Honey Health Benefits
Liquid Gold: Discover the Value of “Real” Honey
By Pam Schlichenmayer
My family and friends think I’m crazy because I keep company with 180,000 stinging insects. I’m a beekeeper.
Some people keep honeybees because they are one of our most important natural resources. After all, honeybees pollinate one-third of our food supply. Some beekeepers simply want their own flowers, trees and vegetable gardens to thrive. Others have become beekeepers because they are concerned about Colony Collapse Disorder, the mysterious illness that devastated the honeybee population in 2006. These beekeepers see their hobby as a way to help rebuild the honeybee population.
I keep bees for all of these reasons, plus one more: the exquisite liquid gold my honeybees produce. Honey is an amazing substance that has been used for centuries. For the earliest beekeepers, the Egyptians, honey was an offering to the gods, a salve for wounds and a natural preservative for embalming.
There is no “expiration date” on honey. Supposedly an archaeologist found a container of honey in a 2,000-year old Egyptian tomb, tasted it and declared it delicious! Remember to always store honey at room temperature. Refrigerated honey will crystallize quickly. Over time, honey naturally crystallizes because the glucose it contains loses moisture and becomes a crystal, binding to bits of wax and pollen to form more crystals. If it does crystallize, simply warm the jar of honey in a pan of hot water, and it will return to liquid.
Honey is one of our finest natural resources, but, unfortunately, not all honey is created equal. Much of the honey sold at major retailers isn’t even honey. The website foodsafety.com recently sent honey samples from a broad range of retailers to be analyzed by the Palynology Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University. The lab found that 76% to 100% of honey samples bought at numerous well-known grocery and drugstore chains and big box retailers had all of the pollen removed. If there’s no pollen in it, it’s not honey.
Much of the mass-produced honey sold in stores actually comes from China. Chinese honey is banned in the United States because beekeepers in China often use dangerous antibiotics in their hives. Honey producers who sell Chinese honey mask the flavor of harmful chemicals with sugar or corn syrup. Despite government efforts, this illegal honey continues to make its way to store shelves.
Most mass-produced honey also has been pasteurized, a process that involves heating honey to a high level to kill any pathogens. As a natural preservative, honey has been shown to hinder the growth of food-borne pathogens like e coli and salmonella, so pasteurizing it is actually overkill, literally, since pasteurizing honey destroys its beneficial ingredients. Honeybees have perfected their product. Leave it to humans to mess it up and change pure honey to pure chemical.
Fortunately, when you buy honey directly from a beekeeper, you’re getting pure honey from the comb with no artificial additives or preservatives. The most that beekeepers generally do to their honey is filter it through fine mesh. Many beekeepers also offer “raw” honey that is completely unfiltered and includes bits and pieces of pollen, beeswax and other material from the hive. Honey also can be “infused” by the beekeeper, adding a natural ingredient to give it a specific flavor — mint-, lavender-, or cinnamon-infused honey, for instance.
The honeybee is one of nature’s most complex insects. They are small, but mighty creatures that never sleep. Instead, they work 24/7, 365 days a year. During warm months, these busy girls travel a two-mile radius around their hive and have to visit about 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey! (I say “girls” because all of the worker bees in the hive are female. The hive contains only a small percentage of male bees, known as drones. Drones live only to serve her majesty, the Queen, and are actually banished from the hive before winter.)
Throughout spring, summer and fall, honeybees gather pollen and nectar from various plants that bloom at different times. While the most common type of honey comes from a blend of plants (wildflower), beekeepers often harvest honey when there is a specific plant in bloom. That’s why there are varieties like clover, goldenrod, even blueberry or orange blossom. Actually, there are more than 300 unique types of honey produced in the U.S.
Variations in honey color are a result of the chemical make-up of whatever nectar and pollen the bees have brought into the hive. The color of honey generally reflects its flavor — light-colored honey such as clover or wildflower tends to have a mellower flavor, while dark honey like buckwheat or goldenrod has a more full-bodied flavor. While all natural honey is delicious, there are a few considered to be the “champagne” of honey. These include fireweed (west), black locust (east and northeast), Tupelo (south) and sourwood (Appalachia).
So, next time you’re at the grocery store, walk on past the honey lining the shelves. Instead, go for real liquid gold and enjoy the honey health benefits, instead — pure honey crafted by amazing honeybees and produced by small-scale beekeepers!
Want to learn more about honey health benefits, honeybees and/or beekeeping? Visit the National Honey Board’s website: www.honey.com.
The Honey Board also provides a list of honey suppliers by state, www.honeylocator.com.
One final note: While its benefits are innumerable, honey can be hazardous to infants. Children under 12 months of age should not consume honey or foods made with honey, and there are also concerns for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Honey contains a bacterium that is harmless to adults and older children but can cause botulism in infants.
Pam Schlichenmayer lives on a farm in Penfield, OH, with her husband, Ed, her dog, Bailey and about 180,000 Carniolan honeybees. She has been beekeeping for four years and is a trustee for the Lorain County Beekeepers Association.
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