How Bees make honey BeeTribe

Himalayan Nectar: Know about your Honey!

In my average Indian home, although Honey was a known thing …yet not in so much detail. It was only when I myself developed some interest in my own nutritional status, especially after going through the travails of Covid 19, that I started researching about various such healthy options that nature has to offer
Honey in itself is a very unique product of nature, meticulously prepared by the amazing flying pollinators of nature: The Bees! It is known that one single Bee that acts as a forager about half its later life (1-2 months), collects just about 1 teaspoon of honey in its whole life! A fully established colony however, in the favourable season with ample forage, may well have over 50000 bees! and if all goes well, the net result of this population, could be the availability of tens of Kgs of quality excess honey, that could be harvested by us beekeepers! Although, the process by which honey is obtained is much more complex than that!
Nectar that Bees bring are basically natural saccharides (sucrose and maltose) along-with some very unique components that give it incredible health-giving abilities, like, ions, organic acids, terpenes, alkaloids, flavonoids, carotenoids, xanthophylls, glycosides, vitamins, volatile oils, pinocembrin, galagin, polyphenols, tocopherols, lycopene and amino acids which are obviously found in honey.
"Your raw, unprocessed and unadulterated honey WILL crystallize as temperature dips in the winters, and it only indicates that your honey is pure and unadulterated, not otherwise.
Once the bees collect this nectar from the flowers, soon they start mixing various enzymes into this stored nectar. Enzymatic reactions in honey include the conversion of oligosaccharides and disaccharides (sucrose and maltose) to glucose and fructose by diastase and invertase enzymes, that bees produce themselves. Glucose is converted to gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide by glucose oxidase. Moreover, hydrogen peroxide is degraded to water and oxygen by catalase enzymes. This starts changing the form and character of the nectar that they bring.
Fig1. Honey Bee all covered in Pollen after foraging for Nectar from flowers.
Honeybees do this to keep their stores much more sustainable and long lasting. The resultant honey is slightly acidic, which gives it antimicrobial character inhibiting microbial growth, while the reduction in moisture, by fanning of their wings, helps in inhibiting yeast related fermentations. This process of ripening and fanning the nectar, could last up to a week or more (depending upon environmental humidity and temperature), and only then, the nectar is transformed into good quality honey!
Once the process is completed, bees begin sealing-off the honey with freshly produced wax (secreted from their own wax-glands), so that it’s sealed-off from the environmental moisture (honey is hygroscopic and absorbs moisture from environment easily). It is this freshly made seal of whitish wax over ripe honey in the comb, that actually indicates the beekeeper that the honey is ready to be harvested.
The society of the Bees is complex, and meticulously divided between Bees of different ages, who live within the same hive, simultaneously…here each bee of a particular age religiously and stubbornly performs a specific duty for the greater good of the hive!
Fig2. Structure of a Frame within a Beehive
For instance, when a bee hatches out as adult bee, as soon as its body matures, one of the first tasks that it starts performing is production of Royal jelly, which the bees feed to the larvae. Some bees take care of ripening of the collected nectar by enzyme-ing it and fanning their wings, some pack the pollen and propolis, some take care of the open brooding larvae that require incredible amounts of feeding (honey and royal jelly) each day, some other bees go out to forage the nectar and pollen, some bees act as guards against any kind of external threats, while some other bees collect these loads of nectar, literally transferring it from one mouth to another through a process scientifically called “Trophallaxis”! And so on…as the age of a bee increases, its body changes and transforms to let it perform the age-appropriate role inside a hive! By the end of its life, any normal bee would have performed majority of the available roles in a beehive! This incredible formula of survival is the result of tens of millions of years of evolution…bees are much older than us humans on this earth, after all!
"Research suggests significant positive impact that daily consumption of raw honey imparts on crucial aspects of human health like, Cardiovascular health, satiety, glucose tolerance, mucositis in cancer patients, Upper respiratory tract infection, gastroenteritis, gut health, BMI (Body Mass Index) etc. It positively impacts levels of plasma lipids, insulin levels and insulin sensitivity…daily consumption of raw honey also intensifies antioxidant activity, keeping the human body young!"
The nectar that the bees forage, can be mono-floral (from one type of flower) or multi-floral (multiple flowers). Depending upon what kind of nectar the bees are bringing, honey can take different taste, aroma and contents. Usually, darker is the honey, richer it is in its mineral and antioxidant content. This gives rise to various ‘kinds’ of honey, such as Litchi-Honey, Eucalyptus-Honey, Acacia-Honey, Mustard-Honey, Multi-Floral Honey, Wild-Flower Honey, Jungle Honey etc. Similarly, the specie of the honeybee collecting nectar would also impact the quality of the resultant honey, for example, the Honey made by Apis-Dorsata (Asian giant honeybee) from the jungles of Mandala, Madhya Pradesh, would be different in taste, texture and content, from the honey produced by Apis-Mellifera bees in the mountains of Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, because each specie of the bees would have their own preferred foraging tendencies.
The quality of Honey that we consume also gets influenced by multiple other factors. Some important ones are listed below:
Moisture Content: Lesser is the moisture, richer the honey. Although, ideal amount of moisture, present in the honey, would depend upon the type of honey (i.e. source of the nectar), but generally speaking any honey with a moisture content of somewhere between 18-19 percent, will not only be richer and tastier, but also inhibit the growth of natural yeast spores already there in the honey, especially when the temperature rises in summers. We at BEETRIBE, are very particular about the moisture content in the honey that we harvest and store, because the same honey at right moisture (around 18%), makes all the difference in terms of taste, aroma, texture and its shelf life.
Raw or Processed: Processing of honey mainly consists of steps like, heating up of honey significantly above 50 degrees Celsius, straining it with a relatively fine mesh, and then bottling it. Unfortunately, such processing removes or destroys a large number of enzymes, nutrients and antioxidants present in honey. We at BEETRIBE, do make sure, that our honey is minimally heated, just enough that we can bottle and strain our honey into the glass jars. Straining honey with a fine mesh also removes the highly nutritious pollen content of the honey. We deliberately use coarse meshes while straining our honey, so that only objectionable debris is removed, while retaining all the beneficial produce from the Beehive, and hence our honey is raw, natural and retains all the amazing aspects that natural honey offers.
 Kind of Nectar-source: A colony of bees, can bring nectar either from one type of flower, or from multiple flowers. If it’s a mono-floral honey, often its lighter in colour, while multi-floral, often is darker. It’s a known fact, that darker is the honey, richer it is in minerals, flavonoids, alkaloids, carotenoids etc. and is also more beneficial for the humans to consume, in comparison to lighter honey! Interestingly, bees would prefer mono-floral honey over multi-floral honey, as its simpler to digest for them, but for us humans, it’s the multifloral honey, that is more beneficial!
Conditions inside the hive: The quality of honey is also impacted by the condition of the hive and the method of beekeeping that a beekeeper would often prefer. Factors like organic treatments for mite control so that Bees are healthy and strong in numbers, rotation of old combs after a reasonable interval and whether the honey is harvested from within the hive or from a separate chamber called “super”, that is often placed on the top of the hive, with a “queen excluder” placed in between, are some other factors that would impact the quality of the honey that we harvest. If the standards of scientific beekeeping and organic ways of treatment are maintained, honey extracted even from within the hive is very rich in quality, however, honey extracted from a “super” is most likely superior. Similarly old blackened combs that should have been replaced by newly raised combs, would negatively impact the aroma, texture and quality of the honey. The bottom line is about adopting the methods of “Scientific Beekeeping”, especially in India. We at BEETRIBE strongly monitor these factors in our hives, which ensures that honey that we produce is of superior quality.
As a Honey consumer, one actually should know the kind of tremendous hard work, that each honeybee does, to produce this Himalayan nectar…so that each time you consume a teaspoon of honey, you realise the entire chain of tiny natural actions, which result into that tasty and super healthy substance, that can be easily described as Himalayan nectar. Not only this, unless the enormous health benefits of raw honey are not known widely to the people, they would be precluded from including this health-giving nectar into their daily diets.
I hope, this information helps you in including raw honey as an integral part of your daily diet!
Back to blog