What is honey?

In short, a thick, golden liquid produced by honey bees. The bees extract nectar from flowers using their long tongues and store it in their crops. Here it mixes with enzymes that alter its composition to make it more suitable for long-term storage. Once back at the hive, through a process of regurgitation, the nectar is deposited into the honeycomb. To make the thick golden liquid we’re all familiar with, bees fan the nectar in the honeycomb with their wings to evaporate the water. Once most of the water has been evaporated, the honeycomb is sealed with a liquid that eventually forms beeswax. Away from air and water, honey can be stored indefinitely providing the bee colony with a source of food for the winter months. Sounds off-putting but what we’re left with is truly delicious!

Bees always produce more than their colony needs, so the excess can be harvested. Initially, the waxy caps are removed from the honeycomb frame cells before the frames are placed in a centrifugal extractor. This spins at high speed forcing the liquid out of the combs. After it has been extracted, it’s strained to remove any bits of beeswax and then poured into jars. No preservatives, no flavourings, no colourants, just pure.

The taste, colour, smell and texture of the extracted honey depends on the flowers from which the bees collected the nectar. Honey from nectar collected from clover will be very different from honey produced from lavender, for example.

There are several forms:

  • Clear or set  –  There is no nutritional difference between the two, it just depends whether the sugar content is higher in sucrose or fructose.
  • Comb – This is honey still in its comb. Don’t worry, the beeswax honeycomb is edible too
  • Cut comb – This is a combination of comb and clear honey, so it’s liquid with pieces of honeycomb in it.
  • Crystallised – Crystallisation does not equal poor quality, it’s just a reaction in some of the glucose components. It has not been stored incorrectly and it doesn’t contain additives.

Health benefits

Honey really is liquid gold for adults and older children, but just a word of caution, paediatricians advise not to give it to children under one year old.

Honey contains antioxidants that can help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease. And honey treatment may help disorders of the gut such as ulcers and bacterial gastroenteritis because of its anti-bacterial properties. The drying effect of its simple sugars together with these anti-bacterial properties also make it effective for healing wounds and burns when applied externally.

Recent studies have also shown that honey can increase athletic performance because it’s better than other sweeteners at maintaining glycogen levels in muscles and reducing recovery time.

If you have a cough or throat irritation, guess what helps? It also improves eyesight, promotes weight loss, alleviates impotence and premature ejaculation. That’s not all, it also helps relieve urinary tract disorders, asthma, diarrhoea and sickness. A study at Cardiff University found that manuka honey from New Zealand is also effective in strengthening the immune system because it stimulates the production of immune cells.

Even though the sugar content is high, honey has a low glycaemic index. This means that it causes a slower rise in blood glucose levels than refined sugars and the combination of sucrose and fructose can help regulate blood sugar levels.

Amazing stuff! But remember, the best honey for you is one that has been produced locally to where you live.

Recipes

Just eat it as it is, on toast, porridge or breakfast cereal. But if you want to cook with it, clear honey is best because it’s runny and easier to pour. Use it a sweetener to replace sugar in desserts, drinks and baking. Try it with dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese and on ice cream. Savoury? Try making a delicious sticky marinade for pork, poultry, sausages or drizzle on vegetables such as parsnips.

Energy ball recipes including honey: