That sweet, little jar of liquid gold in your pantry cabinet sure has a lot of history as well as health benefits! People have been using and consuming honey for thousands of years. The first written record of honey dates all the way back to 2100 B.C in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings amongst others. The word “honey” derives from the old English word hunig, and because of its widespread producers, the many species of honeybees, honey was likely the first form of sweetener used by man.
Honey begins its first stage of production as flower nectar. Foraging worker bees collect the sweet liquid and stores it in a special organ called a “honey stomach” to take back to their hive. As she hops from flower to flower, she also helps transfer pollen that collects on the fine little hairs along her body. Doing this helps also helps the flowering plants in their reproduction cycle.
Once the nectar has arrived at the hive, it is passed around to other workers who begin to digest it with the added enzyme, invertase. This enzyme helps convert the complex sugars of nectar into the simple sugars, glucose, and fructose. This process also reduces its moisture content down to just 20%. At this point, the bees begin depositing what is now officially “honey” into the hexagonal shaped crevasses of the honeycomb at the top of the hive. But their job isn’t done yet, the bees must then ripen the honey. This is done through the constant maintenance of fanning the honey over with their wings to dry it if needed and control its moisture. Properly ripened honey can’t be contaminated by bacteria or fungi. When the honey is finished ripening, the bees will seal the honeycomb over with wax, keeping it fresh and sweet for the winter.
Honeybees often make more honey than they need, but beekeepers need to be careful not to take too much for the colony to survive and thrive another season. Thankfully beekeepers that love their bees will follow the guidelines of ethical beekeeping and do well to sustain their colonies.
But why are we as humans so obsessed with honey? Firstly, not only is it delicious, but early peoples likely noticed some benefits to their health after consuming honey. Honey is naturally chock full of antioxidants and is anti-bacterial, thanks to all that ripening. The antioxidants can help reduce the risks of heart disease and its antibacterial properties have earned it a high ranking in the line of skincare for blemishes and burns. What specific flowering plants honey is made from also has a hand in its health benefits. If you’re one of the many that suffers from season allergies due to the influx of flowering plants, try finding locally collected honey. This is because the nectar made from local honey comes from the native flowers in your area. Over time, introducing your immune system to traces of the pollen that you’re likely allergic to, will naturally build up a tolerance and lesson symptoms.