Honey: Know What You Eat

The Making, Classification, Production Methodologies

Did you know the Indian honey that is rejected by the EU and USA due to contamination is sold in the domestic market and all of us consume it?

There are hundreds of such bitter dark truths surrounding the honey trade. In the absence of a mechanism to trace the product and check it’s credibility, the end consumers in India are being fooled every day.

Honey widely used due to its medicinal properties in diet and in cosmetics products as well.

But most of the consumers, consume honey without being aware of its quality, type, colour, contamination and origin.

A lot of us don’t even know that not all honey possess the same medicinal properties.

We are launching a series of blogs to educate people on honey, and related issues.

This is the first blog, in the series. In this blog, we would discuss, how bees make honey, types of honey, based on different classifications.

What is Honey?

First of all, I would like to mention that the honeybees put in a lot of effort to make the honey.

The entire process of making honey is laborious and time taking.

Honey is a golden coloured viscous liquid made by honeybees from the nectar (a sugary liquid) they collect from flowers.

The Process

The honeybees have a very clear distribution of work.

  1. The forager or worker bees collect nectar from flowers. The nectar is essentially sucrose (Table Sugar) mixed with water. The nectar is stored in an extra stomach sort of bag also called crop. Some enzymes are added in the crop for its processing.
  2. The worker bees then return to the hive and vomit the nectar into a processor honeybees mouth. An enzyme called invertase is added to nectar there. Invertase breaks this nectar into simpler sugars fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose (blood sugar).
  3. Then the processor bee vomits the partially converted nectar into another processor bee’s mouth. This bee also adds invertase for further breakdown. This process continues until most of the nectar is converted into simple sugars.
  4. The mixture of simple sugars is stored in the hexagonal honeycomb.
  5. The water content of the mixture is high. To reduce this content the bees flap their wings to facilitate evaporation of water. The mixture eventually loses enough water to prevent microbe growth and becomes viscous.
  6. This viscous liquid with approximately 18.6% of water content is known as honey. This honey is stored in the comb and then sealed with the secretion of a wax-like substance that comes from their abdomen called beeswax.

Now, you understand how laborious a process it is for the bees to make honey. And it is a supreme example of collaboration and teamwork in nature.

Video On How Bees Make Honey

Bees make honey to consume during the colder times of the year when there is not much forage and flowers are also less.

Classification of Honey

Honey is classified based on various grounds like origin, viscosity, source, location etc.

Classification of Honey By Origin

Monofloral Honey: The honey that has been primarily made from the nectar of one specific botanic source is called monofloral honey.
Bees generally roam around in an area within 4 km radius of the beehive. They have the instinct to be closer to the hive as they can’t survive on their own. Hence, the apiarists place the hives in a way that bees have access to only one kind of flower or plant.
Although, it’s practically impossible to completely control the process. Hence, no monofloral honey is completely monofloral. It contains nectar from other flowers and plants as well.
The honey in which more than half of the nectar comes from one botanic source, we name it as monofloral honey.
Based on these botanic sources there could be hundreds of types of monofloral honey. Mustard honey, eucalyptus honey, sunflower honey, coriander honey, lavendar honey and the list can go on and on.
A microscopic analysis of pollen grains present in the honey can reveal the botanic origin of the honey. This analysis is mandatory in EU for honey qualification.
Polyfloral Honey: The honey made from nectar of different meliferous plants (fruits, herbs, flowrs, vegitables, oilseeds, and other varities).
Hence honey made from nectar of diverse botanic sources is called polyfloral honey.
Polyfloral honey further can be classified by the geography it has been collected from like forest, mountains, and meadows etc.
Taste, fragrance, colour and consistency of honey also depend on the place of gathering.

Classification by Source

Nectar honey or floral honey: The honey that has been made from the plant nectar obtained by bees is called as nectar or floral honey.
Honeydew honey: There is another type of honey and it is not obtained from nectar. This honey is collected from the secretion of pant dwelling insects (Hemiptera).
Forest honey and pine honey and few examples of honeydew honey. Honeydew honey is generally dark in colour and has a strong, bitter taste.
Mixed honey: This contains both honeydew and nectar honey.
Depending on the prevailing source mixed honey is called either honeydew-floral or floral-honeydew.

Classification by colour

The colour of honey can range from being almost colourless to dark brown, depending upon the origin, sources, season, geographical location and various other factors.
Generally, a light coloured honey is milder in taste and dark coloured one is stronger in taste.

Classification by Consistency

Liquid Honey: The fresh honey that is extracted from combs is generally liquid. Liquid honey also has different degrees of viscosity.
The viscosity of honey depends on various factors like water content, ambient temperature and humidity.
Liquid honey is also produced by heating solid honey but in that case, honey would lose most of its beneficial properties.
Solid Honey: The liquid honey of high quality eventually solidifies, evenly retaining all properties. The size of the granules may vary from small to almost invisible to naked eyes. The honey which is high in fructose turns into a syrup like liquid as it is hard to get crystallised.
The crystalisation of honey depends on ratio of fructose and glucose in the honey. As fructose doesn’t crystalise, but glucose crystalises over time.
Honey crystallisation is influenced by temperature as well.

Classification by Apiary Methodology

Humans maintain honey bee colonies for collection of honey and other allied products like Beeswax, propolis, pollen, royal jelly and for selling bees colony to other beekeepers.

Beeswax Candle

There are broadly two ways of categorising honey based on the apiary methodology.

Forest Honey: Forest honey is extracted by the forest dwellers. They don’t generally indulge in organised beekeeping but harvest the honey from the honeycombs made by bees in the forests.
They light a fire in leaves or grass. This causes honeybees to leave the comb, at once and then the forest dwellers, extract the honey from the comb and sell it directly, to the end consumer mostly.
Sometimes local aggregators buy the honey from these forest dwellers because forest honey is the most exotic and high priced type of honey.
Natural/Indigenous Beekeeping:
a. Immovable structures:
There are multuple definitions of natural or indigenous beekeeping. Although, princially it means bee keeping with minimal manual intervention.
b. Movable structures:
Movable structures made up of hollow bags, wooden boxes, earthen pots, etc. are used as bee chamber. These structures are taken from place to place as per the need. These methods are not much satisfac­tory, as the comb is lost in the process of extraction of honey.
In these methods also there can be divison based on compeltly ogranic ways of beekeeping and chemical usage for improving the quantity of production.
Some beekeepers use other breeds of bees, antiboiotics, pesticides etc on farms. This might help them increase the quantity of honey but degrades it’s quality.
We would discuss the contamination related issues in upcoming blogs.
Movable Beehives
Modern Methods:
Modern scientific methods have been developed for extracting more honey round the year. Longs troth’s frame hive is the one most used commercially for production of honey.
The honey is extracted from the frames using various methods that we would discuss in the next section. But mostly the frames are placed in centrifugal extractors for extraction.

Classification by production method

Centrifugal Honey: Generally, the term honey designates to centrifugal honey. In this process, honey is extracted from the combs using a honey extractor.
In this process fully capped hives are put in wooden frames. Then the wax covering of the comb is removed with hot, and sharp knife. Post that it is put in to a centrifugal extractor and rotated. The honey comes out from the frames upon rotaion.
There are two types of honey extractors, radial extractor and tangential extractor. The industrial scale processors generally uses radial extractor.
Comb Honey: Comb honey as the name suggests comes with the comb and delivered to the end consumer in its natural form. The honey is with rectangular combs. Honey is present inside the combs.
Pressed Honey: The honey of high viscosity cannot be extracted by using an extractor. Hence, this type of honey is received after pressing honeycombs in the presence or absence of moderate heating.
Chunk Honey: This honey is chunks of comb honey covered with centrifugal honey. The chunks of comb honey are cut into pieces and put into a jar and then the interstitial space is filled with centrifugal honey.
Comb Honey

Summary

In this blog, we have discussed, how bees make honey, discussed the entire process. Classification of honey depending on various grouds, like origin, source, apiary method and production method.

This is the prerequisite to know the issues that are plaguing the honey trade. In upcoming blogs, we will throw more light on these issues.

The upcoming blogs would be on contamination related issues, biochemical composition, the complete honey value and supply chain, extinction of bees, Popular applications and brands that you can trust while buying honey.

Follow me and Four Pursuits Ventures on Medium to keep updated with the new blogs on this series and more.