honey processing -
From the humble bee collecting nectar to a jar of golden delicious honey - there's a lot that goes on!
Beekeepers produce RAW honey from their colonies of honeybees - this simply means there is definitely nothing added and nothing taken away (save for some bits of wax and the odd bee leg).
The honey we put into jars is as nature intended it to be with all of the benefits it gives us.
Read on to find out more ...
Let's start at the beginning with the bees ...
Did you know that honey contains everything a human being needs to sustain life?
We all know the bees visit our plants to collect nectar, but did you know that honeybees can't eat solid foods? They use their PROBOSCIS to suck up liquids into their stomach. This is like a folded up straw in her mouth and extends outwards when she needs to use it.
When a honeybee go foraging for nectar, she needs somewhere to keep it! Our honeybee has two stomachs - one she uses to store the nectar she collects and the other is her normal stomach. Her "honey tummy" is also called a CROP.
When she needs an energy boost, she will release some of the nectar stored in her crop to use in her own stomach.
THE SCIENCE BIT!
As a forager collects nectar from a plant, she adds a special enzyme to it called INVERTASE. This enzyme starts to convert the SUCROSE in the nectar to GLUCOSE and FRUCTOSE and break them back down to simple sugars known as MONOSACCHARIDES.
FACT: HONEY IS ANTISEPTIC!
Honeybees also add other enzymes to the nectar in their honey stomach.
One important enzyme is GLUCOSE OXIDASE and this enzyme works on the glucose to create a tiny amount of HYDROGEN PEROXIDE. It's this that gives honey it's antiseptic, antimicrobial properties and that's why honey can be used to treat wounds. It also helps preserves the honey and makes it last forever.
The crop of a honeybee can hold around 100 milligrams of nectar but she will usually return to the hive with around 40mg of nectar. This compares to the weight of a bee at around 95mg.
When our honeybee has collected enough nectar in her crop, she will return to the hive. Back at the hive, the nectar is transferred to the honey stomach of HOUSE BEES who also add more of the same enzymes to the nectar in their crop.
The house bees will spend the next 30 minutes REGURGITATING and RE-DRINKING the nectar, breaking down the sugars even further by adding more of the same enzymes.
When the bees know that the nectar is ready, the house bees will spread the nectar into the honeycomb cells and fan it with their wings. This fanning helps to EVAPORATE the water content and also ripens the nectar.
When the water content of the nectar has been evaporated to around 18% and the nectar is ripened, the bees stop fanning and now we can call it HONEY!
The bees seal the honey in the honeycomb with a wax cap as part of their honey store.
If the water content of honey is above 20%, the honey will eventually start to ferment due to the presence of natural yeasts. The fermentation process will work on the sugars converting them into alcohol (Mead in this case!)