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Honey

Information about honey plus honey recipe collection

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March 

2003

 

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Honey is one of natures wonders and has been a treasured commodity for centuries. It is produced naturally by bees as a food source for themselves. They do all the work (and there's a lot of it as you'll read further on) then we come along and reap the benefits of their hard labour. In fairness, it should be mentioned that European honeybees, genus Apis Mellifera, produce  far more than the hive can eat which is why they are found in beekeepers' hives worldwide.

History of Honey

 

It is acknowledged that bees have been producing honey for 150 million years, but some of the earliest written references  about honey have been found dating back to the 40th Century B.C. in ancient Egypt and it is also referred to the the Old Testament Bible - in particular the well known saying "the land of milk and honey".

 

Later, when the Spaniards conquered Mexico and central America in the 16th Century, they found that the natives had already developed beekeeping where a distinct family of honey bees were native to the Americas.

 

European settlers introduced European honeybees to New England in about 1638. North American natives called these  "white man's flies." Until the middle of the 17th Century, honey was the most important sweetening agent in the western world, at which time West Indian cane sugar became more affordable to the masses.

 

 

What is Honey and how is it produced?

 

Basically, honey is nectar with added enzymes. Nectar is the clear liquid that drops from the end of  a flower blossom, which is 80% water with some complex sugars.   

 

Honeybees suck the nectar out of the flowers then store it in their "honey stomachs"  (they actually have two stomachs).  Once their honey stomach is full, they return to the hive or nest. But consider this: Honeybees must visit between 100 and 1500 flowers in order to fill their honey stomachs  and when full, it holds almost 70 mg of nectar .....which is almost as much as the bee weighs itself!

 

Once back  at the hive, worker bees suck the nectar from the honeybees' stomachs, then "chew" the nectar for about half an hour. During this time, enzymes are passed into  the nectar  breaking them down into simple sugars to make them more digestible for the bees. The  nectar is then spread throughout the honeycombs where it evaporates into a thick syrup, aided by the bees fanning it with their wings.  Once the honey is thick enough, the bees seal off the cell of the honeycomb with wax and there  it is stored ready to be eaten.

 

Whilst bee nests obviously occur naturally, commercially "farmed" honey is usually obtained from man-made beehives. Once the honeycombs are removed from the hives, extractor tanks, or centrifuge machines, whirl the honey-combs around so the honey is separated from the wax comb. This produces a liquid honey.

 

 

What gives honey its flavour?


The aroma, flavour and colour of honey varies quite dramatically depending on  the type of flower from which the bee collects the nectar.

 

Most honey comes from bees feeding on various flowers. These are known as polyfloral. However some plants provide enough nectar during their short flowering season to enable the bees in the area to feed solely on that type of blossom. This honey, known as monofloral, is keenly sought by beekeepers and consumers alike. 

 



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Many monofloral honey carry the  characteristics of the herb or tree whose flower the bee has visited, such as Orange Blossom or Rosemary and are much sought after for culinary purposes.

 

Origin of Honey

 

There are many types of honey and below is a list of some well known honeys together with their main countries of production.

 

 

Type of Honey

Country of Origin

Apple Blossom

United Kingdom

Acacia

Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria

Borage

New Zealand

Cherry blossom 

United Kingdom

Clover

Canada, New Zealand

Eucalyptus

Australia

Heather

UK

Lavender

France, Spain

Lime Blossom

China, Poland

Orange Blossom

France, Spain

Rosemary

France/Spain

Strawberry Clover

Australia

Wild Thyme

Greece, New Zealand, France

Sunflower

France, Spain

 

Important: Honey can contain bacterial spores that cause Infant Botulism and should therefore never be fed to babies under 12 months old.

 

Honey in Cooking

 

What's the difference?

 

Runny  or Set

There is no difference in the taste or nutritional value of  clear and set honey. Honey can always be restored to a liquid state by standing it in warm water for an hour or so or popping it in the microwave for a few seconds however, avoid extreme temperatures.

 

Monofloral or Polyfloral

There is no nutritional difference between blended honey and monofloral honeys. The extraction process is essentially the same for all types and grades of honey. However, use of monofloral honey in recipes can create a dramatic difference in the overall taste, especially in dressings.

 

 

Click here for lots of sweet and savoury honey recipes

 

 

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