What is honey?
We all know honey: that thick, golden substance produced by hardworking bees.
These iconic striped insects take the nectar of flowering plants and transform it into honey, which is stored inside a beehive for consumption when food is scarce.
But what exactly is honey made of?
How is honey made?
The nectar that bees extract from flowers is a sugary liquid. Once extracted from the flower, the nectar is stored in the bee’s second stomach, which contains enzymes. (Bees have two stomachs! One for storing nectar and the other for consumed food.)
These enzymes interact with the stored nectar and change its chemical composition, making it easier to store long term.
Once back at the hive, the bee regurgitates the liquid from its second stomach into another bee’s mouth. The regurgitation process is repeated multiple times, until eventually the nectar is deposited into a honeycomb.
But the honey in the honeycomb isn’t yet the honey that we eat on our toast. It is still a liquid. At this point, it can be extracted by beekeepers and bottled and sold as raw “honey” (which answers another question: what is raw honey?)
But if the raw honey remains in the beehive with the bees, the bees fan the honeycomb with their wings, speeding up the process of evaporation and leaving a thick, firm substance behind.
With the water evaporated, the bee secretes liquid from its abdomen, which seals it off.
This secretion is beeswax. It provides a natural seal, keeping the bees’ food safe and available for the cold winter months, when no flowers bloom.
What is honey good for?
Ordinary honey is good for all our sweet tooth needs. Toast? Check. Waffles? Check. Banana split? Check.
Try Holland & Barrett Clear Blended Honey for your cooking, baking, and breakfast.
Honey is a wonderful alternative to processed white sugar – so next time you are reaching for the cereal box or making a cup of tea, try honey instead!
What is manuka honey?
The question of what exactly manuka honey is comes up a lot.
To answer it, we first have to establish that the taste, texture and quality of honey differs depending on where the honey is produced. There are many different types of plant nectar – as many types as there are plants.
Manuka honey is very special because it is produced from the flowers of just one plant, the manuka bush.
The technical term for this is “monofloral.” You can really experience this in the taste. It is a world away from normal supermarket honey, which is made from multiple different types of plant nectar.
The manuka bush is native to New Zealand and south east Australia, and this hardy plant has been growing there for thousands of years.
You can easily tell which honey is manuka thanks to a Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) label which can been found on unmodified, natural manuka honey. The UMF mark also tells you how much methylglyoxal (MGO) is in the honey. Higher numbers (higher grades) of honey have more natural MGO inside.
But the MGO rating also affects price, so you can decide which MGO rating you require for your needs.
What is manuka honey good for?
That methylglyoxal (MGO) we mentioned? This is what sets manuka honey apart. It is the MGO that is widely thought to be responsible for manuka honey’s unique antibacterial properties.
But the most common use for manuka honey is to soothe a sore throat. The antibacterial properties of Manuka honey works against bacteria, while at the same time coating the inner lining of the throat, promoting a soothing sensation.
What does honey do for your skin?
That soothing and cleansing quality has been utilised by some in their skin care routines.
You can use a pea-sized amount of honey, diluting it with water if needed, as a facial cleanser. Research has shown that even diluted manuka honey has soothing and cleansing properties.
Is honey vegan?
This question gets asked a lot, and the answer is – it depends.
As a rule, vegans avoid or minimise all forms of animal products, so many vegans exclude honey from their diets.
But honey is divisive amongst vegans. Many vegans do not think that honey should be excluded from a vegan diet, since honey is a natural by-product of bees.
And with valuable bee populations declining, protecting and encouraging bee colonies for the production of honey is considered by some a hugely important reason to eat honey.
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