Honey is a sweet and sugary product formed by the arduous honey bees from the nectar of flowers. A number of species of honey bees take part in the emergence of honey which is later on collected by the beekeepers and finally consumed by humans. The nectar collected from flowers is converted into honey by honey bees with the help of a special procedure known as regurgitation and is then stored in the honey combs inside the bee hive. Beekeeping practices stimulate its overproduction so that great amount of honey can be extricated without harming the bee colony. It obtains its sweetness from the monosaccharide sugars chiefly fructose and glucose and has the same relative sweetness like that of the granulated sugar. It comprises attractive chemical properties and is a good flavoring agent. Majority of microbes stop to raise in it because of its low water activity of 0.6. sometimes endospores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum remain suspended in honey and are toxic to infant’s intestinal tract resulting in death.
Honey has been used as a food product by human since earliest times and is used as a flavoring agent in a number of food fruits as well as in a number of beverages. It also deserves a special place in religion and culture. It is also used fhor treatment of a number of diseases. Presence of pollens and spores in honey control its floral sources. It is formed by bees as a source of food. In winters as well in unfavorable conditions bees use stored honey as a source of energy. In a typical bee hive there is a single fertile queen, followed by a number of drones and 20,000-40,000 worker bees which are the soul of the colony. Worker bees rear the brood and collect nectar from flowers and convert it into honey. The nectar collected from flowers is first stored in the crop by the worker bee and is then regurgitated inside the honey comb. During regurgitation digestive secretion is also mixed with it so when it reaches the hive it becomes best in quality. The honey stored contains huge amount of water so the water content is decreased by strong fanning of wings by the worker bee. Fanning prevents its fermentation and raises its sugar content. After storing it in the honey comb it is sealed by wax secreted by the worker bee.
Honey is classified on the basis of its floral contents, processing and preserving methods. Honey is also classify on its color and optical density by the USDA standards. Generally honey is classified on the basis of its floral sources and can be blended right after their collection. Most of the commercially available honey is blended in nature which specifies that it is a mixture of two or more types of honey both differing in floral sources, color, density and geographic origin. Polyfloral honey is also called as wild flower honey as it is a complex mixture of nectar of a number of flowers. The taste, aroma and flavor of honey changes from year to year. Monofloral honey is made from the nectar of a single type of flower. Different monofloral honey varies in flavor and taste depending upon the nectar sources. For the production of monofloral honey beekeepers keep the hives near the flower sources belonging to a single variety.
Honey collection is an ancient activity. In ancient Egypt it was used in cakes, biscuits and some dishes. Ancient Egyptian and Middle Eastern people also used honey for preserving the dead. In the Roman Empire honey was used to pay taxes. Some culture believed that honey has positive effects on the health. Honey was used as an ointment for curing rashes, burns and sore throats. In the Jewish culture honey is a symbol of New Year, Rosh Hashanah. During this time the apple slices are dipped in honey and consumed by people. They believe that the New Year will be blessed and sweet. Bible also throws light about the use of honey as food for example John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and used to eat honey.
Honey finds uses in cooking, baking, in beverages and as a sweetening and flavoring agent. It is a complex mixture of carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fibers, proteins, water, vitamin B complex, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, sodium and zinc. It is mainly composed of fructose (38.9%) and glucose (31%) and resembles with the synthetically produced inverted sugar syrup. Remaining sugars present in it include maltose, sucrose and other complex sugars. It also contains tiny percentage of anti-oxidants like chrysin, pinobanksin, vitamin C, catalase, and pinocembrin. Floral composition greatly influences the chemical property of honey. If we carry out the typical analysis of honey we will find, fructose (38.2%), glucose (31.3%), sucrose (1.3%), maltose (7.1%), water (17.2%), higher sugars (1.2%), ash (0.2%) and other unidentified substances (3.2%). The glycemic index varies from 31-78 depending upon the variety of honey. Density of honey is around 1.36 kg per liter
Honey is graded on the basis of USDA standards. Water content, flavor, aroma and clarity are important parameters that come under this category. High quality can be identified by fragrance, taste and consistency. Honey has been used since 2,700 years in curing a number of diseases. It is also effective in killing drug resistant bio-films. Because of the presence of endospores of clostridium botulinum infants should not be given honey. Honey produced form oleanders, sheep laurels causes intoxication of honey. Honey may also become toxic if produced from toxic plants. The major honey producing countries are China, Argentina, Turkey and United States.
Apart from the nectar from flowers bees also take the honeydew secretions of aphids. Honeydew honey is dark brown in color with a rich fragrance of sweet fig jam but is not sweet in taste. Honey is generally available in the bottles in liquid form in the markets. Different types of honey are commercially available like crystallized honey, pasteurized honey, raw honey, strained honey etc depending upon the processing techniques. Honey should be preserved properly in order to avoid any change in its freshness and quality. It must be protected from oxidation and temperature degradation. It should not be preserved in metal containers as the acids in honey cause oxidation of vessel. Excessive high temperature results in degradation of the nutritional value. Crystals are also formed in honey but it does not deter the flavor and taste so proper temperature should be used for preservation.
Honey is a natural product produced by bees and is a good source of a number of essential elements. It is good for health so must be included in diet.