How do Bees Produce Honey?

The bees, through the evolution phases, have learned to produce honey from the nectar and secretions they collect from plants. Honey is obtained by the nectar, an easily perishable, thin and sweet liquid, being processed by various enzymes secreted by the bees and transformed into a long-lasting, dense and highly nutritious food. The field bee leaves the honey it brings to the hive into the first empty comb it finds, and returns to the field to collect more. The honey left into the comb is taken by the bees that serve inside the hive, and moved to the combs within the honey chamber. The water content of the semi-mature honey in the honey chamber is evaporated by the bees and the honey is matured. After the maturing of the honey, the combs are sealed by the beeswax-secreting bees.

Which regions in Turkey is honey produced?

Honey is produced in every region in Turkey. However, honey from a single kind of flower (monoflora), is produced in certain regions at certain times. For example, chestnut and forest rose (rhododendron) honey on the Black Sea coastline, pine honey in the Aegean region, sunflower honey in the Trachea region, citrus and white clover honey in the Mediterranean region, cotton honey in the Southeastern Anatolia region are quite common. The highland honey, obtain from a mixture of flowers (poliflora) is produced in almost every region in Turkey, mostly in the Middle and Eastern Anatolia.

What are the kinds of honey?

Honey can be classified as flower honey and honeydew honey by its source, and comb honey, extracted honey and pressed honey by the way it is obtained. Nectar is the raw material for honey, and the nectar for most of the honey produced worldwide is obtained from flowers. There are also kinds of honey, that are produced from non-flower sources. A typical example is the honeydew honey. Honeydew is a plant-sourced liquid but it has nothing to do with flowers. Honeydew is a sugar-containing liquid secreted by some plant-sucking insects. Pine honey is a world-renowned honeydew honey from Turkey. Turkey is the biggest pine honey producer in the world and an important exporter.

What is creamed honey?

Creamed honey is a butter-like product, obtained by the controlled crystallization of honey. In order to provide homogeneous and appropriate crystallization process, and to initiate crystallization, a sufficient amount of appropriately pre-crystallized honey is added into the extracted honey as a starter (of crystallization), and the mixture is stored in appropriate temperature to become creamed honey.

How do bees produce pine honey?

Pine honey is obtained from the sugar-containing liquid (honeydew) purged by the Marchalina Hellenica insect as non-digested waste onto the pine trees, which is then collected by the bees, mixed with their own enzymes, brought into the hive, and its water content evaporated in the combs. In Turkey, pine honey is produced only in Muğla, Marmaris, Aydin, Kusadasi and its proximities, as well as some regions of Canakkale city. This is because these are the only regions where the Marchalina Hellenica insect can live.

What is the difference between Pine honey and Flower honey?

The most significant character of pine honey is that it can be stored for very long times without change in its consistency and without crystallization. Its color is darker compared to flower honey. Pine honey crystallizes in a much longer time, with respect to flower honey. In some cases, it does not crystallize for years. Pine honey, with its robustness and crystallization prevention features, has a lot of uses in various products of the food industry (e.g. ice cream) as a natural additive, and also has a great export potential. The organoleptic characteristics of pine honey are different than those of flower honey. Pine honey has a characteristic smell, taste and color. The glucose and fructose content of pine honey is lower, relative to flower honey. It is less sweet and it does not have a burning feeling on the throat. Pine honey contains more enzymes, amino acids and mineral substances than flower honey. Pine honey contains a large amount of hypha and spores; those hypha are especially specific to the forests of Turkey and Greece, and can be found in no other country's forest honey.

What is Natural Honey? How can Natural Honey and Unnatural Honey be Distinguished?

Sugar honey is obtained by feeding the bees on sugar-based syrup. The bees produce the honey from the sugar placed near the hive, rather than from the nectar of flowers. Honey produced this way does not contain the essence and the healthiness of nature and flowers, and therefore cannot be sold under the name "honey." Artificial honey is produced by adding aroma and coloring to sugar-based syrup, a condition which should definitely be stated on the label of the product. There are additional cheating methods, including the addition of various sugar-based syrups, water, starch, etc. into natural honey. The purpose of these methods are increasing quantity by adding inexpensive ingredients. The applications mentioned above are considered as counterfeiting in honey, and such products cannot be sold as honey. Natural honey is the one that bees obtain from the essence (nectar) of flowers, in other words, it is the honey that come only and directly from nature. The counterfeiting in honey cannot be detected solely through its taste, smell or appearance. The only method is to analyze its composition. The best result can be obtained by conducting all possible analyses, and then the interpretation of the data by people with adequate expertise and experience.

Why does honey crystallize? Is crystallized honey harmful to health?

A very common question about honey is whether or not the crystallization of extracted honey after a while poses a problem. This is sometimes misinterpreted as the addition of sugar-based syrup into honey. The truth, however, is just the opposite. Honey containing syrup can stay for very long periods without crystallization, whereas pure and natural honey, especially in winter and if stored in low temperature, can crystallize in as short as a couple of months, depending on the flowers it is obtained from. This is definitely a natural incidence, and is not a problem for its consumption. It is possible to eat the crystallized honey, or the crystallization can be dissolved by heating the honey in a water bath (in a cup containing water not exceeding 45°C, without direct contact with water). The crystallization of honey is by no means an indication of counterfeiting. There is no drawback, health wise, in the consumption of crystallized honey. The kind of flowers the honey is obtained from, the air bubbles it contains, the amount of pollens and other particle content, the humidity and temperature of the place it is stored, and the kind of packaging are the primary factors in crystallization. The crystallization of honey is a natural incidence, and is defined as the glucose molecules transforming into the crystal state because of the saturation of honey in terms of glucose content. The most suitable temperature for crystallization is around 14°C. The crystallization slows down under 10°C and above 26.5°C. There is no drawback, health wise, in the consumption of crystallized honey. The crystallization of honey under controlled conditions and its consumption as "Creamed Honey" is very common in Europe, USA and Canada. The consumers tend to prefer this more viscous and buttery product to traditional liquid honey.

How do honey turn sour (ferment)?

Fermentation occurs as a result of the yeast content of honey using the sugar content as a source of energy and multiply. During this activity of the yeast content, many substances form, which spoil the aroma and flavor of honey. The yeast is contained in flowers and added into the honey through nectar. Most of it die during the transformation of nectar into honey, however, the small amount that survives can multiply under suitable conditions and ferment the honey. The possibility of the fermentation of honey depends on humidity and the amount of the yeast content. There is no possibility of fermentation in honey which has a humidity under 17%. On the other hand, the honey with humidity over 20% has a high risk of fermentation. The fermentation of such honey can be prevented by storage under 10°C (a condition under which the yeast cannot multiply), or the pasteurization of the honey prior to storage.

Can honey be given to small children?

Honey is not recommended for children younger than 1 year-old. The reason is the Clostridium Botulinum bacteria, which cannot grow in honey but may be present in spore form, and cause a disease called Infant Botulism in babies. These spores are present around us within the air, soil, dust and crude agricultural products. These spores, which may be present in honey as in many other kinds of food, do not pose a threat for adults and children over 1 year-old, thanks to the immune and digestion systems, but may cause Botulism in children younger than 1 year-old since the intestinal micro-flora is not yet fully developed.

Can there be counterfeiting in comb honey? Is comb honey healthy?

Comb honey can be produced from sugar-based syrup placed near the comb, instead of from flower nectar. However, these products are considered as fake honey. In honey production, in order to reduce the labor force of bees as well as the nectar loss, comb foundation is produced by the melting and blending of beeswax collected from many beekeepers and the repressing of them into combs by machines. Therefore, during this process, the medical residue and pesticides used by some beekeepers may get mixed into the beeswax from others and the beeswax may contain high amounts of residue. The comb honey produced by using comb foundation with residual content is not healthy. Moreover, foreign substances such as paraffin, ceresin, resin and suet may be added into the beeswax during the production of the comb foundation. In the same manner, the comb honey obtained using the comb foundation produced as above is not healthy.

Why do the smell and aroma of honey differ?

The aroma, smell and color of honey may differ, depending on the place of production and the kinds of plants it is obtained from. Moreover, seasonal changes may occur, even in honey obtained in the same region or from the same plant. The nectar of each flower that is included in the honey has its characteristic aroma, smell and color. All these variables are reflected in the honey, which is a completely natural product.

How do antibiotics and other residues are contaminated into honey?

The bees may occasionally receive diseases like all other animals; and the unconscious consumption of medicals against these diseases, as well as pesticides used against pests, can result in the presence of medical and pesticide residues within apicultural products. These substances may be applied directly into the comb or to the bees. In both circumstances, there may be residual content in honey received from combs where these applications are made, which are above legal limits.

Which honey is of higher quality?

The quality of honey is dependent of them being counterfeit and residue free. Honey which are counterfeiting and residue free can be considered to be of high quality. An approach favoring flower honey or pine honey against one another, quality wise, is not right. Defining quality criteria for honey depending on its aroma, smell or color also is not right. The quality of honey, i.e. whether it is completely natural and healthy, can only be determined through laboratory analyses.

Can diabetic patients consume honey?

Since diabetes has many different forms, the most healthy approach would be consulting a specialist.

How can we determine that the honey is natural and healthy (additive-free, residue-free)? Is it possible for the consumer to determine this from the aroma or appearance of honey?

The presence of counterfeiting or residue in honey cannot be detected solely through its aroma, smell or appearance. The only method is to analyze its composition. The best result can be obtained by conducting all possible analyses, and then the interpretation of the data by people with adequate expertise and experience.

What are the nutrient features of honey? Is it a nutrient food?

The nutrient features of honey has been known for centuries. Honey contains many vital substances such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. Honey is a source of basic carbohydrates. A tablespoon of honey contains 64 cal, acting as a fuel for muscles. The Exercise and Sports Nutrition Laboratory of the University of Memphis, USA, has determined that honey contains the most effective carbohydrates for digestion, prior to exercising. It is also observed that its effect on the blood sugar is more moderate, compared to other sources of carbohydrates. Honey contains vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid, as well as minerals like calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Honey provides easier digestion and better absorption of the other foods, thereby increasing their utilization rate. Especially in the event of a disease, honey consumption helps in the quick recovery of the body. Since it does not contain fats, the use of honey is appropriate in reduced-fat of fat-free diets.

What are the benefits of honey?

The primary benefits of honey are its antimicrobial and antifungal effects. These effects are scientifically proved during the 1930's. Various studies have proven that honey, with its antimicrobial and antifungal effects, contributes to the healing of wounds and the prevention of the development of fungi. It is also known that honey reinforces the immune system and includes antioxidant substances, which are among recent popular discussions. Honey has an antioxidant nature, thanks to the tocoferole, ascorbic acid, flavonoids and other phenolic substances it contains. It is also observed that honey has antiseptic features because of the enzymes it contains. Recent studies have shown that honey eases the spasms by covering the stomach surface and also have regulating effects on the gastrointestinal system. It is also contained in many cosmetic products because of its positive effects on the skin. The scientific studies have shown that honey also has positive effects in the healing of wounds.

Can honey be used as a sweetener in tea?

The sugar content of honey mostly consists of glucose and fructose, which can be used directly by the body without the need for further decomposition. Yet, in our daily life, we consume large amounts of white sugar, i.e. saccharose (glucose + fructose), with drinks like tea or coffee, and in desserts. Saccharose must be decomposed by enzymes into glucose and fructose, in order to be digested in the body. This process, especially in over-consumption of saccharose, is tiring for the kidneys and the liver, and therefore has harmful effects on the body. It can cause problems like cardiovascular diseases and excessive weight gain in the long run. Honey, on the other hand, has no such negative effects, since it is easily digestible and contains many beneficial natural substances aside from sugars. Within this context, it can be proposed that decreasing saccharose consumption by using honey as a sweetener in drinks like tea and etc. would have positive effects in the long term.

How can we consume honey aside from breakfast? What are the different areas of use?

The use of honey in the kitchen is as a substitute for sugar as a healthier and more natural alternative, which is also richer in vitamins and minerals. The substitution should be done by replacing 50% sugar with honey. It can also be used in barbecue sauces, where during the barbecue, the aroma of the caramelized honey passes onto the meat. It is also used in salad dressings to cover the bitterness of the other ingredients and for its characteristic aroma. One table spoon of honey can be added into any olive oil dish or roasted meat for its aroma. Additionally, honey can be used as a sweetener in drinks such as fruit juices, tea, milk, as a healthier and more natural substitute for sugar, which is also richer in vitamins and minerals. In baked products, honey provides a more spongy and softer texture, while delays the drying of the product, therefore increasing the shelf life.

Things to Consider when Buying Honey

Buy Branded Honey; the quality of honey cannot be distinguished by tasting or through other sensual characteristics. For unpackaged honey, the risk belongs to the consumer. On branded honey, the risk belongs to the company that made the packaging.

Buy Extracted Honey; although there is a belief that cheats are not possible on comb honey, it is possible to produce comb honey by feeding the bees with sugar. Moreover, most medical treatments in apiculture are directly applied to the combs. Therefore, comb honey carries high risk of residue.

Question the Brand; make sure that the honey you purchase has a credible brand that proven itself through the years, the product packaging contains data such as product lot number, filling date, expiry date, company name, address and telephone number, which clearly indicates the product and the company, as well as a guarantee strip on the cap. In addition to these, you should also question the company regarding their quality control systems, expertise and experience on honey, and hygiene in production.

Examine the Label; natural honey can only be sold in accordance with the Turkish Food Codex Honey Communique. However, some products containing the word "honey" within their names can only be sold under the category "Syrup with Honey Aroma," and this fact is stated on the label in a format that cannot be easily read. Read the label of the product you plan to purchase to avoid confusing these with genuine honey.

What is Royal Jelly, Pollen, Propolis? What are their specifications?

Royal jelly is the liquid secreted by the young worker bees (nurse bee) to feed the young larvae and the queen bee. It is instantly used within the hive after secretion and it is not stored. Royal jelly contains significant vitamins like A, B1, B2, B6, C, D and E. For its superior features, royal jelly is used in human nutrition in various ways. Moreover, royal jelly is used for its energizing, organism regenerating and refreshing effects. It is also used in cosmetic products.

Pollen is collected from flowers by the bees, contains proteins, vitamins and some trace elements, and carried to the hive within the pollen sacks on the hind legs of the bees.

Propolis is a product that worker bees produce by biochemically transforming the resin-like substances collected from the leaves, stems and buds of plants, as well as the plant nectar, using the enzymes secreted by the glands on their heads. It is used for protecting the food in the hive, the larvae and themselves from various microorganisms (virus, bacteria, fungi).