What is Honey?
Honey is a natural sweet substance produced by honeybees for their own food supply. Honeybees collect nectar from flowering plants and transform it to Honey. During this ripening process the nectar is passed on from one bee to the next. After approximately 100 bees have been involved in this process, each bee extracting water content and adding their own enzymes to the nectar, the transformed honey then gets stored in comb cells inside the hive. Through evaporation the honey's water content gets further reduced to about 18%. Once a comb cell is filled and the honey has fully ripened the bees seal that cell with a thin layer of bees wax to protect and preserve it for the times when they need it. The low water content helps to make the honey durable for many years.Honey contains up to 30 different kinds of sugar, like Fructose (27% to 44%) and Glucose (22% to 41%) and nearly 200 recorded substances. For instance organic acids, ferments, vitamins, proteins, enzymes, antioxidants, aromatic substances und minerals like phosphor, iron, calcium, copper, manganese, magnesium, sodium, potassium, as well as many antibacterial pharmacologically active ingredients (Inhibiters with antibiotic effect). The composition of substances varies with the variety of honey. Wikipedia about HoneyBeekeepers encourage overproduction of honey within the hive so that the surplus can be taken without endangering the bees. When sources of food for the bees are short, beekeepers may have to give the bees supplementary nutrition. Supplementary nutrition usually comes in the form of sugar (sucrose) mixed with water.
Honey can be classified by the floral source of the nectar from which it was made. To label the honey after a particular floral nectar source 40% of it should come from that particular plant; collecting nectar from one plant only (100%) is practically impossible.When the nectar source can be determined the honey gets labelled in accordance with the specific nectar source.Most of the Honey here in Australia is made from Eucalyptus trees, like Grey Box, Yellow Box, River Red Gum, Ironbark, Blue Gum - just to name a few.Honey often comes from a mix of flower sources and then gets labelled as "Wildflower", "Multi Flora" or something similar.Honey can also be blended after extraction. Blended Honey is probably the most common honey found in supermarket shelfs.
Regardless of preservation, honey may crystallise over time. This mainly depends on the ratio of fructose and glucose, but also how the honey is processed and stored.Crystallised honey is honey in which some of the glucose content has spontaneously crystallised from solution as a monohydrate.Crystallisation does not affect the flavour, quality or nutritional content of the honey, though it does affect color and texture.Crystallisation can be reversed by keeping the crystallised honey at a warm temperature (34°C) for several hours, or days, until liquid again.Clover honey crystallises immediately after honey harvest. Others, like Red Box honey, crystallise after years. It depends on the ratio of fructose and glucose. Is the part of glucose higher, the honey crystallises faster and firmer. Most honeys crystallise fastest between 10 and 21 °C.
Because of its unique composition honey is suitable for long term storage and is easily assimilated even after long preservation. History knows examples of honey preservation for decades, and even centuries. The main goal is to prevent the fermentation of the honey. Honey should also be protected from oxidation. The ideal example is the natural process of bees sealing of the honey in honeycomb cells with wax caps. The best honey is in the uncut honey combs. After being removed from the comb, honey is very vulnerable, and the main loss of quality takes place during preservation and distribution.Honey should not be preserved in metal containers, because the acids in the honey may promote oxidation of the vessel. (Food-grade stainless steel is acceptable). Traditionally honey was stored in ceramic or wooden containers, however glass is now the favoured material. If honey is correctly stored it is durable for many years. You should take care about a dry, dark and cool storage (10°C).Honey jars need always to be closed properly as honey has a strong tendency to absorb outside smells and moisture. It is advisable to keep it in clean, hermetically sealed vessels. For the same reasons, it is not advisable to preserve honey uncovered in a refrigerator, especially together with other foods and products.Excessive heat can have detrimental effects on the nutritional value of honey.Heating up to 37°C causes loss of nearly 200 components, part of which are antibacterial. Heating up to 40°C destroys invertase, an important enzyme. Heating up to 50°C turns the honey into caramel, the most valuable honey sugars become analogous to household sugar. WikipediaSo, the next time you want to put a spoon of honey into your cup of hot tea, think what happens to it - enjoy it separately - unheated.
Most commonly, honey is bottled in its familiar liquid form in jars or honey buckets. However, honey is sold in other forms, and can be subjected to a variety of processing methods as outlined in Wikipedia
When honey is processed in commercial quantities, in order to process it time efficiently and prevent/delay crystallisation after bottling, it is necessary to heat the honey up to 66-77°C. The heated honey liquefies and can be filtered and processed much faster; the end product is called "Filtered Honey" as you mostly find it on supermarket shelfs..
Most micro-organisms do not grow in honey because of its low water activity.However, honey frequently contains dormant endospores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can be dangerous to infants as the endospores can transform into toxin-producing bacteria in the infant's immature intestinal tract, leading to illness and even death.
If bees collect nectar from certain plants, the produced honey can be toxic to humans. For example, honey produced from nectar of Rhododendron contains alkaloids that are poisonous to humans but do not harm bees. WikipediaToxic honey may also result when bees are in close proximity to the tutu plant Coriaria and the vine hopper insect Scolypopa australis. Both are found throughout New Zealand. Bees gather honeydew produced by the vine hopper insects feeding on the tutu plant. This introduces the poison tutin into honey.
Describing the use of honey in medicine is best left to the specialists; here a link to Wikipedia on this subject.
Manuka honey is from bees who collect the nectar from flowers of the Manuka bush, also known as "Tea Tree" to produce a honey that has anti-bacterial properties.Tea tree oil is commonly from the related Melaleuca tree native to Australia and is used as a topical antibiotic and antifungal for wounds that fail to close. Wikipedia
When it comes to helping a child fight off a cough, the centuries-old remedy of honey is still the best, researchers say. The natural sweetener is a traditional soother and remains better than costly over-the-counter medicines. In a study, a dose before bedtime easily outperformed a cough suppressant widely used in commercial treatments.Honey was better at cutting the severity, frequency and disturbance from night time coughs of those suffering upper respiratory infection. It also helped their sleep, suggesting that parents may be wasting their money on expensive alternatives sold in chemists and supermarkets.The study compared honey to dextromethorphan (DM), the active ingredient in many cough mixtures. Scientists in Pennsylvania found that DM made no significant difference to symptoms compared with having no treatment for the 105 children aged two to 18 in the research. They were divided into groups receiving honey, a honey-flavoured DM medicine or no treatment about 30 minutes before bedtime. Parents rated honey as significantly better than DM or no treatment, according to the journal Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.The researchers said that honey offered a "safe and legitimate alternative" to DM, which can occasionally cause severe side effects in children, including muscle contractions and spasms. Honey's ability to help coughs may be due to the way it soothes on contact and stimulates saliva.Researchers have proven what beekeepers have known for long. Honey is the better cough medicine - Honey as cough medicine for children