How do bees make honey, you might ask?
Everyone knows honey to be that delectable, thick, golden liquid made by bees and commonly used as a natural sweetener. Bees buzz around collecting nectar from flowers and then hurry back to their hive, but what happens inside the hive that turns simple flower nectar into the fantastic product of honey that we all know and love?
Many people have the perception that all honey is the same, but this is not true. This is the same argument of how all wine is not the exact same type of wine, even though they are all made from grapes. Because different types of grapes are used, different kinds of wines are produced, resulting in a variety of flavors, colors, and consistencies. The same goes for honey.
Depending on what flowers bees harvest nectar from, the honey they make can look like the typical golden honey we’re mostly familiar with, or it can appear beige and creamy, or even ruby-red. For example, flowers like orange blossoms produce very light-colored honey, while wildflowers or avocado blossoms produce a very dark kind. In some cases, bees may not even make their honey from flower nectar, instead using honeydew, which is a secretion made by certain insects–aphids, to be precise–that suck sap out of plants. This type of honey is very dark brown and not especially sweet compared to honeys with floral origins.
How Do Bees Make Honey?
The way honey is made by bees is quite simple and does not follow the strange myths that honey is bee vomit or other waste products. Once the worker bees return to the hive loaded with flower nectar, they deposit the nectar into individual honeycombs that they had previously created by forming waxy secretions out of their own bodies. Pretty impressive, right?
Once the nectar is deposited, it already begins its process of breaking down into simple sugars, which give it its sweet taste. But flower nectar is relatively thin and watery compared to thick honey, so what thickens the nectar? The worker bees spring to action once again, using their wings to rapidly fan the nectar-filled honeycombs, which causes much of the liquid to evaporate, ultimately causing the thickening of the nectar.
If this whole process was not impressive enough, a single hive is able to produce around 65 pounds of honey per year. After worker bees finish fanning the honeycombs, they put a wax cap over them to seal them. In order to harvest the honey, the beekeeper scrapes off these wax caps and reveals the honey inside the honeycombs.
To sell honey commercially, the honeycombs are typically run through a centrifuge, which spins quickly in a tight circle, using centrifugal force to pull the honey out of the honeycombs, which is then bottled up and sold. It is important to note that the beekeeper cannot harvest all the honey out of a beehive, since honey is the hive’s source of food and nutrients for the winter, and if all the honey is harvested, the bees would starve.
Honey has been enjoyed as a sweetener for thousands of years, with the earliest recorded honey foraging dating back 8,000 years, as depicted on cave paintings in Spain. Since there was no sugar in the ancient world and the only other sweet treats in existence were fruits, honey remained popular for millennia. It was often used as gifts of tribute or offerings, and sometimes it was even used as a substitute for currency.
While honey may not be quite as important to us today as it was thousands of years ago, it still remains a delicious addition to our food. It is great for your health since it’s rich in antioxidants and can help lower triglycerides and cholesterol. Beyond that, honey has a surprising ability to promote wound and burn healing, which is a discovery we have the ancient Egyptians to thank as they commonly used this type of medicinal practice thousands of years ago.