From bee to wax
Here you will find lots of interesting facts about honey and bees. Did you know, for example, that bees are excellent ballroom dancers?
Small amounts of mild acids such as lactic, citric, acetic and gluconic acid can be found in honey. These acids also form naturally in the human body. The acids contained in honey are not only important for taste; they also stimulate the appetite and promote digestion.
Assortment of varieties
A wide selection of honey varieties is available in stores, and they are offered with different names – many are clear and easy to understand, and others are confusing. While honey is always sweet, that is almost the only thing that varieties of honey – which number beyond 100 – have in common. The color varies from almost colorless to dark brown to near-black, and the taste from appealingly sweet and mild to heavily spiced with its own strong taste. A general rule is that light varieties of honey generally taste mildly and pleasantly sweet. Darker varieties are often stronger in taste and less sweet.
As a precaution, babies and toddlers should not be given honey. The gastrointestinal system of babies up to 12 months of age is not completely mature and is still unstable. For this reason, the risk that bacterial spores (Clostridium botulinum), also sometimes present in honey, may in rare cases trigger disease such as infantile botulism cannot be ruled out.
Baker’s honey is a lower-quality honey from which enzymes have been removed as a result of heat damage. While this honey is still suitable for human consumption, its preferred use is as a sweetener in the industry. Langnese uses only the best honey, which has undergone testing, and therefore no baker’s honey.
A bee colony comprises a queen, roughly 500 to 2,000 male bees and about 30,000 to 80,000 female worker bees. The organization of a bee colony is fascinating. Its perfect division of labor, close social network and powerful communication system are impressive.
How do forager bees find their sources of food? To do this, bees have their own complex body language. By means of two standard dances, the round dance and the waggle dance, they convey to their fellow workers all information needed to find the same honey plants. It is amazing how much information is encoded in the bees’ movements: The bees receive their first information through their sense of smell. The homecoming bee carries the smell and pollen of the food plant in its soft fur. This is how all forager bees know what kind of a source it is and what it tastes like.
The beehive is the habitat of a bee colony. Today it often comprises artificial nesting holes that are provided by a beekeeper. Originally bees sought a protected outdoor place for their hive.
A beekeeper is concerned with maintaining and breeding bees and with honey production. The German word for beekeeper, “Imker”, comes from the Low German word for bee, “Imme”, and the Middle Low German word “kar” (“basket, vessel”).
Along with honey and propolis, beeswax is one of the most important products from bees. Its possible uses are extremely varied. Beeswax has always been a highly desirable raw material for candles because of its good burning properties. For this reason, the church was for a long time one of the strongest supporters of beekeeping.
Blossom honey is a honey extracted primarily from nectar.
Honeys are distinguished by one important thing: the plants visited by the bees. They could be roughly broken down according to the bee nutrients nectar and honeydew.
See Worker bee
Cane sugar (saccharine)
According to the guiding principles that governed honey until the summer of 2011, the term “cold extracted” was a specific quality claim that referred to careful extraction, packaging and storage. In modern honey production, honey is only ever extracted in a cold process. Lawmakers have therefore come to view the claim “cold extracted” as advertising based on self-evident facts, which in general is not permitted by law. As a consequence, Langnese Honig has removed the claim “cold extracted” from the labels of all products to which this claim applies, without changing the popular, tasty Langnese honey formulas or compromising on their quality or taste.
The nature and speed of crystallization is a key property that distinguishes varieties of honey. The crystallization behavior of a certain variety (such as acacia) is therefore always approximately the same. Crystallization is a natural physical process. It has nothing to do with the quality of the honey, nor is it a sign of damage. Crystallized honey can be turned into a liquid again by warming it. The degree of crystallization is determined by the ratio of fructose to dextrose. The higher the proportion of dextrose, the faster a honey will crystallize.
Definition of honey
The German Honey Regulation defines honey as follows: “Honey is the naturally sweet substance produced by bees of the species Apis mellisfera when the bees gather nectar from plants or secretions of live plant parts, or extract secretions found on live plant parts that have been sucked by insects from plants, and convert them with their own specific substances, deposit and dehydrate them, store them in the combs of beehives, and allow them to mature.”
According to the latest findings, diabetics may enjoy any food in moderation, i.e. also honey. In spite of this, diabetics should seek advice from their regular physician before freely consuming honey. A rule of thumb is that 12 grams of sugar equal one bread unit, so a 20-gram cup measure of honey is equal to about 1.25 bread units.
Every hive has 500 to 2,000 male bees. They are called drones and, like the worker bees, they are children of the queen, but with one difference: They have no father. Drones hatch from unfertilized eggs that the queen lays in special, somewhat larger combs, because they grow to be bigger than their sisters. Drones have no stinger, do not do any work, and cannot eat on their own. By the end of August they have fulfilled their life’s only mission: to mate with young queens. They are then driven from the hive.
Enzymes are complex protein compounds that can break down substances or convert them. They are biocatalysts and control the entire metabolic process in the human body. Enzymes are very sensitive to heat, among other things. This is why high enzyme activity generally indicates that the honey is natural and “alive”.
To extract honey, the beekeeper takes the ripe combs, uncaps them and hangs the wood frames in a honey centrifuge. The honey is extracted only through centrifugal force – without heat exposure. This careful method is the most common method of extracting honey. It does not destroy the combs, which can then be used again.
See Forager bee
Honey contains many flavors and flavor compounds that stimulate the appetite and make honey such a rich food. More than 200 different substances have already been identified. The variety surely accounts for at least some of the respect that honey has enjoyed in so many countries and cultures.
From about the 20th day of life, some bees become forager bees. They swarm out to collect nectar, honeydew and pollen – until they die. Bees create true air bridges to plentiful food sources: Forager bees constantly rise into the sky for reconnaissance flights, looking for new sources of nectar. Once they discover them, they return immediately to the hive and tell their sisters in bee language – the bee dance – where to find these sources.
Frisch, Karl von
We have the Austrian zoologist Karl von Frisch, born in 1886 in Vienna, to thank for a majority of what we know today about bees. He discovered that bees distinguish colors in a different manner than we do, smell with their feelers, use the sun as a compass and share a special “language” for communicating with one another. His discoveries were so important that in 1973 he won the Nobel prize.
German Honey Regulation
The statutory quality requirements for Germany are set forth in the German Honey Regulation of December 16, 1976. This was updated in 2004 and in 2007. It governs the harvesting, treatment and declaration of honey in Germany. The Honey Regulation provides clear guidelines on what honey must comprise to reach store shelves.
Starting from their 10th day of life, some bees are assigned to guard duty. A bee police force is important, because the sweet hoard in the beehive also attracts other animals. This is why anything that wants to get into the hive is sniffed and inspected thoroughly to determine whether it has the smell typical of the hive. If not, the invaders are harshly driven away, regardless of how big or strong they are. The weapons of the bees are dangerous: Their stingers and venom cause pain in humans, and in small animals and other insects the venom has a proportionately stronger effect.
See Worker bee
Honeycombs are built so perfectly that they might inspire envy in any construction engineer. No other geometric shape in nature achieves this degree of solidity and stability with so little weight and use of material. Bees all over the world build the same combs completely independently of one another. Even in the case of wild bees that are not given a wooden frame, the walls are exactly vertical. The individual cells are tilted slightly upward at a 15° angle so that the honey deposited in them does not flow out.
When bees collect mostly honeydew, the result is honeydew honey. Honeydew is the starting product in honeydew, wild and pine honeys. It is made with the help of vegetable sap-sucking insects called aphids who live in these trees. These insects puncture the sieve tube system of plants, use the substances they need to live and expel the rest as honeydew – enriched with organic acids, enzymes and much more. The honeydew is collected by bees and processed into honey in the hive.
Inhibitors (from Latin inhibere = inhibit) play a crucial role in the healing properties of honey. Inhibitors are bacteriostatic substances or groups of substances that differ widely. Some have not been identified yet.
Malt sugar (Maltose)
Most honeys are mixed-flower or multi-flower honeys. Bees collect the nectar from many different plants, so the contents of the honey is especially varied. The taste and appearance vary widely depending on the location and species of the plants or blossoms that have been visited.
See Varietal honey
See Mixed-flower honey
Nectar is a solution with a very high sugar content expelled by the honey glands of plants. Honey glands are normally found in blossoms, but can also be found in other plant parts such as axils. If a honey is extracted primarily from blossoms, it is called blossom honey.
To suck out the nectar, bees crawl deep into the blossoms. This leaves pollen on the soft fur of the bees, forming “pollen pellets”. Purely by chance, the bees then carry the pollen back to the beehive. The pollen introduced in this way gets into the honey, allowing the precise origin and variety to be identified later on.
Honey does not contain any preservatives. Honey that is harvested when it is ripe theoretically has an unlimited shelf life – but it will crystallize sooner or later depending on the variety.
Propolis (or bee glue) is a natural remedy that today is used primarily in alternative and naturopathic medicine. Peoples as ancient as the Egyptians prized the effects of propolis and used it to anoint their mummies. Today there are numerous products containing propolis, which may be used internally or externally. People with a high potential for allergies should handle these remedies very carefully and if possible consult a physician before using them.
Proteins account for a very small proportion of honey, unlike amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Honey typically contains free amino acids which are not contained in proteins. One particularly important amino acid is proline, which provides information about how ripe honey is. A low proline content indicates honey that was harvested while it was unripe and/or the fact that the bees were fed sugar.
The queen is the ruler and mother of the entire beehive. From February to September, she lays up to 120,000 eggs – more than her own body weight every day. No time remains to care for her brood or feed herself. The worker bees care for the queen. Her entourage follows her everywhere, maintaining constant, close contact. The bees cannot do anything else. A tempting substance produced constantly by the queen is to blame. These pheromones render the worker bees sexless and prevent their ovaries from developing. The queen is the only fully sexually developed female, and is therefore responsible for the entire next generation. She also is given the longest life; she can live to be four to five years old.
See Bee dance
Royal jelly contains a significant amount of protein and is the primary source of the queen’s nutrition. Extracting it is a very laborious process, and thus it sells for a correspondingly high price. Royal jelly can be found in various pharmaceuticals and in cosmetic items such as creams and shampoos. Sometimes it is also ingested in its raw form.
Honey that comes from a regional, territorial or topographical area that can be very precisely delineated may be given a name that reflects this. One example of this is mountain blossom honey. However, this only applies if the honey designated in this way demonstrates the origin indicated.
To keep the unique flavor and sensitive ingredients intact for as long as possible, store honey in a cool, dry and dark place with a neutral odor. Honey also absorbs extraneous smells and tastes easily. For this reason, honey should always be sealed to preserve the flavor and not be placed next to products with intense smells or tastes such as cheese, coffee or herbs.
Roughly 80% of honey is composed of various natural sugars: The main component is the two simple sugars, fructose and glucose; then come maltose and cane sugar (saccharine) and melicitose in honeydew honeys. Depending on the variety of honey, the proportions of the individual types of sugar fluctuate widely. The ratio influences the tendency of a honey to crystallize.
When nectar and honeydew mostly come from one specific honey plant, the honey is considered varietal honey. Bees remain faithful to one variety of plant until its resources have been exhausted. The beekeeper puts this to good use, transporting the hives close to the desired honey plant. When the honey contains mostly one plant, the honey can be identified by the plant in question, as with clover or heather honey.
See Bee dance
The water content in honey is regulated precisely: According to the Honey Regulation, only a water content of between 16% and 21% is allowed. The ideal water content is from 16% to 19%. One exception is heather honey – it may contain up to 23% water. A water content that is too high indicates honey that was harvested when it was unripe, which may pass into the fermentation stage.
The worker bee is the “girl Friday” in the beehive. It cleans, cares for the offspring and builds up the hive. When it constructs new honeycombs, it is also called a building bee. On the other hand, when it focuses primarily on the offspring, we call it a hive bee. Once the worker bee gets older, it takes on new duties such as protecting the hive as a guard bee or gathering nectar and honeydew as a forager bee.