September is Sweet as Can Bee
In the USA, September marks an important month for beekeepers and honey enthusiasts alike. Originally established in 1989, National Honey Month aims to promote the beekeeping industry and showcase the natural goodness of local honey.
photo credit: wikipedia.org
The History of Honey
The importance of pollinators has always been apparent. As early humans grew and evolved, so did their relationship with the natural world around them. Honey gathering can historically be traced back to the Middle Stone Age, from 10,000 BCE to 8,000 BCE. Multiple cave paintings depict humans involved in their many honey hunts. Ancient Egyptians are the first recorded civilization who used migratory beekeeping, a method where hives were placed on rafts along the Nile River, pollinating plants and increasing crop yield along the way. Through the centuries, honey collection has evolved into what is now known as modern beekeeping.
photo credit: Lindsey Best
How Honey is Made
Honey production starts with the brightest and sweetest of blooms. Worker bees are able to travel anywhere within a five mile radius of their hive. They collect nectar using a straw-like tongue called a proboscis, which is perfectly designed to fit inside the center of a flower. On a single foraging trip, a worker bee can visit up to 100 flowers. Forager bees must visit 2 million flowers to make a single pound of honey! The nectar is sucked up and passed into an expandable pouch called a honey stomach or crop and is then passed to a receiver bee. The nectar is passed back and forth among the bees until it is eventually deposited into a honeycomb cell. By continuously flapping their wings, the bees draw out any water until it reaches a moisture content of about 17%. Once the cells are capped over with wax, the honey is ready to be extracted!
Varieties of Honey
The flavor and color of honey are influenced by the types of flowers the bees visit. Honey color ranges from nearly colorless to dark brown, and its flavor varies from mild to bold. As a general rule, light-colored honey is milder in taste and dark-colored honey tends to have a more robust flavor. For example, when bees are placed in an avocado orchard, Avocado honey is produced by the bees. This nectar is dark in appearance with a flavor comparable to molasses. Citrusy orange blossoms create a honey that is bright and sweet. As the seasons change, so do the plants and flowers. Wildflower honey will vary depending on the flowers that are in season. Other factors, such as how much rainfall has occurred in the year, can also affect the taste and color of honey. There are more than 300 types of honey in the United States. There are even some reports of unprecedented purple or even red honey, although their origins are disputed among bee experts.
Honey is Seasonal
In most parts of the country, September signifies an end to the honey collection season. This is what is known as a dearth, wherein major nectar sources become scarce. Bee colonies will shrink in size throughout the winter months and start building up again in early Spring. Some hives do produce honey all year round depending on their location. Southern California does not experience a true winter. Hence, a backyard hive in Beverly Hills for example, may produce honey all year round.
Honey as an Effective Medicine
From its antibiotic properties to culinary applications, there is no limit to the many uses of honey. How can something so good have so many natural benefits? For thousands of years, honey has been used medicinally to treat a myriad of ailments. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and other civilizations took advantage of honey’s antibacterial composition for wound healing and intestinal diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) even deemed honey an effective component in coating and soothing sore throats. Another study published in the journal BMJ Evidence Based Medicine backed up this same theory, claiming that honey “could help to slow the spread of antimicrobial resistance” and was “superior to the usual care for the improvement of symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.”
Honey vs. Sugar
Honey packs a suspiciously nutritious punch! It is overflowing with various amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. In addition to its uses in traditional and modern medicine, honey is also a fantastic alternative to sugar. Honey has a low GI (glycemic index), which means that it does not raise blood sugar levels as quickly as sugar. It is also sweeter than sugar, so less is needed. This makes it the perfect swap for sugar in baked goods and culinary dishes. Honey is also a favorite among professional cooks and bakers. But you don’t have to be a chef to enjoy honey in your every day cooking. Check out the links below for some yummy honey recipes that anyone can try!
And while you’re at it, remember to thank the bees for all of the wonderful gifts they provide us!