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5. Honey, syrups and treacle


Nutritional significance
Processing
Packaging
Suitability for small-scale production

Before the introduction of refined white sugar, products such as honey, syrups, and treacle were used as the main sweetening agents. Today they are commonly used to sweeten beverages such as tea and coffee and as ingredients for commodities such as sugar confectionery.

This group of products has a fairly long shelf-life if processed and packaged correctly. With a high sugar level of approximately 78-84 per cent, microbial activity is restricted and the product is stable for many months.

Man tapping a kitul palm

Honey

Honey is a sweet viscous syrup produced by honeybees. Bees deposit nectar into honeycombs and seal them with beeswax to preserve the honey. Honey is made up of a solution of sugars (glucose and fructose) and minerals in water, and is twice as sweet as sugar (sucrose). The composition varies according to many factors including:

· The time of the year that the nectar is collected.
· The weather at the time of collection.
· The source of flower nectar.

Syrups and treacle

Both syrup and treacle are viscous liquids. They can be extracted from many different plant sources, including coconut and kitul palms, maple, and sugar-cane. Processing involves extracting the juice (sap) from the plant, and heating it to remove water. By doing this, the sugar content is increased, along with the stability of the product.

Nutritional significance

These products are rich in sugar and therefore provide energy. They also contain vitamins and minerals, but in some cases levels are too low to have any major nutritional significance. As these products are not highly refined they contain many other micro-nutrients which are beneficial to the diet. Honey, for example, is said to contain naturally-occurring antibiotics which may have a positive effect on the health of the body.

Processing

The table below shows the stages involved in the processing of honey, syrups, and treacle.

Processing stages for honey, syrups, and treacle


Extraction

Filtration

Honey conditioning

Boiling

Packaging

Liquid honey

*

*

*


*

Tree syrups

*

*


*

*

Treacle/molasses

*

*


*

*

Equipment required

Processing stage

Equipment

Section reference

Extraction

Collection vessel/pan


Fruit juice extractors

53.1

Honey centrifuge

07.2

Filtration

Filter cloth


Stainless steel mesh


Strainers

29.3 and 29.4

Honey conditioning

Fan


Heating/boiling

Boiling pan

48.0

Heat source

36.0

Thermometer

63.0

Packaging

Containers

62.0

Filling machines

28.2

Capping equipment

47.2

Extracting the sap

Sap is removed from plant sources such as coconut and kitul palm through a process known as 'tapping'. This involves cutting the flower, and allowing the sap to drain into a collecting bowl. It is important that the sap is processed quickly after collection, in order to prevent the onset of fermentation (this will reduce the level of sugar in the sap).

Fermentation is likely to be a problem for some producers as the trees are often some distance from one another which may cause the sap to be left for too long prior to being processed. Additionally, collection bowls may be inadequately cleaned, causing a build-up of yeast which will again cause fermentation. Preservatives such as sodium benzoate and sodium metabisulphite can prevent the onset of fermentation, but with proper hygiene their use is unnecessary.

Other plant material such as sugar-cane may be crushed with a roller mill to extract the juice.

Extracting honey

The initial processing stage involves removing the wax from the honeycombs. This is done with a special uncapping knife, which may be heated by steam or simply dipped in hot water to melt the wax.

There are several methods by which the honey can be extracted from the honeycombs. At a basic level, the honeycombs may be crushed by hand. This, however, is not recommended as it is difficult to remove the comb fragments and the resulting honey has a lower quality. Alternatively, honeycombs may be piled on top of a plastic sieve with a stainless container underneath for approximately three days, by which time the honey will have collected in the container. Although this method is effective, it takes time and may allow the product to be contaminated by insects.

Many producers use either a manual or a powered honey centrifuge. After removing the wax, the combs are placed in a frame which is placed in the centrifuge. The spinning action throws the honey from the combs and it is collected inside the centrifuge.

Filtration

Honey, syrups, and treacle often contain foreign matter, such as pollen seeds, bee hairs, and vegetable matter. They can be filtered out using a muslin cloth or a fine stainless steel mesh. These viscous liquids are easier to filter if they are warmed to 26-37°C so that they flow more easily.

Honey conditioning

Some honey producers carry out a processing stage known as conditioning to remove excess moisture and to concentrate the sugar to 82 per cent. This may be achieved by gently heating the honey in an open boiling pan to a temperature of no more than 50°C. There are many drawbacks to this method, as the product will require constant stirring to avoid localized over-heating, which may result in darkening of the product. There is little temperature control, and 'off' flavours may develop if the temperature gets too high.

An alternative technique involves blowing air at 25-40°C over the surface of the honey with a fan for several hours until the optimum moisture content of 18 per cent is reached.

The sugar content of the honey can be checked using a refractometer. Most refractometers calculate sugar concentration on the basis of sucrose. Honey, however, consists of fructose and glucose and therefore necessitates the use of a specifically-designed honey refractometer.

Heat treatment

Syrups and treacle are often heated to reduce the water content and as a result increase the sugar content. The period of heating should be carefully controlled to obtain the correct sugar level. If the sugar content is too low (i.e. below 75 per cent), fermentation can occur. Heating also caramelizes the sugars, giving the product a darker colour.

Heating may be achieved using an boiling pan, but due to the delicate flavours and colours of these products it is preferable to use a steam jacketed pan. Although the latter are more expensive, they are better able to maintain the quality of the product by avoiding localized over-heating.

Refractometers can be used to measure the sugar concentration and therefore ensure that the concentration process has been adequately achieved.

Packaging

All of the aforementioned products can be packaged in traditional materials such as clay pots, sold directly out of bulk containers, or bottled in glass jars/bottles. If bottled, it is important that the bottle is securely sealed to prevent leakage and prevent contamination by insects.

Suitability for small-scale production

Small-scale production requires little in terms of equipment, particularly if the product is sold in traditional packaging materials.

To produce a product with a consistently high quality, it is of equipment may increase the capital investment but it is suggested that the producer use a refractometer. This piece necessary to ensure high product quality.

Bottled treacle on sale


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