November 14, 2014
Honey is a very personal topic for me and my family. My parents used to be beekeepers – my uncle still is. Keeping bees for the purpose of getting honey is a lot of work – caring for them and repairing stuff all year round. But as a child I loved it! When the summer was over my parents would dress in those oversize jumpers with the funny mosquito net hats to get the honeycombs out of the hives. I was allowed to scrape off the wax caps that sealed the honeycombs. Then they were placed in an hand operated centrifuge. There was nothing more beautiful than watching millions of micro honey drops spinning around in this metal drum. Finally a thick stream of golden liquid poured out in the bottom.
We usually had a light amber colored honey because we would let our bees collect from all kind of field flowers [lighter] as well as from trees [darker]. When there was a strong chestnut year the honey would be really dark and already crystalized in the honey combs. Bad for the beekeeper because you can not spinn out the honey – good for us kids because we were allowed to eat the honey right out of the combs. It’s like eating honey flavored chewing gum – with the side effect of having wax stuck between your teeth. Not that we cared – I think it’s one of my nicest childhood memories.
The reason I’m doing this post now has a bad side taste. This year for the first time we tried having a wild bee hive in the garden. So we were not going to steal their honey and replace it with sugar water – we just wanted them for the purpose of pollination – and because they make fun pets. Unfortunately they didn’t make it on their own. A few weeks back we discovered that the hive was abandoned – not 100% sure why. Lucky for us we got to benefit from their incredible work. They made some uniquely shaped honey combs – unusable for spinning the honey – but super pretty. In addition they left quite some honey behind :) We’ll give it another try next spring – lets hope for the best!
Honey is flower nectar, which is collected by bees and naturally broken down into simple sugars. The unique design of the honeycombs it is stored in – coupled with constant fanning by the bees’ wings [200 beats per second] – causes evaporation to take place. After a while it gets thick and sweet – creating the honey we love so much.
One teaspoon of honey is the life work of 12 to 15 bees – so better appreciate every spoon full. A hive will fly 145,000 kilometers [3 orbits around the earth] to collect one kg of honey. On each collection trip a bee visits between 50 and 100 flowers.
The art of beekeeping has existed since time immemorial. There are records of humans hunting for honey as far as 8,000 years back [Mesolithic rock paintings]. It is known that people in ancient China as well as the Mayans already cultivated bees. In the 11th century A.D. german peasants paid their feudal lords in honey and beeswax. In Hinduism, honey is one of the five elixirs of immortality. In Jewish tradition, honey is a symbol for the new year.
By the way – it has been estimated that it would take 1,100 bee stings to kill an adult human [provided you are not allergic to them] and they only sting when in panic or protecting their hive.
Bees will start their work as soon as there is a flower to be found. Even during winter they will fly out of the hive and check if there is something to be found. Usually beekeepers will only harvest the honey once a year – in autumn, at the end of the flower season [they will give the bees sugar-water instead]. If there is lots of honey in the hive in summer already the beekeepers will rather expand their hive than take the honey from them too early.
Apparently there were pots of honey found entombed with pharaohs that were still good after hundreds of years. So, not really a specific season for honey since it stores so darn well.
SHOPPING + STORAGE
Depending on the bees’ nectar source the honey can range from an almost clear-white to a deep amber in color. In general, lighter colored honeys are mild in flavor, while darker honeys are more robust in flavor.
High quality honey [freshly collected at 20°C] should flow from a knife in a straight stream, without breaking into separate drops. After falling down, the honey should form a bead. When poured the honey should form temporary layers that disappear fairly quickly – indicating a high viscosity. If so, the water content is low and the honey will store a very long time.
Fresh honey is a supersaturated liquid [it contains more sugar than the water can typically dissolve] and hygroscopic [it has the ability to absorb moisture directly from the air]. Therefore the honey should be stored in sealed containers. About the only way you can really ruin your honey is by putting foreign substances inside – so no butter knifes – if you use an extra honey spoon you should be good.
To keep your honey creamy – store at room temperature – if kept in the fridge the honey will crystalized faster [if crystalized – just place honey jar in a pot of warm water until it gets liquid again]
Different ways of handling and eating your honey:
Be careful when substituting honey for sugar in recipes. With a bit of experimentation you can always use honey – just reduce the other liquids a little, add a pinch more baking powder and reduce the baking temperature by 25°C to prevent over-browning. Most of the time you will be able to use half a much honey as you would use sugar to reach the same sweetness.
TIP – if you want to measure a larger amount of honey – just cover the surface of your measuring cup with a thin film of oil before pouring in the honey – the honey will run right out of it again!
Honey was used in Traditional Chines Medicine, in Ayurveda in India and by ancient Greeks and Egyptians to treat various ailments including gastric disturbances, ulcer, wounds, and burns.
In addition to being a great natural sweetener, honey includes many vital substances, like enzymes, water, minerals and vitamins. It has earned its respect as a powerful medicine – antibacterial, anti-oxidant, anti-viral etc. It contains ‘pinocembrin’ – an antioxidant that improves brain function.
Honey is a source of carbohydrates – great energy boost before, after and during sports – try adding some honey to a bottle of water and drink during your workout.
While most people associate honey with being soothing for sore throats, it actually draws moisture from the tissue and dries it out. So while it’s great while you have a cold with an inflame throat – you might want to avoid it when you have a dry cough.
I couldn’t really figure out if thats true, but its said that honey loses many of these great qualities if you heat it over 42°C. So don’t add it to your tee while it’s still super hot.
Be aware that honey is a safe and wholesome food for older children and adults but that honey should not be fed to infants under one year of age.
Nutritional value per 100g [% of Daily Value]