7 Unusual Facts about Honey
September is National Honey Month. That makes it a great time to learn more about honey and the essential role it plays in our diets, health and environment. For example:
Honey is basically bee vomit. Bees use their long, tube-like tongues to suck nectar out of flowers. When they return to their hive, other bees suck the honey from the honeybees’ stomachs and “chew” it for about half an hour, using enzymes to break down the complex sugar in the nectar into a form that is easier for the bees to digest and less likely to “rot” while it is stored in the hive. The bees then regurgitate the nectar into their honeycomb and flap their wings to evaporate water that might still be in the chewed-up nectar. Voilá!
Bees live on their own honey. Bees eat the honey they make, especially in colder months when less flower nectar is available. In one year, a colony of bees eats between 120 and 200 pounds of honey. However, the queen bee does not eat honey directly. Throughout her life, she eats something called “Royal Jelly,” which is what actually turns ordinary bees into queens. It consists of chewed pollen plus a chemical secreted by a gland in the head of the nursing bee.
Did you know that there are more than 300 varietals of honey in the U.S. alone? Each one has a distinct flavor profile and color, based on the floral source where the bees collected the nectar. Orange Blossom, Wildflower, Clover, Dandelion and Gallberry are some honeys you might find when you shop.
To make just one pound of honey, a honeybee needs to tap 2 million flowers. They also need to drink about a quart of water every day, and more during hot summer months.
Honey can kill babies and we are not exaggerating. Spores of botulism bacteria exist in dust and soil and can be picked from bees as they’re feeding on pollen. Infants have an undeveloped immune system that may not protect them from developing botulism if they’re exposed. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cautions against feeding honey to children unless they are at least one-year-old.
You can use honey to treat ulcers and wounds, but not burns. In Haiti, people apply regular honey to help heal sores, though evidently a more effective product is called Medihoney, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and made in New Zealand from Manuka honey.
Honey is not better than sugar for dieters or people with diabetes. In fact, a tablespoon of honey has more carbohydrates and calories than either white or brown sugar. It is a non-fat food, but high in sugar.