How Honey is Made
Ever stop to think about what goes into making a bottle of raw honey?
It’s really quite simple. There are no added preservatives, no added coloring, and no added flavorings.
Have a look at the organic journey that honey takes from bee to bottle and see for yourself. The bottle of raw honey from your local beekeeper is nothing more than pure and natural sweetness the way nature intended.
It Starts With A Flower
Honey gets its start as flower nectar, which is collected by foraging honey bees. Nectar is secreted from glands called floral nectaries that are found in various places in a flower, depending on the species. They are typically found at the base, but may also be on the sepals, petals, or stamens. While foraging bees climb deep inside the flower looking for the sweet nectar, pollen sticks to the bee’s body. On any given foraging trip, honey bees tend to visit only one species of flower. As the bee travels from flower to flower, it inadvertently picks up more pollen grains while some of the previous ones rub off on the anthers of the next flower. Quite accidentally—at least from the bee’s perspective—cross pollination has occurred.
The nectar is swallowed by the bee into an organ known as the “honey stomach,” a part of the esophagus that expands as it fills. Once the honey stomach is full, the bee returns to the hive where the payload is transferred to a waiting worker in a process called trophallaxis. While sloshing around in the honey stomach, the nectar mixes with enzymes that transform its chemical composition and pH, making it more suitable for long-term storage. Once the nectar is passed along to an in-hive worker, the long process of converting nectar into honey begins.
The Hive Is Where The Magic Happens
The nectar is now being broken down into simple sugars and it is stored in honeycombs within the hive. The unique design of the honeycomb, coupled with constant fanning by the bees’ wings, causes evaporation to take place, which transforms the nectar into honey. Nectar is 80% water and honey is about 18% water, so the process takes some time. The bees then cap the cells with wax to seal them.
A hive of bees must fly 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey. One bee colony can produce 60 to 120 pounds of honey per year. An average worker bee makes only about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
The color and flavor of honey varies from hive to hive based on the type of flower nectar collected by the bees. For example, honey made from Clover nectar might be light in color, whereas honey from Avocado or Buckwheat might have a dark amber color. In the United States alone, there are more than 300 unique types of honey produced, each originating from a different floral source.
Harvesting & Extracting
Fortunately, honey bees will often make more honey than their colony needs, so it is necessary for beekeepers to remove the excess. On average, a hive will produce about 60-70 pounds of surplus honey each year.
Beekeepers harvest honey by collecting the honeycomb frames and scraping off the wax cap that bees make to seal off honey in each cell.
Once the caps are removed, the frames are placed in an extractor — a centrifuge that spins the frames, forcing honey out of the comb. The honey is spun to the sides of the extractor, where gravity pulls it to the bottom and it can be collected. Some extractors are manual and only hold a few frames at a time, whereas commercial beekeepers typically use large, automated extracting machines that can process dozens of frames at a time.
After the honey is extracted from the frames, it is strained to remove any remaining larger pieces of wax, propolis, pollen, or other particles. There will still be tiny pieces that make it through the strainer, adding to the flavor and nutrient content. Some beekeepers and bottlers might heat the honey to make it easier to strain, but this practice varies and does nothing to alter the liquid’s natural composition. It only makes the straining process easier and more effective.
After straining, it’s time to bottle, label and distribute the honey to retail outlets, to local customers, to your friends, or just on your own shelf. Whether the container is glass or plastic, or purchased from your local beekeeper or at a farmers market, if the ingredient label says pure honey, you can rest assured that nothing was added, from bee to hive to bottle. Double check the label for country of origin and for any added ingredients, pure honey should have only one!
Honey Is Best In It's Natural, Unprocessed Form
Because of its low moisture content and high acidity, bacteria and other harmful organisms cannot live or reproduce in honey, so pasteurization is not done for that purpose. Large retailers and honey processors pasteurize honey so that it will slow down the granulation process. Pasteurized and processed honey will last longer in its liquid state than unpasteurized honey, which makes for a more appealing-looking product on the supermarket shelf for some consumers, but what they might not know is that pasteurization robs the honey of pollen and beneficial vitamins and enzymes among a host of other natural constituents.
Inverted sugar solutions and glucose syrups or corn syrups are often used for making fake honey, mixing with it, or replacing it entirely. Supermarket honey or honey from questionable sources might be cheaper, but most of the time, the consumer is not getting what they think they are getting. The best solution is to buy pure, raw honey from your trusted, local beekeeper.