Sunday, March 3, 2013

Honey, Nectar of the Gods

My late breakfast today was Fage greek yogurt drizzled with honey and sprinked with a handful of fresh blueberries.  Hot damn was that delicious.

Closing in on 40 I've finally developed an appreciation for honey.  I suspect it's because I consumed so much processed garbage in my youth, but I never cared for the taste of the stuff.  These days its finding its way onto my yogurt and into the occasional evening herbal tea.  I've been missing out.

Made me curious as to how exactly bees make honey, which I've always had a vague idea of but was ignorant of the actual mechanics.

Sadly this video won't embed, but it's 4:00 minutes long and partially answers the question.  Fortunately there are plenty of places to read about it.
A bee returning to the hive with a load of nectar is almost immediately greeted by other workers ready to relieve her of the load. A mouth to mouth transfer is normally done between a field bee and one of the hive bees as the adjacent photo shows. Notice the extended "tongues". The recipient bee processes the honey in its mouth and honey stomach by the addition of enzymes that break the complex sugars in the nectar into simple sugars that is both more digestible by the bees and ultimately gives the honey its characteristic long "shelf life".
Nectar returned to the hive at this point is barely recognizable as honey. The nectar initially is nearly 80% water with the remainder consisting primarily of complex sugars. After processing the honey with enzymes, small droplets are typically deposited on the upper side of a cell wall awaiting its final conversion into viscous honey with which we humans are acquainted. This conversion is largely an evaporation process which, in turn, is hastened by the warm temperature (95 degrees F) maintained in the hive and the movement of air across the honey combs. Leaving nothing to chance, the bees actually control the movement of air by fanning their wings in a coordinated effort. The buzzing sound coming from a hive (even at night when there is no flying) is due to this "forced evaporation" process. The end result is thick, viscous honey with a 17% - 18% moisture content.

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