What is honey?
Bees produce honey from the nectar and other secretions of flowers and other living parts of trees and plants. The harvest is first mixed with bees’ own special substances and thereafter deposited and dehydrated and eventually stored in the honeycomb cells to ripen.
TRANSFORMING NECTAR INTO HONEY
Nectar starts to transform into honey as soon as it reaches a bee’s honey stomach. Nectar is thus beginning to become dehydrated and, by the help of enzymes, polysaccharides transformed into monosaccharides while the forager bee is still flying back to its beehive. Nectar placed in a honeycomb is thus no longer of the same composition as it was while still in a flower. But the little drops of liquid placed in a honeycomb cell or upon its walls are still far from being ripe honey – they still contain too much water as well as a good measure of polysaccharides. Fro honey to achieve ripeness, bees have to repeatedly transport it from one honeycomb cell into another. That requires lots of comb surface as well as plenty of workforce. Once the percentage of water has been reduced to about 17 to 20 of the total content and most of the polysaccharides have turned into glycose and fructose, and the honeycomb cells are full and honey has achieved the necessary viscidity, the cells will be coated. Honey is now a ripe, concentrated, carbohydrate-rich feed which will not ferment and which bees can eat.
BOTANIC CLASSIFICATIONS OF HONEY
Flower honey. Flower honey is produced out of the nectar harvested from flowers. Honey is called monofloral (single plant honey) if the pollen grain percentage of a particular species of plant makes up more than 50% of its contents. Honey is called multifloral (honey of multiple plants) if the pollen grain percentage of any particular plant is less than 50% of the total.
Honeydew honey. Bees produce honeydew honey out of the saccharine excreta (honeydew) of aphids or the sweet secreta (nectar) of the leaves and twigs of some of the trees. Honeydew honey is slow to crystallize or, in some occasions, will never crystallize.
COLOUR, FLAVOUR AND AROMA OF HONEY
Honey’s flavour, colour and aroma express the type of plants from which the bees have harvested the nectar. The colour of honey depends on the pigments (carotene, xanthophyll, chlorophyll) contained in the nectar.
CHEMICAL COMPOSITION OF HONEY
The chemical composition of a particular honey depends on the harvested plants, available climate and methods of processing applied. Honey consists of about 20% of water and 80% of solids. The solids include mainly monosaccharides, grape sugar (glucose) and fruit sugar (fructose). Apart from water and monosaccharides, honey contains vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6, C, H, K, E) and other phytochemicals – enzymes (catalase, lipase, invertase, diastase), pollen grains, flavorings, colorants, fragrance, acids (aminoacids, malic and citric acids, et al), proteins and mineral nutrients (potassium, calcium, cobalt, magnesium, manganese, sodium, iron, tin and copper).
Additionally, honey contains special substances called inhibitors that give honey antibacterial properties, i.e. make honey capable of destroying numerous infectious micro-organisms or at least checking their progress. Such properties of honey allow for its effective use as an external cure for infected wounds or ulcers. But honey is treasured even more as an internal cure for all types of bodily exhaustion as well as gastric and duodenal ulcers and jaundice.
Mono- and polysaccharides. The chemical composition of honey is radically different from other sweeteners, e.g. regular cane and beetroot sugar and products made of them – honey contains monosaccharides, while beetroot sugar and all of its subsequent articles are classified as polysaccharides that human organism needs to transform into monosaccharides before blood is able to process them and channel into the metabolism of the body.
CRYSTALLIZATION OF HONEY
The higher the level of glucose in the honey, and the higher the concentration of crystallizing agents, the quicker it will crystallize. Honey crystallizes quickest at 13-14°C. At a lower or a higher temperature, the crystallization process is slower and at about 27-32°C it ceases completely (the temperature inside a beehive is about 30°C). At 40°C, honey loses its inherent structure.
FERMENTATION OF HONEY
Fermentation of honey is the process of transforming saccharides contained in the honey into wine spirits and later on into vinegar. Fermentation of honey is caused by a type of yeast-fungus that is able to develop in high concentration saccharin solutions. However, honey will ferment only in a raw state, i.e. before dehydration has reached its later stages.
STORAGE OF HONEY
Honey is best suited for storage in a cold, dark room where temperature stays at around 10°C. However, long-term storing requires right containers. Hermetic, glazed clay, glass or food plastic containers are ideal, for honey is inclined to absorb moisture and imbibe all surrounding aromas.
We strongly advise against storing honey in iron, copper or zinc-plated containers. Chemical reactions that take place between iron and saccharides or zinc and organic acids contained in the honey produce chemical compounds that are dangerous for human health.
QUALITY OF HONEY
The quality of honey can be checked from its appearance, its aroma and flavour, and yet it would be inconsiderate to make a full assessment of any particular honey solely upon these criteria. The precise quality and condition of honey can only be determined by physicochemical analysis.