Perhaps one of oldest, natural food substance known to mankind. Produced by bees, collected and utilized for lot of different purposes, whether to drink with warm water to soothe a sore throat, or to create delicious desserts and souses, or to ferment into mead. We can say that honey is quite the protagonist…
Throughout history, honey always played a significant role in society. In the old Pagan world, it was believed that honey was a direct link to the Gods themselves. In ancient Rome, it was a status symbol and those who produced the finest, sweetest honey were considered to be esteemed, prestigious citizens. Later in the middle ages, thanks to the ancient Greek medicine men, honey was associated with medicine and was viewed as a form of remedy for several alignments and thus, it was used by pharmacists (back then, known as Apothecary) and even Alchemists for medicinal purposes to heal the sick.
But what is honey exactly?
A good definition to what honey is, can be found in the following Wikipedia quote:
“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. Honey is 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. Honey is collected from wild bee colonies, or from hives of domesticated bees, a practice known as beekeeping.”
Extracted from; Wikipedia, Honey, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey
Of all the bee species, the European honeybees (known as Apis Mellifera) are the ones that produce the honey we eat. Honeybees make honey because it is the one of two types of food that the bee needs to live. The reason why honeybees make honey in bulk is because the honeybee, like other bee species, is seasonal. They work hard during spring to make honey so they can survive, and chill in their hive during the winter (honeybees don’t hibernate unlike the majority of bee species). That is why we’re able to get honey from them, because they make plenty of it!
The process to make honey starts with the worker bees extracting pollen nectar from flowers and through regurgitation (spitting into each other’s mouths), the pollen is then transformed into honey. The honeycomb is then filled with honey and later, capped using beeswax in order to store that extra honey. The beekeeper will then know that the honey can be collected from the hive. He does this by spraying the hive with pine cone smoke and putting what is called a bee escape on the hive, which is basically a lid that has a repulsive scent to repel the bees from the hive, thus making it easy for the keeper to extract the honeycomb from the beehive and collect the honey. Once the honey is collected, ensuring that the bees are left with plenty for themselves to live (or at least replaced with sugar) it it then processed and packed into the fancy jars we buy from the supermarkets.
A point to know is that for centuries, honey was extracted from the beehive, at the cost of killing the bees in the process, which was a pity, bearing serious repercussions on the surrounding ares due to the lack of pollination. Then a beekeeper invented the infamous removable wooden honeycomb, thus sparing the bees, to live and produce honey for another day.
Long story short, honey is produced by the honey bees as a source of food for themselves, but, since they make plenty of it, we managed to “domesticate” honeybees to acquire their honey. Reading around, I came across some ethical views concerning the domestication of the honeybee for its honey, and about the alarming fact that the honeybee is coming under threat.
I’ll post about this later on.