Honey Is A Sweet Deal

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman
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It seems like the more hype there is about any form of sugar not being good for you, the more my sweet tooth craves it. Honey just may be the right compromise. It has basically the same sweetness as granulated sugar, but is actually healthier for you.

Basically, honey can replace sugar in baking, canning and many other recipes with only a few adjustments. When baking, honey can replace sugar cup for cup but remember to reduce other liquids by 1/4 cup for every cup of honey, lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent over browning, and add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda because honey is naturally acidic and soda tempers it. When making a sugar syrup for canning, replace half the sugar with honey.

The particular flavor of honey will depend on what type of nectar the bees use. I have to admit that the process bees go through to make honey is a little on the disgusting side but not enough to make me swear off this sweet sensation.

Bees transfer nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation and evaporation. The worker bees work in groups and regurgitate the pollen that they have collected a number of times until it is partially digested and then they deposit it in honeycomb cells. At this point the solution is still high in water so they fan their wings over the honeycomb to enhance evaporation. The reduction in water raises the sugar concentration and prevents fermentation.

The honeycomb is actually masses of hexagonal cells built by the bees to store honey and larvae. Honey is the bees’ food source and the process to make it is quite an intricate cycle. Bees consume 8.4 pounds of honey to secrete 1 pound of wax, which is used to make the honeycomb to store more honey. Beekeepers often return the wax to the hive after pulling the honey or robbing the bees, as harvesting the honey is referred to.

So, just how do you get to that sweet delicacy without being stung up the wazoo? It is a pretty simple process called smoking the bees. The bees detect the smoke and think there is a forest fire threat, which would destroy their resources. They are far less aggressive when their prime objective is to save their food source. While they are busy, the honey is removed from the hive and extracted.

Sometimes honey is kept in the comb and sold as comb honey. With a more waxy texture than strained honey, comb honey is so good on bread and butter.

It fascinates me how bees have their own hierarchy within the colony. Each colony has a single female queen bee, a number of male drone bees to fertilize the queen and between 20,000 to 40,000 worker bees to collect nectar and raise larvae.

New colonies are formed when the queen leaves the colony with a large number of worker bees. This is called swarming and usually occurs in the spring. Before the queen leaves she lays her eggs into queen cups that workers have created throughout the year. New queens are raised from these.

So, how do they decide which one gets to be queen? This part makes me so glad I am not a bee. The first virgin queen to emerge communicates with the others by creating vibrations in the comb. The roaming queen makes a sound called “tooting” and her sisters answer it with “quacking.” Then the free-roaming queen goes cell to cell and kills the rest of her sisters. Sounds a little barbaric!

The sole reason bees produce honey is for a food source for themselves. In colder weather they use the stored honey as energy so it is important for beekeepers to leave enough honey in the hive for the bees to survive. This is hard to believe but bees have to travel a distance equivalent to going three times around the world to produce enough honey to fill one jar. Amazing!

Humans started collecting honey some 8,000 years ago, and with good reason. Honey is a natural product used to treat many ailments such as gastric disturbances, burns, ulcers and many more. It is a natural energy booster and immunity system builder. Honey, in itself, prevents many carcinogens from doing harm and has anti-tumor properties.

Honey also has great cooking properties. It is denser than sugar, adds flavor to the finished product and adds acid to recipes. There really is no downside, so all in all, honey is a sweet deal.

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