary building block of honey, so it all starts when bees harvest it by traveling from flower to flower. Interestingly, nectar is a sweet liquid containing sugars, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, etc., but it’s also approximately 80% water. Nectar draws bees to flowers, and the honey-making process begins.
- Bees collect nectar from flowers using their proboscis and then store it in their honey stomach.
- The unique honey stomach mixes the nectar with extra bacteria and enzymes to chemically break down the sucrose into the simple sugars, fructose and glucose.
- When the forager bees arrive back at their hive, they transfer the mixture to other bees to continue the process. The bees pass it from mouth to mouth until the water evaporates from the sugary substance.
- Eventually, they place it into the wax comb cells for storage. The bees fan it with their wings to further evaporate the water content down to about 15%.
- The initially liquid substance now becomes honey, a highly viscous substance with high sugar content.
Raw vs. Processed Honey
Raw honey comes directly from the hive with minimal processing; as a result, the chemical properties are unaltered. It contains traces of pollen, propolis, vitamins, and antioxidants, which can provide countless health benefits. On the other hand, mass honey producers use heating methods to remove any debris and make the honey smooth and visually appealing to consumers.
Because processing alters honey’s natural state, raw honey is the way to go. You should understand why raw honey is healthier and assume that any honey not specified as raw is heavily filtered and pasteurized.
Because bees chemically alter one substance to become a completely different substance, they’re likely the world’s smallest scientists. This guide to the chemistry of honey production shows you the remarkable process of how bees turn flower nectar into the decadent substance we call honey. Rather than sugar or other syrups, consider using honey as a healthier alternative to sweeten your tea or coffee.