PNG images: Honey

Honey is a sweet, viscous food substance produced by bees and some related insects. Bees produce honey from the sugary secretions of plants (floral nectar) or other insects (aphid honeydew) through regurgitation, enzymatic activity, and water evaporation, and store it in wax structures called honeycombs. The variety of honey produced by honey bees (the genus Apis) is the best-known, due to its worldwide commercial production and human consumption. Honey is collected from wild bee colonies, or from hives of domesticated bees, a practice known as beekeeping.

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Honey gets its sweetness from the monosaccharides fructose and glucose, and has about the same relative sweetness as granulated sugar. It has attractive chemical properties for baking and a distinctive flavor when used as a sweetener. Most microorganisms do not grow in honey, so sealed honey does not spoil, even after thousands of years.

Providing 64 calories in a typical serving of one tablespoon (15 ml) equivalent to 1272 kj per 100 g, honey has no significant nutritional value. Honey is generally safe, but may have various, potentially adverse effects or interactions upon excessive consumption, existing disease conditions, or use of prescription drugs.

Honey use and production have a long and varied history as an ancient activity, depicted in Valencia, Spain by a cave painting of humans foraging for honey at least 8,000 years ago.

Honey is produced by bees collecting nectar for use as sugars consumed to support metabolism of muscle activity during foraging or to be stored as a long-term food supply. During foraging, bees access part of the nectar collected to support metabolic activity of flight muscles, with the majority of collected nectar destined for regurgitation, digestion, and storage as honey. In cold weather or when other food sources are scarce, adult and larvalbees use stored honey as food.

By contriving for bee swarms to nest in man-made hives, people have been able to semidomesticate the insects and harvest excess honey. In the hive or in a wild nest, the three types of bees are:

  • a single female queen bee

  • a seasonally variable number of male drone bees to fertilize new queens

  • 20,000 to 40,000 female worker bees

 

Leaving the hive, foraging bees collect sugar-rich flower nectar and return to the hive where they use their "honey stomachs" to ingest and regurgitate the nectar repeatedly until it is partially digested. Bee digestive enzymes – invertase, amylase, and diastase – along with gastric acid hydrolyze sucrose to a mixture of glucose and fructose. The bees work together as a group with the regurgitation and digestion for as long as 20 minutes until the product reaches storage quality. It is then placed in honeycomb cells left unsealed while still high in water content (about 20%) and natural yeasts, which, unchecked, would cause the sugars in the newly formed honey to ferment. The process continues as hive bees flutter their wings constantly to circulate air and evaporate water from the honey to a content around 18%, raising the sugar concentration, and preventing fermentation. The bees then cap the cells with wax to seal them. As removed from the hive by a beekeeper, honey has a long shelf life and will not ferment if properly sealed.

Another source of honey is from a number of wasp species, such as the wasps Brachygastra lecheguana and Brachygastra mellifica, which are found in South and Central America. These species are known to feed on nectar and produce honey.

Some wasps, such as the Polistes versicolor, even consume honey themselves, switching from feeding on pollen in the middle of their lifecycles to feeding on honey, which can better provide for their energy needs.

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