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Beekeeper What's So Special About Honey?

From the earliest times honey has been valued as a delicacy, a food and a sweetener.

The production of honey by the bees is part of an exchange. The flowers provide nectar enabling the bees to build up thriving colonies in the spring and storing a surplus in the summer to see them through the winter. When collecting the nectar the bees pick up pollen on the hairs of their legs and body and transfer it to other flowers fertilising the blooms so that fruit and seeds are set.

Plants collect moisture and nutrients from the soil and atmosphere and these have an effect on the nectar produced. This liquid secreted from the nectary contains a high proportion of sucrose and traces of protein, salts, acids, enzymes and aromatic substances all in a watery solution. The make up of the nectar is not just dependent on the plant but also on the geographical situation and the weather - in short it is unlikely you would ever get the same nectar and therefore the same honey twice - its special. Nectars vary in flavour and sugar content eg Lime has 32-35%, White clover 40% and Marjoram reaches 70%. Have you ever wondered why an apple tree has more fruit on the sunny side of the tree? It's because the nectar on the sunny side has had the water driven off by the heat of the sun and therefore the sucrose is more concentrated and therefore more attractive to the bees - more visits equals better pollination.

Once gathered it is carried back to the hive in the bee's honey sac, a non digestive crop, and then passed on to the house bees to be conditioned and stored. Two things have to be done to convert the nectar to honey, firstly the water content has to be reduced to below 20% to prevent fermentation. The bees do this by exposing small quantities of the liquid to warm and well ventilated parts of the hive. Secondly the sucrose in the nectar is converted to Fructose and Glucose by the addition of the enzyme "invertase" produced in the glands of the bee. The end result is a food product made of dehydrated nectar - honey - which is stored in sealed wax cells. The beekeeper merely takes the surplus at the end of the season and sometimes feeds them liquid sugar to see them through to the Spring.

When sealed in the wax comb the honey is a clear liquid and its storage is a model of hygienic food preservation. All honey will eventually set or granulate and this process can be reversed by gently warming the honey to remelt it. Some honeys set naturally with large granules and taste a little like granulated sugar in honey. Others set like Royal Icing - very hard and unspreadable. To overcome this problem beekeepers will mix in a small amount of fine grained honey before it sets and then gently stir the honey to prematurely fix the setting before it becomes hard thereby producing a "soft set " honey. Same honey, no additives, just a more usable product than hard set honey and more stable than clear honey.

Is commercial honey any better than local honey? It all depends on where it came from, how it has been produced and how it has been treated. In some countries bees are fed continously with sugar syrup of one form or another to bulk up the honey crop. If you believe all imported honey is tested dream on. To speed up filtration and stop granulation some processors heat the honey to very high temperatures. This destroys elements within the honey and removes every particle of pollen and indeed everything else.

The choice is yours.

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