Things to know about honey

Honey is a golden yellow substance that makes pastries or tea deliciously sweet and tastes good spread on bread as well. Bees make honey from pollen - you’ve probably heard this before. How honey is made and why busy bees produce honey is all very exciting.

Bees live on honey

Did you know that the bees themselves also live on honey? They collect flower nectar in the spring and turn it into honey. Then they store it in their hives so that they don't go hungry even when no flowers are blooming anymore. In order to make just one jar of honey, the worker bees have to visit over 2 million flowers!

Every bee has its own task

There are also different "jobs" in the bee kingdom: the worker or collector bees fly out in swarms in spring and set out in search of flowers. It’s not unusual for them to fly up to three kilometres for this. If they spot any, they land on the flower and suck up the nectar with their mouths. They store the sugary liquid in a little sac called a crop, and transport it back to their hive.

More worker bees are waiting back at the hive for the delivery. They receive the nectar and pass it amongst themselves. They add substances from their body, the so-called enzymes. This causes the nectar to change its consistency over time: the blossom sap gradually becomes tough honey, which the bees then store in their honeycombs. However, they never fill up the honey cells completely, so that liquid can continue to evaporate and the honey becomes even more viscous.

There is one queen per beehive. She is responsible for the offspring and is the only bee that lays eggs. In contrast to drone and worker bees, which only survive a few weeks to months, a queen can live for up to 4 years.

How do humans end up with honey?

The honey that you find in the supermarkets usually comes from regional beekeeping: Someone who professionally breeds bee colonies and extracts, processes, and resells their collected honey is called a beekeeper. There are around 19,500 of them in Switzerland with each beekeeper owning around ten colonies on average. To protect themselves from stings, beekeepers wear special equipment when they work. Using a special piece of equipment called a honey extractor, the beekeeper extracts the delicious honey from the honeycombs.

What is honey made of?

When beekeepers harvest honey, they make use of the bees' winter supply. So that the bees don’t have to go hungry during this time, beekeepers feed them special bee food or a sugar solution. Apropos sugar: Honey consists mainly of fructose, dextrose, and water. Long before white crystal sugar was produced from sugar beets, people were already using honey to make drinks and food sweeter.

Tip Tip

Honey is not just sugar syrup – it also has a tangy aroma and provides you with valuable plant substances directly from nature. In order to not lose these, you should never heat honey above 40 degrees. So it is best to put it in lukewarm tea.

What types of honey are there?

The most important difference is between blossom honey and wild honey: Blossom honey consists of the nectar of various flowers, while wild honey consists of honeydew from conifers. It has a particularly tangy taste. Of these two types of honey, there are countless specific varieties, the best known being:

  • Rape honey
  • Acacia honey
  • Pine honey
  • Fir honey
  • Cornflower honey
  • Lavender honey
  • Orange blossom honey

But how does the beekeeper ensure that their honey only really contains nectar from a particular plant? The nature of the bees plays into their hands: they are searching for flowers, so once they have found a good source of nectar, they stick to it. So if they are placed in a flowering rapeseed field, they suck their nectar mainly from this source. Although beekeepers cannot guarantee complete flower purity, this is not necessary for the resulting honey to be called rape honey. As long as the proportion is 60 to 80 per cent, then it’s fine.

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