What is honey? In short, honey is a sweet substance made from the nectar of flowers. However, honey is much more than is primary constituent, nectar. Honeybees collect nectar from flowering plants. The nectar is drawn in to the honeybee through a straw-like structure called a proboscis. Once inside the honeybee the honey is stored in an organ known as the honey-stomach. This organ is actually an expanded section of the esophagus. This organ serves to store the nectar until the honeybee can return to the hive. Upon returning to the hive the nectar is transferred (by regurgitation) to the a honeycomb cell and an awaiting worker bee. At this point the transformation of the nectar to honey can begin to take place. This regurgitation can occur several times over. During this stage of honey formation, enzymatic action is partially degrading or breaking down the nectar. The technical term for this process is trophallaxis.
The second stage of the chemical transformation of nectar to honey is evaporation. The regurgitated nectar and enzymes has a high water content at this time, while honey itself has a very low water content. Worker bees constantly fan the “soon to be honey” in the cells in order to evaporate the water from the solution. The removal of the water from the honey prevents the fermentation of the honey sugars. The very low water content of honey is also the quality that makes honey incredibly resistant to microbial growth and propagation. It is this quality of very low water content that gives honey its very long shelf-life. In academic terms we refer to honey as a supersaturated liquid. In simple terms this means that honey contains a higher amount of dissolved sugars than an aqueous solution (water containing) can typically hold.
At room temperature honey is not quite a liquid. Scientifically speaking it would be called a supercooled liquid (normally existing below its melting point). Given time , glucose will precipitate out of liquid honey forming a semi-solid (and eventually a near-solid) substance. The glucose molecules assume a crystalline structure in an otherwise liquid medium. Interestingly, honey varieties such as Tupelo Honey, have very low amounts of glucose as compared to its fructose content. This quality of low glucose makes Tupelo Honey very resistant to crystalization. Likewise, honey varieties with high ratios of glucose as compared to fructose will display a greater tendency to crystallize. Fruit tree honeys such as Orange Blossom and Lemon Blossom honey are examples of high glucose honey varieties.
Honey will not freeze completely solid. However, honey will eventually become an amorphous solid. As temperatures are lowered honeys viscosity will decrease causing it to thicken and become slow moving. At temperatures just below 0°F honey will appear solid and glassy.
Honey Nutrition - Honey is primarily composed of two monosaccharides (simple sugars), glucose and fructose. The exact make up of honey will depend on the floral source producing the nectar collected by the honeybees, and to a much lessor degree, the species of the bee collecting the Honey. Keeping in mind that each variety of honey will vary slightly, the following is a general nutritional analysis of honey.
Typical honey analysis:
- Fructose: 38.2%
- Glucose: 31.3%
- Maltose: 7.1%
- Sucrose: 1.3%
- Water: 17.2%
- Higher sugars: 1.5%
- Ash: 0.2%
- Other/undetermined: 3.2%
Honey does also contain many micronutrients including; vitamin B, vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, folate, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc, and some protein (amino acids). In addition to this assortment of micronutrients, honey also can contain a wide variety of antioxidents including, pinobanksin, pinocembrin, chrysin, and catalase.
Varieties of Honey - Honey is available in a multitude of varieties. Most honey products that are sold under the name “honey” are honey blends. Blended honey may contain any number of different honeys from any number of floral sources and any number of geographical regions. Honey producers are not required to report specific origins of all components of blended honeys. In Fact, many commercial honey producers may not even know the origins of their product. It may be that these producers are purchasing bulk blended honey and then further blending this honey with other bulk blended honey. The Savannah Bee Company feels it is very important to understand the origin of every honey sold. If fact, we like to have personal relationships with all of our beekeepers!
Monofloral Honey - (also known as single varietal honey) Monofloral honey is honey produced entirely from one single nectar source. Every nectar source will impart unique qualities to the honey produced. Color, texture, clarity, and flavor are all examples of honey qualities that will vary by nectar source. Monofloral honeys are considered the most premium honeys available. All honey fans have their favorite monofloral honey. The Savannah Bee Company carries several monofloral honey varieties: Tupelo Honey, Sourwood Honey, Orange Bolssom Honey, Palmetto Honey, Acacia Honey, and Star Thistle Honey .
Polyfloral Honey - (also known as multi-varietal honey) Polyfloral honey is often sold as wildflower honey. Polyfloral honey is derived from a variety of flower types and thus nectar sources. Wildflower honey will vary in flavor from season to season based on availability of nectar sources. Polyfloral honey is created when the apiary is established in an environment that hosts many floral species. The Savannah Bee Company Wildflower Honey comes from south-central Georgia and is golden in color, rich and deeply textured in flavor!