Many species of bees collect nectar which they convert into honey and store as a food source.
However, only bees that live together in large colonies store appreciable quantities of honey.
These are bees of the genus Apis and some of the Meliponinae (stingless bees). Bees make
honey mainly from the nectar of flowers, but they also use other plant saps and honeydew. As a
bee sucks the liquid up through its proboscis and into its honey sac, it adds a small amount of
enzymes, and some of the water in the nectar is evaporated. The enzymes convert sugars in the
nectar into different types of sugars; honeys always contain a wide range of sugars that vary
according to the nectar source. The bees then place the liquid nectar into cells in the
honeycomb. The temperature inside the hive is usually around 35°C and, together with
ventilation caused by bees fanning their wings, this temperature causes further evaporation of
water from the nectar. When the water content is less than 20%, the bees seal the cell with a
wax capping. The honey is now 'ripe' and will not ferment.
Honey consists of a mixture of sugars, mostly glucose and fructose. In addition to water (usually
17-20%) it also contains very small amounts of other substances, including minerals, vitamins,
proteins and amino acids. A minor, but important component of most types of honey is pollen.
These components contribute to the different flavours that honey can have, and make honey a
nutritious food that has a high demand in many regions of the world.
The simplest processing is to remove the honeycomb from frame hives, top-bar hives or
traditional hives and sell or consume it as ‘cut-comb’ honey. When producing this from frame
hives it is necessary to use a wax foundation that does not contain strengthening wires and is
thinner than that normally used in wired frames. The process involves collecting pieces of sealed
and undamaged honeycomb, cutting them into uniform sized pieces and packaging them
carefully in bags or cartons to avoid damaging the honeycomb. Because the honeycomb is
unopened, it is readily seen to be pure, and it has a finer flavour than honey that is exposed to
air or processed further. Cut-comb honey can therefore have a high local demand and fetch a
higher price than processed honey. However, the honeycomb is easily damaged by handling and
transport, which makes distribution for retail sale more difficult. It requires protection by
packaging materials that will absorb shocks or vibration (e.g. cushioning plastics such as
‘bubble-wrap’ and/or corrugated cardboard cartons) and packs should be carried carefully and
not stacked, thrown or dropped to avoid damage to the honeycombs.
This is honey that is processed to a minimal extent and is usually sold locally. It is prepared by
removing the wax cappings of the honeycomb using a long sharp knife that has been heated by
standing it in warm water. (unsealed combs containing unripe honey should not be used). The
honeycombs are then broken into pieces and the honey is strained to remove wax and other
debris. A fairly coarse strainer is used at first to remove large particles, and the honey is then
strained through successively finer strainers such as cotton or muslin cloths. The clear honey is
collected in a clean, dry container. When most of the honey has drained (often over many hours
depending on the temperature) the combs are squeezed inside a cloth bag to remove as much of
the remaining honey as possible. The wax is collected and formed into a block by melting it
gently in a warm waterbath or solar wax extractor. This beeswax byproduct often has a high value
as a wax polish or for candle-making. The strained honey can either be dispensed from the
collection pan into customers’ own containers or packed into glass jars or plastic bags for sale.
Practical Action, The Schumacher Centre, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV23 9QZ, UK
T +44 (0)1926 634400 | F +44 (0)1926 634401 | E email@example.com | W www.practicalaction.org
Practical Action is a registered charity and company limited by guarantee.
Company Reg. No. 871954, England | Reg. Charity No.247257 | VAT No. 880 9924 76 |
Patron HRH The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB