What exactly is honey?
The Codex Alimentarius has produced a document that defines what honey is and outlines a range of tests and standards it should meet to be fit for human consumption. This code has been largely adopted by legal food agencies such as the European Food Safety Authority.
The codex defines honey as "the natural sweet substance produced by honey bees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants or secretions of plant sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in the honey comb to ripen and mature."
So in a nutshell, there are two ways bees make honey; 1 from plant nectar, which is called blossom or nectar honey and 2 from aphid secretions, which is called honeydew honey. In both instances the bees transform these into honey by adding their own substances and removing water. This also means that anything made by bees derived from processed sugar is not, and cannot be called honey.
*Nectar is water containing a number of dissolved substances that can vary between 3 and 87% of the total dry weight, and 90-95% of the total solid matter. It is usually acidic with a pH of between 2.7 and 6.4. The type and quantity of sugar content is dependent on the plant species and the environmental conditions. While nectar's from different plants do vary, typically they are composed of the following by weight (b/w):
· Water 30-90% b/w
· Sucrose 5-70% b/w
· Fructose 5-30% b/w
· Glucose 5-30% b/w
· Other constituents up to 2% b/w.**
**It is the 2% which gives each honey its distinctive flavour, colour and in special honey's, their medicinal properties. More detailed analyses have identified the following substances in nectar.
Other Sugars: xylose, raffinose, melezitose, trehalose, melibiose, dextrin and rhamnose.
Vitamins: Vitamin C and some B complex vitamins along with other antioxidants not classed at vitamins such as rutin.
Amino Acids: aspartic acid, glutamic acid, serine, glycine and alanine amongst others.
Minerals: Potassium and Calcium and other trace metals
Organic Acids: Over a dozen have been identified such as syringic, gallic and oxalic acid, with the list still growing.
Aromatics: including alcohols and aldehydes
Enzymes: such as invertase, transglucosidase, transfructosidase, tyrosinase, phospahtases and oxidases.
Particulate matter: pollen, fungi, yeasts and bacteria
Finally gums, oils and occasionally lipids, alkaloids and proteins are present. Nectar's (such as those from ivy) containing high levels of sugars tend to have higher levels of amino acids, lipids and antioxidants. If alkaloids are detected it is usually in conjunction with proteins.
*Reference: Dr. David Ashton & Sally Bucknell, D. S. B. 2009. Plants and Honey Bees, Northern Bee Books.
So how do bees actually make honey?
Honey is produced by a combination of two processes. One is a chemical process and mostly involves the conversion of the disaccharide sucrose, to the monosaccharides glucose and fructose. This is achieved by the addition of the enzyme invertase which is secreted from the worker bees’ hypopharyngeal gland, with the process occurring after collection of the nectar by the forager bee and continuing with the receiver bee. The forager bee stores the nectar in her honey crop.
The second process is a physical one whereby the receiver bee and those around her evaporate water from droplets of nectar by exposing them to the air and fanning their wings thereby removing moist air and introducing drier air. This process continues until each drop has been sufficiently dehydrated to around 18% water content by weight. This is a lengthy process and is repeated innumerable times for each drop of nectar.
Why Does Honey Crystallise?
All honey is subject to crystallisation (or granulation and it is a perfectly natural phenomenon. It occurs when glucose, one of three main sugars in honey, spontaneously precipitates out of the supersaturated honey solution to form rigid, defined crystals. These crystals can be fine or coarse depending on the floral source. Creamed or whipped honey is a process where by the honey is permitted to crystallise under controlled conditions, producing a beautiful smooth silky texture which is much sought after . This link explains in detail about; crystallisation
More Than Honey Official Trailer 1 (2013) - Bee Documentary HD An in-depth look at honeybee colonies in California, Switzerland, China and Australia.