Honey is a sweet, viscous food substance produced by bees and some
related insects. Bees produce honey from the sugary secretions of
plants (floral nectar) or other insects (aphid honeydew) through
regurgitation, enzymatic activity, and water evaporation.
stored in wax structures called honeycombs. The variety of honey
produced by honey bees (the genus Apis) is the best-known, due to its
worldwide commercial production and human consumption.
collected from wild bee colonies, or from hives of domesticated bees,
a practice known as beekeeping.
Honey gets its sweetness from the monosaccharides fructose and
glucose, and has about the same relative sweetness as sucrose
(granulated sugar). It has attractive chemical properties for
baking and a distinctive flavor when used as a sweetener. Most
microorganisms do not grow in honey, so sealed honey does not spoil,
even after thousands of years.
Honey provides 64 calories in a serving of one tablespoon (15 ml)
equivalent to 1272 kJ per 100 g.
Honey is generally
safe, but may have various, potentially adverse effects or
interactions upon excessive consumption, existing disease conditions,
or use of prescription drugs.
Honey use and production have a long and varied history as an ancient
activity, depicted in Valencia, Spain, by a cave painting of humans
foraging for honey at least 8,000 years ago.
2.4 Worldwide production
3 Modern uses
4 Physical and chemical properties
4.1 Phase transitions
4.3 Electrical and optical properties
Hygroscopy and fermentation
4.5 Thermal characteristics
4.6 Acid content and flavor effects
5.1 Floral source
5.2 Honeydew honey
5.3 Classification by packaging and processing
5.5 Indicators of quality
7.1 Wounds and burns
7.5 Health hazards
7.5.2 Toxic honey
8 History and culture
8.1 Ancient times
Folk medicine and wound research
8.3 Religious significance
9 See also
12 External links
A honey bee on calyx of goldenrod
Honey is produced by bees collecting nectar for use as sugars consumed
to support metabolism of muscle activity during foraging or to be
stored as a long-term food supply. During foraging, bees
access part of the nectar collected to support metabolic activity of
flight muscles, with the majority of collected nectar destined for
regurgitation, digestion, and storage as honey. In cold
weather or when other food sources are scarce, adult and larval bees
use stored honey as food.
By contriving for bee swarms to nest in human-made hives, people have
been able to semidomesticate the insects and harvest excess honey. In
the hive or in a wild nest, the three types of bees are:
a single female queen bee
a seasonally variable number of male drone bees to fertilize new
20,000 to 40,000 female worker bees
Sealed frame of honey
Leaving the hive, foraging bees collect sugar-rich flower nectar and
return to the hive where they use their "honey stomachs" to ingest and
regurgitate the nectar repeatedly until it is partially
Bee digestive enzymes – invertase, amylase,
and diastase – along with gastric acid hydrolyze sucrose to a
mixture of glucose and fructose. The bees work together as a
group with the regurgitation and digestion for as long as 20 minutes
until the product reaches storage quality. It is then placed in
honeycomb cells left unsealed while still high in water content (about
20%) and natural yeasts, which, unchecked, would cause the sugars in
the newly formed honey to ferment. The process continues as hive
bees flutter their wings constantly to circulate air and evaporate
water from the honey to a content around 18%, raising the sugar
concentration, and preventing fermentation. The bees then cap
the cells with wax to seal them. As removed from the hive by a
beekeeper, honey has a long shelf life and will not ferment if
Another source of honey is from a number of wasp species, such as the
Brachygastra lecheguana and Brachygastra mellifica, which are
found in South and Central America. These species are known to feed on
nectar and produce honey.
Some wasps, such as the Polistes versicolor, even consume honey
themselves, alternating between feeding on pollen in the middle of
their lifecycles and feeding on honey, which can better provide for
their energy needs.
Extraction from a honeycomb
Filtering from a honeycomb
Honey is collected from wild bee colonies or from domesticated
beehives. The honey is stored in honeycombs. Wild bee nests are
sometimes located by following a honeyguide bird. The bees may first
be pacified by using smoke from a bee smoker. The smoke triggers a
feeding instinct (an attempt to save the resources of the hive from a
possible fire), making them less aggressive and the smoke obscures the
pheromones the bees use to communicate.
The honeycomb is removed from the hive and the honey may be extracted
from that, either by crushing or by using a honey extractor. The honey
is then usually filtered to remove beeswax and other debris.
Before the invention of removable frames, bee colonies were often
sacrificed to conduct the harvest. The harvester would take all the
available honey and replace the entire colony the next spring. Since
the invention of removable frames, the principles of husbandry lead
most beekeepers to ensure that their bees have enough stores to
survive the winter, either by leaving some honey in the beehive or by
providing the colony with a honey substitute such as sugar water or
crystalline sugar (often in the form of a "candyboard"). The amount of
food necessary to survive the winter depends on the variety of bees
and on the length and severity of local winters.
A wide range of species other than humans are attracted to wild or
domestic sources of honey.
Because of its unique composition and chemical properties, honey is
suitable for long-term storage, and is easily assimilated even after
long preservation. Honey, and objects immersed in honey, have been
preserved for centuries. The key to preservation is limiting
access to humidity. In its cured state, honey has a sufficiently high
sugar content to inhibit fermentation. If exposed to moist air, its
hydrophilic properties pull moisture into the honey, eventually
diluting it to the point that fermentation can begin.
Long shelf life of honey is attributed to an enzyme found in the
stomach of bees. The bees mix
Glucose oxidase with expelled nectar
they previously consumed, which then creates two by-products: gluconic
acid and hydrogen peroxide, responsible for honey's acidity and
ability to suppress bacterial growth.
Adulteration of honey is the addition of other sugars, syrups, or
compounds into honey to change its flavor or viscosity, make it
cheaper to produce, or increase the fructose content to stave off
crystallization. According to the
Codex Alimentarius of the United
Nations, any product labeled as honey or pure honey must be a wholly
natural product, although different nations have their own laws
concerning labeling. Adulteration of honey is sometimes used as a
method of deception when buyers are led to believe that the honey is
pure. The practice was common dating back to ancient times, when honey
was sometimes blended with plant syrups like maple, birch, or sorghum
and sold to unsuspecting customers. Sometimes crystallized honey was
mixed with flour or other fillers, hiding the adulteration from buyers
until the honey was liquefied. In modern times, the most common
adulteration-ingredient became clear, almost-flavorless corn syrup,
which, when mixed with honey, is often very difficult to distinguish
from unadulterated honey.
Isotope ratio mass spectrometry
Isotope ratio mass spectrometry can be used to detect addition of corn
syrup and cane sugar by the carbon isotopic signature. Addition of
sugars originating from corn or sugar cane (C4 plants, unlike the
plants used by bees, and also sugar beet, which are predominantly C3
plants) skews the isotopic ratio of sugars present in honey, but
does not influence the isotopic ratio of proteins. In an unadulterated
honey, the carbon isotopic ratios of sugars and proteins should match.
Levels as low as 7% of addition can be detected.
In the United States, according to the National
Honey Board (a
USDA-overseen organization), "honey stipulates a pure product that
does not allow for the addition of any other substance... this
includes, but is not limited to, water or other sweeteners".
Production of natural honey – 2016
In 2016, global production of honey was 1.8 million tonnes, led by
China with 27% of the world total (table). Other major producers
were Turkey, United States, and Russia.
Over its history as a food, the main uses of honey are in cooking,
baking, desserts, such as mel i mató, as a spread on bread, as an
addition to various beverages, such as tea, and as a sweetener in some
Honey barbecue and honey mustard are other
common flavors used in sauces.
Possibly the world's oldest fermented beverage dating to 9,000 years
ago, mead ("honey wine") is the alcoholic product made by adding
yeast to the honey–water must, followed by weeks or months of
fermentation. In modern mead production, the yeast
Saccharomyces cerevisiae is commonly used.
Primary fermentation usually takes 28–56 days, after which the must
is placed in a secondary fermentation vessel for 6–9 months of
aging. Durations of primary and secondary fermentation
producing satisfactory mead may vary considerably according to
numerous factors, such as floral origin of the honey and its natural
sugar and microorganism contents, must water percentage, pH, additives
used, and strain of yeast, among others. Although
supplementation of the must with nitrogen, salt or vitamins has been
tested to improve mead qualities, there is no evidence that adding
nutrients reduced fermentation time or improved quality. Cell
immobilization methods, however, proved effective for enhancing mead
Mead varieties include drinks called metheglin (with spices or herbs),
melomel (with fruit juices, such as grape, specifically called
pyment), hippocras (with cinnamon), and sack mead (high concentration
of honey), many of which have been developed as commercial
products numbering in the hundreds in the
United States as of
Honey is also used to make mead beer, called "braggot".
Physical and chemical properties
Crystallized honey: The inset shows a close-up of the honey, showing
the individual glucose grains in the fructose mixture.
The physical properties of honey vary, depending on water content, the
type of flora used to produce it (pasturage), temperature, and the
proportion of the specific sugars it contains. Fresh honey is a
supersaturated liquid, containing more sugar than the water can
typically dissolve at ambient temperatures. At room temperature, honey
is a supercooled liquid, in which the glucose will precipitate into
solid granules. This forms a semisolid solution of precipitated
glucose crystals in a solution of fructose and other ingredients.
At the temperature of 20 °C, density of honey typically ranges
between 1.38 and 1.45 kg/l.
The melting point of crystallized honey is between 40 and 50 °C
(104 and 122 °F), depending on its composition. Below this
temperature, honey can be either in a metastable state, meaning that
it will not crystallize until a seed crystal is added, or, more often,
it is in a "labile" state, being saturated with enough sugars to
crystallize spontaneously. The rate of crystallization is affected
by many factors, but the primary factor is the ratio of the main
sugars: fructose to glucose. Honeys that are supersaturated with a
very high percentage of glucose, such as brassica honey, crystallize
almost immediately after harvesting, while honeys with a low
percentage of glucose, such as chestnut or tupelo honey, do not
crystallize. Some types of honey may produce very large but few
crystals, while others produce many small crystals.
Crystallization is also affected by water content, because a high
percentage of water inhibits crystallization, as does a high dextrin
content. Temperature also affects the rate of crystallization, with
the fastest growth occurring between 13 and 17 °C (55 and
Crystal nuclei (seeds) tend to form more readily if the
honey is disturbed, by stirring, shaking, or agitating, rather than if
left at rest. However, the nucleation of microscopic seed-crystals is
greatest between 5 and 8 °C (41 and 46 °F). Therefore,
larger but fewer crystals tend to form at higher temperatures, while
smaller but more-numerous crystals usually form at lower temperatures.
Below 5 °C, the honey will not crystallize, thus the original
texture and flavor can be preserved indefinitely.
Since honey normally exists below its melting point, it is a
supercooled liquid. At very low temperatures, honey does not freeze
solid. Instead, as the temperatures become lower, the viscosity of
honey increases. Like most viscous liquids, the honey becomes thick
and sluggish with decreasing temperature. At −20 °C
(−4 °F), honey may appear or even feel solid, but it continues
to flow at very low rates.
Honey has a glass transition between −42
and −51 °C (−44 and −60 °F). Below this temperature,
honey enters a glassy state and becomes an amorphous solid
Pouring raw honey. The sheet-like appearance of the flow is the result
of high viscosity and low surface tension, contributing to the
stickiness of honey.
The viscosity of honey is affected greatly by both temperature and
water content. The higher the water percentage, the more easily honey
flows. Above its melting point, however, water has little effect on
viscosity. Aside from water content, the composition of honey also has
little effect on viscosity, with the exception of a few types. At
25 °C (77 °F), honey with 14% water content generally has
a viscosity around 400 poise, while a honey containing 20% water has a
viscosity around 20 poise.
Viscosity increase due to temperature
occurs very slowly at first. A honey containing 16% water, at
70 °C (158 °F), has a viscosity around 2 poise, while at
30 °C (86 °F), the viscosity is around 70 poise. As
cooling progresses, honey becomes more viscous at an increasingly
rapid rate, reaching 600 poise around 14 °C (57 °F).
 However, while honey is very viscous, it has rather low
surface tension of 50--60 mJ/m2, thus the wettability of honey is on
the same order as water or most other liquids. The high viscosity
and wettability of honey lead to the phenomenon of stickiness, which
is a time-dependent process in supercooled liquids between the
glass-transition temperature (Tg) and the crystalline-melting
A few types of honey have unusual viscous properties. Honeys from
heather or manuka display thixotropic properties. These types of honey
enter a gel-like state when motionless, but then liquify when
Electrical and optical properties
Because honey contains electrolytes, in the form of acids and
minerals, it exhibits varying degrees of electrical conductivity.
Measurements of the electrical conductivity are used to determine the
quality of honey in terms of ash content.
The effect honey has on light is useful for determining the type and
quality. Variations in the water content alter the refractive index of
honey. Water content can easily be measured with a refractometer.
Typically, the refractive index for honey ranges from 1.504 at 13%
water content to 1.474 at 25%.
Honey also has an effect on polarized
light, in that it rotates the polarization plane. The fructose gives a
negative rotation, while the glucose gives a positive one. The overall
rotation can be used to measure the ratio of the mixture.
Honey may vary in color between pale yellow and dark brown, but other
bright colors may occasionally be found, depending on the source of
the sugar harvested by the bees.
Hygroscopy and fermentation
Honey has the ability to absorb moisture directly from the air, a
phenomenon called hygroscopy. The amount of water the honey absorbs is
dependent on the relative humidity of the air. Because honey contains
yeast, this hygroscopic nature requires that honey be stored in sealed
containers to prevent fermentation, which usually begins if the
honey's water content rises much above 25%.
Honey tends to absorb more
water in this manner than the individual sugars allow on their own,
which may be due to other ingredients it contains.
Fermentation of honey usually occurs after crystallization, because
without the glucose, the liquid portion of the honey primarily
consists of a concentrated mixture of fructose, acids, and water,
providing the yeast with enough of an increase in the water percentage
Honey that is to be stored at room temperature for long
periods of time is often pasteurized, to kill any yeast, by heating it
above 70 °C (158 °F).
Creamed honey. On the left is how it appears fresh, but the honey on
the right has been aged at room temperature for two years. While still
Maillard reaction produces considerable differences in the
color and flavor of the aged honey.
Like all sugar compounds, honey caramelizes if heated sufficiently,
becoming darker in color, and eventually burns. However, honey
contains fructose, which caramelizes at lower temperatures than
glucose. The temperature at which caramelization begins varies,
depending on the composition, but is typically between 70 and
110 °C (158 and 230 °F).
Honey also contains acids, which
act as catalysts for caramelization. The specific types of acids and
their amounts play a primary role in determining the exact
temperature. Of these acids, the amino acids, which occur in very
small amounts, play an important role in the darkening of honey. The
amino acids form darkened compounds called melanoidins, during a
Maillard reaction. The
Maillard reaction occurs slowly at room
temperature, taking from a few to several months to show visible
darkening, but speeds up dramatically with increasing temperatures.
However, the reaction can also be slowed by storing the honey at
Unlike many other liquids, honey has very poor thermal conductivity,
taking a long time to reach thermal equilibrium. Melting crystallized
honey can easily result in localized caramelization if the heat source
is too hot, or if it is not evenly distributed. However, honey takes
substantially longer to liquify when just above the melting point than
at elevated temperatures. Melting 20 kg of crystallized
honey, at 40 °C (104 °F), can take up to 24 hours, while
50 kg may take twice as long. These times can be cut nearly in
half by heating at 50 °C (122 °F). However, many of the
minor substances in honey can be affected greatly by heating, changing
the flavor, aroma, or other properties, so heating is usually done at
the lowest temperature possible for the shortest amount of time.
Acid content and flavor effects
The average pH of honey is 3.9, but can range from 3.4 to 6.1.
Honey contains many kinds of acids, both organic and amino. However,
the different types and their amounts vary considerably, depending on
the type of honey. These acids may be aromatic or aliphatic
(nonaromatic). The aliphatic acids contribute greatly to the flavor of
honey by interacting with the flavors of other ingredients.
Organic acids comprise most of the acids in honey, accounting for
0.17–1.17% of the mixture, with gluconic acid formed by the actions
of an enzyme called glucose oxidase as the most prevalent. Other
organic acids are minor, consisting of formic, acetic, butyric,
citric, lactic, malic, pyroglutamic, propionic, valeric, capronic,
palmitic, and succinic, among many others.
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Honey is classified by its floral source, and divisions are made
according to the packaging and processing used. Also, regional honeys
are identified. In the USA, honey is also graded on its color and
optical density by USDA standards, graded on the Pfund scale, which
ranges from 0 for "water white" honey to more than 114 for "dark
Generally, honey is classified by the floral source of the nectar from
which it was made. Honeys can be from specific types of flower nectars
or can be blended after collection. The pollen in honey is traceable
to floral source and therefore region of origin. The rheological and
melissopalynological properties of honey can be used to identify the
major plant nectar source used in its production.
Most commercially available honey is blended, meaning it is a
mixture of two or more honeys differing in floral source, color,
flavor, density, or geographic origin.
Polyfloral honey, also known as wildflower honey, is derived from
the nectar of many types of flowers.
The taste may vary from year to year, and the aroma and the flavor can
be more or less intense, depending on which bloomings are
Monofloral honey is made primarily from the nectar of one type of
flower. Different monofloral honeys have a distinctive flavor and
color because of differences between their principal nectar
sources. To produce monofloral honey, beekeepers keep beehives in
an area where the bees have access to only one type of flower. In
practice, because of the difficulties in containing bees, a small
proportion of any honey will be from additional nectar from other
flower types. Typical examples of North American monofloral honeys
are clover, orange blossom, blueberry, sage, tupelo, buckwheat,
fireweed, mesquite, and sourwood. Some typical European examples
include thyme, thistle, heather, acacia, dandelion, sunflower,
lavender, honeysuckle, and varieties from lime and chestnut
trees. In
North Africa (e.g. Egypt), examples include
clover, cotton, and citrus (mainly orange blossoms).
The unique flora of
Australia yields a number of distinctive honeys,
with some of the most popular being yellow box, blue gum, ironbark,
bush mallee, Tasmanian leatherwood, and macadamia.
Instead of taking nectar, bees can take honeydew, the sweet secretions
of aphids or other plant sap-sucking insects. Honeydew honey is very
dark brown in color, with a rich fragrance of stewed fruit or fig jam,
and is not as sweet as nectar honeys. Germany's
Black Forest is a
well known source of honeydew-based honeys, as well as some regions in
Tara (mountain) in Serbia, and Northern California in the
United States. In Greece, pine honey (a type of honeydew honey)
constitutes 60–65% of the annual honey production. Honeydew
honey is popular in some areas, but in other areas, beekeepers have
difficulty selling the stronger-flavored product.
The production of honeydew honey has some complications and dangers.
This honey has a much larger proportion of indigestibles than light
floral honeys, thus causing dysentery to the bees,
resulting in the death of colonies in areas with cold winters. Good
beekeeping management requires the removal of honeydew prior to winter
in colder areas. Bees collecting this resource also have to be fed
protein supplements, as honeydew lacks the protein-rich pollen
accompaniment gathered from flowers.
Classification by packaging and processing
Generally, honey is bottled in its familiar liquid form. However,
honey is sold in other forms, and can be subjected to a variety of
A variety of honey flavors and container sizes and styles from the
2008 Texas State Fair
Crystallized honey occurs when some of the glucose content has
spontaneously crystallized from solution as the monohydrate. It is
also called "granulated honey" or "candied honey".
Honey that has
crystallized (or commercially purchased crystallized) can be returned
to a liquid state by warming.
Pasteurized honey has been heated in a pasteurization process which
requires temperatures of 161 °F (72 °C) or higher.
Pasteurization destroys yeast cells. It also liquefies any
microcrystals in the honey, which delays the onset of visible
crystallization. However, excessive heat exposure also results in
product deterioration, as it increases the level of
hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) and reduces enzyme (e.g.
diastase) activity. Heat also affects appearance (darkens the natural
honey color), taste, and fragrance.
Raw honey is as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction,
settling, or straining, without adding heat (although some honey that
has been "minimally processed" is often labeled as raw honey). Raw
honey contains some pollen and may contain small particles of wax.
Strained honey has been passed through a mesh material to remove
particulate material (pieces of wax, propolis, other defects)
without removing pollen, minerals, or enzymes.
Filtered honey of any type has been filtered to the extent that all or
most of the fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles, or other
materials normally found in suspension, have been removed. The
process typically heats honey to 150–170 °F (66–77 °C)
to more easily pass through the filter. Filtered honey is very
clear and will not crystallize as quickly, making it preferred by
the supermarket trade.
Ultrasonicated honey has been processed by ultrasonication, a
nonthermal processing alternative for honey. When honey is exposed to
ultrasonication, most of the yeast cells are destroyed. Those cells
that survive sonication generally lose their ability to grow, which
reduces the rate of honey fermentation substantially. Ultrasonication
also eliminates existing crystals and inhibits further crystallization
in honey. Ultrasonically aided liquefaction can work at substantially
lower temperatures around 95 °F (35 °C) and can reduce
liquefaction time to less than 30 seconds.
Creamed honey, also called whipped honey, spun honey, churned honey,
honey fondant, and (in the UK) set honey, has been processed to
Creamed honey contains a large number of
small crystals, which prevent the formation of larger crystals that
can occur in unprocessed honey. The processing also produces a honey
with a smooth, spreadable consistency.
Dried honey has the moisture extracted from liquid honey to create
completely solid, nonsticky granules. This process may or may not
include the use of drying and anticaking agents. Dried honey is
used in baked goods, and to garnish desserts.
Comb honey is still in the honeybees' wax comb. It is traditionally
collected using standard wooden frames in honey supers. The frames are
collected and the comb is cut out in chunks before packaging. As an
alternative to this labor-intensive method, plastic rings or
cartridges can be used that do not require manual cutting of the comb,
and speed packaging.
Comb honey harvested in the traditional manner is
also referred to as "cut-comb honey".:13
Chunk honey is packed in widemouth containers consisting of one or
more pieces of comb honey immersed in extracted liquid honey.:13
Honey decoctions are made from honey or honey byproducts which have
been dissolved in water, then reduced (usually by means of boiling).
Other ingredients may then be added. (For example, abbamele has added
citrus.) The resulting product may be similar to molasses.
Baker's honey is outside the normal specification for honey, due to a
"foreign" taste or odor, or because it has begun to ferment or has
been overheated. It is generally used as an ingredient in food
processing. Additional requirements exist for labeling baker's honey,
including that it may not be sold labelled simply as "honey".
See also: Food grading
In the US, honey grading is performed voluntarily (USDA does offer
inspection and grading "as on-line (in-plant) or lot inspection...upon
application, on a fee-for-service basis.") based upon USDA standards.
Honey is graded based upon a number of factors, including water
content, flavor and aroma, absence of defects, and clarity.
also classified by color, though it is not a factor in the grading
scale. The honey grade scale is:
Flavor and aroma
Absence of defects
Good—"has a good, normal flavor and aroma for the predominant floral
source or, when blended, a good flavor for the blend of floral sources
and the honey is free from caramelized flavor or objectionable flavor
caused by fermentation, smoke, chemicals, or other causes with the
exception of the predominant floral source"
Practically free—"contains practically no defects that affect the
appearance or edibility of the product"
Clear—"may contain air bubbles which do not materially affect the
appearance of the product and may contain a trace of pollen grains or
other finely divided particles of suspended material which do not
affect the appearance of the product"
Reasonably good—"has a reasonably good, normal flavor and aroma for
the predominant floral source or, when blended, a reasonably good
flavor for the blend of floral sources and the honey is practically
free from caramelized flavor and is free from objectionable flavor
caused by fermentation, smoke, chemicals, or other causes with the
exception of the predominant floral source"
Reasonably free—"may contain defects which do not materially affect
the appearance or edibility of the product"
Reasonably clear—"may contain air bubbles, pollen grains, or other
finely divided particles of suspended material which do not materially
affect the appearance of the product"
Fairly good—"has a fairly good, normal flavor and aroma for the
predominant floral source or, when blended, a fairly good flavor for
the blend of floral sources and the honey is reasonably free from
caramelized flavor and is free from objectionable flavor caused by
fermentation, smoke, chemicals, or other causes with the exception of
the predominant floral source"
Fairly free—"may contain defects which do not seriously affect the
appearance or edibility of the product"
Fairly clear—"may contain air bubbles, pollen grains, or other
finely divided particles of suspended material which do not seriously
affect the appearance of the product"
Fails Grade C
Fails Grade C
Fails Grade C
Fails Grade C
Other countries may have differing standards on the grading of honey.
India, for example, certifies honey grades based on additional
factors, such as the Fiehe's test, and other empirical
Indicators of quality
High-quality honey can be distinguished by fragrance, taste, and
consistency. Ripe, freshly collected, high-quality honey at
20 °C (68 °F) should flow from a knife in a straight
stream, without breaking into separate drops. After falling down,
the honey should form a bead. The honey, when poured, should form
small, temporary layers that disappear fairly quickly, indicating high
viscosity. If not, it indicates excessive water content (over 20%)
of the product.
Honey with excessive water content is not suitable for
In jars, fresh honey should appear as a pure, consistent fluid, and
should not set in layers. Within a few weeks to a few months of
extraction, many varieties of honey crystallize into a cream-colored
solid. Some varieties of honey, including tupelo, acacia, and sage,
crystallize less regularly.
Honey may be heated during bottling at
temperatures of 40–49 °C (104–120 °F) to delay or
inhibit crystallization. Overheating is indicated by change in enzyme
levels, for instance, diastase activity, which can be determined with
the Schade or the
Phadebas methods. A fluffy film on the surface of
the honey (like a white foam), or marble-colored or white-spotted
crystallization on a container's sides, is formed by air bubbles
trapped during the bottling process.
A 2008 Italian study determined nuclear magnetic resonance
spectroscopy can be used to distinguish between different honey types,
and can be used to pinpoint the area where it was produced.
Researchers were able to identify differences in acacia and polyfloral
honeys by the differing proportions of fructose and sucrose, as well
as differing levels of aromatic amino acids phenylalanine and
tyrosine. This ability allows greater ease of selecting compatible
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
1,272 kJ (304 kcal)
Pantothenic acid (B5)
Full Link to USDA Database entry
μg = micrograms • mg = milligrams
IU = International units
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for
In a 100-gram serving, honey provides 304 kilocalories with no
essential nutrients in significant content. Composed of 17% water
and 82% carbohydrates, honey has low content of fat, dietary fiber,
A mixture of sugars and other carbohydrates, honey is mainly fructose
(about 38%) and glucose (about 32%), with remaining sugars
including maltose, sucrose, and other complex carbohydrates. Its
glycemic index ranges from 31 to 78, depending on the variety. The
specific composition, color, aroma, and flavor of any batch of honey
depend on the flowers foraged by bees that produced the honey.
One 1980 study found that mixed floral honey from several United
States regions typically contains:
Higher sugars: 1.5%
NMR spectroscopy study of 20 different honeys from Germany
found that their sugar contents comprised:
Fructose: 28% to 41%
Glucose: 22% to 35%
The average ratio was 56% fructose to 44% glucose, but the ratios in
the individual honeys ranged from a high of 64% fructose and 36%
glucose (one type of flower honey; table 3 in reference) to a low of
50% fructose and 50% glucose (a different floral source). This NMR
method was not able to quantify maltose, galactose, and the other
minor sugars as compared to fructose and glucose.
Wounds and burns
Some evidence shows that honey may help healing in skin wounds after
surgery and mild (partial thickness) burns when used in a dressing,
but in general, the evidence for the use of honey in wound treatment
is of such low quality that firm conclusions cannot be drawn.
Evidence does not support the use of honey-based products in the
treatment of venous stasis ulcers or ingrown toenail.
Components of honey under preliminary research for their potential
antibacterial properties include methylglyoxal, hydrogen peroxide, and
royalisin (also called defensin-1).
For chronic and acute coughs, a Cochrane review found no strong
evidence for or against the use of honey. For treating
children, the study concluded that honey possibly helps more than no
Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency
Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency recommends
avoiding giving over the counter cough and common cold medication to
children under six, and suggests "a homemade remedy containing honey
and lemon is likely to be just as useful and safer to take", but warns
that honey should not be given to babies because of the risk of infant
botulism. The World Health Organization recommends honey as a
treatment for coughs and sore throats, including for children, stating
that no reason exists to believe it is less effective than a
Honey is recommended by one Canadian physician
for children over the age of one for the treatment of coughs, as it is
deemed as effective as dextromethorphan and more effective than
No evidence shows the benefit of using honey to treat cancer,
although honey may be useful for controlling side effects of radiation
therapy or chemotherapy applied in cancer treatment.
Consumption is sometimes advocated as a treatment for seasonal
allergies due to pollen, but scientific evidence to support the claim
Honey is generally considered ineffective for
the treatment of allergic conjunctivitis.
Although the majority of calories in honey is from fructose, honey
does not cause increased weight gain and fructose by itself is
not an independent factor for weight gain.
Although honey is generally safe when taken in typical food
amounts, there are various, potential adverse effects or
interactions it may have in combination with excessive consumption,
existing disease conditions or drugs. Included among these are
mild reactions to high intake, such as anxiety, insomnia, or
hyperactivity in about 10% of children, according to one study. No
symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, or hyperactivity were detected with
honey consumption compared to placebo, according to another study.
Honey consumption may interact adversely with existing allergies, high
blood sugar levels (as in diabetes), or anticoagulants used to control
bleeding, among other clinical conditions.
People who have a weakened immune system may be at risk of bacterial
or fungal infection from eating honey, although there is no
high-quality clinical evidence that this occurs commonly.
Infants can develop botulism after consuming honey contaminated with
Clostridium botulinum endospores.
Infantile botulism shows geographical variation. In the UK, only six
cases have been reported between 1976 and 2006, yet the U.S. has
much higher rates: 1.9 per 100,000 live births, 47.2% of which are in
California. While the risk honey poses to infant health is small,
taking the risk is not recommended until after one year of age, and
then giving honey is considered safe.
Main article: Bees and toxic chemicals § Toxic honey
Mad honey intoxication is a result of eating honey containing
Honey produced from flowers of rhododendrons,
mountain laurels, sheep laurel, and azaleas may cause honey
intoxication. Symptoms include dizziness, weakness, excessive
perspiration, nausea, and vomiting. Less commonly, low blood pressure,
shock, heart rhythm irregularities, and convulsions may occur, with
rare cases resulting in death.
Honey intoxication is more likely when
using "natural" unprocessed honey and honey from farmers who may have
a small number of hives. Commercial processing, with pooling of honey
from numerous sources, is thought to dilute any toxins.
Toxic honey may also result when bees are proximate to tutu bushes
(Coriaria arborea) and the vine hopper insect (Scolypopa australis).
Both are found throughout New Zealand. Bees gather honeydew produced
by the vine hopper insects feeding on the tutu plant. This introduces
the poison tutin into honey. Only a few areas in New Zealand (the
Coromandel Peninsula, Eastern
Bay of Plenty
Bay of Plenty and the Marlborough
Sounds) frequently produce toxic honey. Symptoms of tutin poisoning
include vomiting, delirium, giddiness, increased excitability, stupor,
coma, and violent convulsions.[medical citation needed] To reduce the
risk of tutin poisoning, humans should not eat honey taken from feral
hives in the risk areas of New Zealand. Since December 2001, New
Zealand beekeepers have been required to reduce the risk of producing
toxic honey by closely monitoring tutu, vine hopper, and foraging
conditions within 3 km (1.9 mi) of their apiary.[citation
needed] Intoxication is rarely dangerous.
History and culture
Honey use and production has a long and varied history. In many
cultures, honey has associations that go beyond its use as a food. It
is frequently used as a talisman and symbol of sweetness.
Honey seeker depicted in an 8000-year-old cave painting at Araña
Caves in Spain
Honey collection is an ancient activity. Humans apparently began
hunting for honey at least 8,000 years ago, as evidenced by a cave
painting in Valencia, Spain. The painting is a
painting, showing two honey hunters collecting honey and honeycomb
from a wild bee nest. The figures are depicted carrying baskets or
gourds, and using a ladder or series of ropes to reach the wild nest.
The greater honeyguide bird guides humans to wild bee hives and
this behavior may have evolved with early hominids.
The oldest known honey remains were found in the country of Georgia.
Archaeologists found honey remains on the inner surface of clay
vessels unearthed in an ancient tomb, dating back some 4,700–5,500
years. In ancient Georgia, several types of honey were
buried with a person for their journey into the afterlife, including
linden, berry, and meadow-flower varieties.
In ancient Egypt, honey was used to sweeten cakes and biscuits, and
was used in many other dishes. Ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern
peoples also used honey for embalming the dead. The fertility god
of Egypt, Min, was offered honey.
In ancient Greece, honey was produced from the Archaic to the
Hellenistic periods. In 594 BC, beekeeping around
Athens was so
Solon passed a law about it: "He who sets up hives of
bees must put them 300 feet (91 metres) away from those already
installed by another". Greek archaeological excavations of
pottery located ancient hives. According to Columella, Greek
beekeepers of the
Hellenistic period did not hesitate to move their
hives over rather long distances to maximise production, taking
advantage of the different vegetative cycles in different
In the absence of sugar, honey was an integral sweetening ingredient
in Greek and Roman cuisine. During Roman times, honey was part of many
recipes and it is mentioned in the work of many authors, such as
Virgil, Pliny, Cicero, and others.
The spiritual and therapeutic use of honey in ancient
documented in both the
Vedas and the
Ayurveda texts, which were both
composed at least 4,000 years ago.
Beekeeping in ancient
China has existed since ancient times and
appears to be untraceable to its origin. In the book Golden Rules of
Business Success written by
Fan Li (or Tao Zhu Gong) during the Spring
and Autumn period, some parts mention the art of beekeeping and the
importance of the quality of the wooden box for beekeeping that can
affect the quality of its honey.
Honey was also cultivated in ancient Mesoamerica. The Maya used honey
from the stingless bee for culinary purposes, and continue to do so
today. The Maya also regard the bee as sacred (see Mayan stingless
bees of Central America).
Some cultures believed honey had many practical health uses. It was
used as an ointment for rashes and burns, and to help soothe sore
throats when no other practices were available.
Folk medicine and wound research
In myths and folk medicine, honey has been used both orally and
topically to treat various ailments including gastric disturbances,
ulcers, skin wounds, and skin burns by ancient Greeks and Egyptians,
Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine.
Proposed for treating wounds and burns, honey may have antimicrobial
properties as first reported in 1892 and be useful as a safe,
improvisational wound treatment. Though its supposed
antimicrobial properties may be due to high osmolarity even when
diluted with water, it is more effective than plain sugar water of a
similar viscosity. Definitive clinical conclusions about the
efficacy and safety of treating wounds, however, are not possible from
this limited research.
The flora that bees use to make the honey may have a role in its
properties, particularly by bees foraging from the manuka myrtle,
Leptospermum scoparium, as proposed in one study.
Ancient Greeks Religion In ancient Greek religion, the food of Zeus
and the 12 Gods of Olympus was honey in the form of nectar and
Hinduism In Hinduism, honey (Madhu) is one of the five elixirs of
immortality (Panchamrita). In temples, honey is poured over the
deities in a ritual called
Madhu abhisheka. The
Vedas and other
ancient literature mention the use of honey as a great medicinal and
Judaism In Jewish tradition, honey is a symbol for the new year, Rosh
Hashanah. At the traditional meal for that holiday, apple slices are
dipped in honey and eaten to bring a sweet new year. Some Rosh
Hashanah greetings show honey and an apple, symbolizing the feast. In
some congregations, small straws of honey are given out to usher in
the new year.
Hebrew Bible contains many references to honey. In the Book of
Judges, Samson found a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of a
lion (14:8). In Old Testament law, offerings were made in the temple
to God. The
Book of Leviticus
Book of Leviticus says that "Every grain offering you
bring to the Lord must be made without yeast, for you are not to burn
any yeast or honey in a food offering presented to the Lord" (2:11).
In the Books of Samuel, Jonathan is forced into a confrontation with
King Saul after eating honey in violation of a rash oath
Saul has made. Proverbs 16:24 in the JPS Tanakh 1917 version says
"Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul, and health to
Book of Exodus
Book of Exodus famously describes the
Promised Land as a
"land flowing with milk and honey" (33:3). However, most Biblical
commentators write that the original Hebrew in the Bible (דבש
devash) refers to the sweet syrup produced from the juice of dates
(silan). In 2005 an apiary dating from the 10th century B.C. was
found in Tel Rehov, Israel that contained 100 hives and is estimated
to produce half a ton of honey annually. Pure honey is
considered kosher, though it is produced by a flying insect, a
non-kosher creature; other products of non-kosher animals are not
Buddhism In Buddhism, honey plays an important role in the festival of
Madhu Purnima, celebrated in
India and Bangladesh. The day
commemorates Buddha's making peace among his disciples by retreating
into the wilderness. The legend has it that while he was there, a
monkey brought him honey to eat. On
Madhu Purnima, Buddhists remember
this act by giving honey to monks. The monkey's gift is frequently
depicted in Buddhist art.
Christianity In the Christian New Testament, Matthew 3:4, John the
Baptist is said to have lived for a long period of time in the
wilderness on a diet consisting of locusts and wild honey.
Islam In Islam, an entire chapter (Surah) in the
Qur'an is called
an-Nahl (the Bees). According to his teachings (hadith), Muhammad
strongly recommended honey for healing purposes. The Qur'an
promotes honey as a nutritious and healthy food. Below is the English
translation of those specific verses:
And thy Lord taught the
Bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and
in (men's) habitations; Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth),
and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from
within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is healing for
men: verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought [Al-Quran
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