CHAPTER 2
HONEY 1

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2.1 Introduction

Honey is the most important primary product of beekeeping both from a quantitative and an economic point of view. It was also the first bee product used by humankind in ancient times. The history of the use of honey is parallel to the history of man and in virtually every culture evidence can be found of its use as a food source and as a symbol employed in religious, magic and therapeutic ceremonies (Cartland, 1970; Crane, 1980; Zwaeneprel, 1984) an appreciation and reverence it owes among other reasons to its unique position until very recently, as the only concentrated form of sugar available to man in most parts of the world. The same cultural richness has produced an equally colourful variety of uses of honey in other products (see Figure 2.1).

"Honey is the natural sweet substance produced by honeybees from the nectar of blossoms or from the secretion of living parts of plants or excretions of plant sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which honeybees collect, transform and combine with specific substances of their own, store and leave in the honey comb to ripen and mature. This is the general definition of honey in the Codex Alimentarius (1989) in which all commercially required characteristics of the product are described. The interested reader is also referred to other texts such as "Honey, a comprehensive survey" (Crane, 1975).

Honey in this bulletin, will refer to the honey produced by Apis mellifera unless otherwise specified. There are other honeybee species which make honey, and other bees and even wasps which store different kinds of honeys as their food reserves. More details on honey from other bees are given in section 2.11.

2.2 Physical characteristics of honey

Viscosity

Freshly extracted honey is a viscous liquid. Its viscosity depends on a large variety of substances and therefore varies with its composition and particularly with its water content (Table 2.1 and 2.2). Viscosity is an important technical parameter during honey processing, because it reduces honey flow during extraction, pumping, settling, filtration, mixing and bottling. Raising the temperature of honey lowers its viscosity (Table 2.3) a phenomenon widely exploited during industrial honey processing. Some honeys, however, show different characteristics in regard to viscosity: Heather (Calluna vulgaris) Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) and Carvia callosa are described as thixotrophic which means they are gel-like (extremely viscous) when standing still and turn liquid when agitated or stirred. By contrast a number of Eucalyptus honeys show the opposite characteristics. Their viscosity increases with agitation.

 

A display of various products in which honey is an ingredient.

Figure 2.1: A display of various products in which honey
is an ingredient.

 

Table 2.1:
Variation of the viscosity of honey at 250C, containing 16.5% water, according to the botanical origin
and therefore the composition of the honey (Munro, 1943).

Type

Viscosity (poise)

Sage

115

White clover

94

Sweet clover

87

 

Table 2.2:
Variation of the viscosity of white clover honey at 250 C according to
its water content (Munro, 1943).

Water content
(%)

Viscosity
(poise)

13.7

420

15.5

138

18.2

48

20.2

20

Table 2.3:
Viscosity of sweet clover honey containing 16.1% water according to temperature (Munro, 1943).

Temperature
(C)

Viscosity
(poise)

13.7

600.0

20.6

189.6

29.0

68.4

39.4

21.4

48.1

10.7

71.1

2.6

 Density

Another physical characteristic of practical importance is density. Honey density, expressed as specific gravity in Table 2.4, is greater than water density, but it also depends on the water content of the honey (Table 2.4). Because of the variation in density it is sometimes possible to observe distinct stratification of honey in large storage tanks. The high water content (less dense) honey settles above the denser, drier honey. Such inconvenient separation can be avoided by more thorough mixing.

Table 2.4:
True specific gravity of honeys with different water content (White, 1975a).

Water content
(%)

Specific gravity at 20C

Water
content
(%)

Specific gravity at 20C

Water
content
(%)

Specific gravity at 20C

13.0

1.4457

16.0

1.4295

19.0

1.4101

14.0

1.4404

17.0

1.4237

20.0

1.4027

15.0

1.4350

18.0

1.4171

21.0

1.3950

 

Hygroscopicity

The strongly hygroscopic character of honey is important both in processing and for final use. In end products containing honey this tendency to absorb and hold moisture is often a desired effect such as, for example, in pastry and bread. During processing or storage however, the same hygroscopicity can become problematic, causing difficulties in preservation and storage due to excessive water content. From Table 2.5 it can be readily seen that normal honey with a water content of 18.3 % or less will absorb moisture from the air at a relative humidity of above 60%.

Table 2.5
Approximate equilibrium between relative humidity (RH) of ambient air and water
content of a clover honey (White, 1975a).

Air (%RH)
Honey (% water content)
50
15.9
55
16.8
60
18.3
65
20.9
70
24.2
75
28.3
80
33.1

Surface tension

It is the low surface tension of honey that makes it an excellent humectant in cosmetic products The surface tension varies with the origin of the honey and is probably due to colloidal substances. Together with high viscosity, it is responsible for the foaming characteristics of honey.

Thermal properties

For the design of honey processing plants its thermal properties have to be taken into account. The heat absorbing capacity, i.e. specific heat, varies from 0.56 to 0.73 cal/g/0C according to its composition and state of crystallization. The thermal conductivity varies from 118 to 143 x 10-~ cal/cm2/sec/0C (White, 1975a). One can therefore calculate the amount of heat, cooling and mixing necessary to treat a certain amount of honey, i.e. before and after filtration or pasteurization. The relatively low heat conductivity, combined with high viscosity leads to rapid overheating from point-heat sources and thus the need for careful stirring and for heating only in water baths.

Colour

Colour in liquid honey varies from clear and colourless (like water) to dark amber or black (see Figure 2.2). The various honey colours are basically all nuances of yellow amber, like different dilutions or concentrations of caramelized sugar, which has been used traditionally as a colour standard. More modern methods for measuring honey colour are described below. Colour varies with botanical origin, age and storage conditions, but transparency or clarity depends on the amount of suspended particles such as pollen. Less common honey colours are bright yellow (sunflower) reddish undertones (chestnut) greyish (eucalyptus) and greenish (honeydew). Once crystallized, honey turns lighter in colour because the glucose crystals are white. Some of the honeys reportedly "as white as milk" in some parts of East Africa are finely crystallized honeys which are almost water white, i.e. colourless, in their liquid state.

The most important aspect of honey colour lies in its value for marketing and determination of its end use. Darker honeys are more often for industrial use, while lighter honeys are marketed for direct consumption. In many countries with a large honey market, consumer preferences are determined by the colour of honey (as an indication of a preferred flavour) and thus, next to general quality determinations, colour is the single most important factor determining import and wholesale prices.

Honey colour is frequently given in millimetres on a Pfund scale (an optical density reading generally used in international honey trade) or according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture classifications (White, 1975c and Crane, 1980):

USDA colour standards Pfund scale (mm)
- water white 0 to 8
- extra white > 8 to 17
- white > 17 to 34
- extra light amber > 34 to 50
- light amber > 50 to 85
- amber > 85 to 114
-darkamber > 114

 

Different coloured honeys of unifloral and  multifloral origin. (courtesy of F. Intoppa)

Figure 2.2: Different coloured honeys of unifloral and
multifloral origin. (courtesy of F. Intoppa)

More recent but not widely practised methods of colour description use spectral colour absorption of honey (Aubert and Gonnet, 1983; Rodriguez L6pez, 1985).

Crystallization

Crystallization is another important characteristic for honey marketing, though not for price determination. In temperate climates most honeys crystallize at normal storage temperatures. This is due to the fact that honey is an oversaturated sugar solution, i.e. it contains more sugar than can remain in solution. Many consumers still think that if honey has crystallized it has gone bad or has been adulterated with sugar.

The crystallization results from the formation of monohydrate glucose crystals, which vary in number, shape, dimension and quality with the honey composition and storage conditions. The lower the water and the higher the glucose content of honey, the faster the crystallization. Temperature is important, since above 25 ° and below 5 °C virtually no crystallization occurs. Around 14°C is the optimum temperature for fast crystallization, but also the presence of solid particles (e.g. pollen grains) and slow stirring result in quicker crystallization (see 2.12.2). Usually, slow crystallization produces bigger and more irregular crystals.

During crystallization water is freed. Consequently, the water content of the liquid phase increases and with it the risk of fermentation. Thus, partially crystallized honey may present preservation problems, which is why controlled and complete crystallization is often induced deliberately. In addition, partially crystallized or reliquified honey is not an attractive presentation for retail shelves (see Figure 2.3).

a)Figure a) fermentation in partially crystallized honey
b)Figure b) different stages of reliquification after previous crystallization due to storage over very long periods of time or at relatively high temperatures.

Figure 2.3: Honeys in different stages of crystallization, (a) fermentation in partially crystallized honey and (b) different stages of reliquification after previous crystallization due to storage over very long periods of time or at relatively high temperatures. These unattractive changes can be avoided by controlled crystallization, proper storage and possibly pasteurization. (courtesy of F. Intoppa)

 

2.3 The composition of honey

The average composition of American honeys, more or less representative of all honeys, is shown in Table 2.6. Table 2.7 lists the various components identified in honeys from all around the world.

Sugars account for 95 to 99% of honey dry matter. The majority of these are the simple sugars fructose and glucose which represent 85-95% of total sugars. Generally, fructose is more abundant than glucose (see Table 2.6). This predominance of simple sugars and particularly the high percentage of fructose are responsible for most of the physical and nutritional characteristics of honey. Small quantities of other sugars are also present, such as disaccharides (sucrose, maltose and isomaltose) and a few trisaccharides and oligosaccharides. Though quantitatively of minor importance, their presence can provide information about adulteration and the botanical origin of the honey.

Water is quantitatively the second most important component of honey. Its content is critical, since it affects the storage of honey. Only honeys with less than 18% water can be stored with little to no risk of fermentation. The final water content depends on a number of environmental factors during production such as weather and humidity inside the hive, but also on nectar conditions and treatment of honey during extraction and storage. It can be reduced before or after extraction by special techniques (see 2.6.9).

Among the minor constituents organic acids are the most important and of these gluconic acid, which is a by-product of enzymatic digestion of glucose, predominates. The organic acids are responsible for the acidity of honey and contribute largely to its characteristic taste.

Minerals are present in very small quantities, potassium being the most abundant. Dark honeys, particularly honeydew honeys are the richest in minerals.

Other trace elements include nitrogenous compounds among which the enzymes originate from salivary secretions of the worker honeybees. They have an important role in the formation of the honey. Their commercial importance is not related to human nutrition, but to their fragility and uniqueness. Thus their reduction or absence in adulterated, overheated or excessively stored honeys serves as an indicator of freshness. The main enzymes in honey are invertase (saccharase) diastase (amylase) and glucose oxidase.

Traces of other proteins, enzymes or amino acids as well as water soluble vitamins are thought to result from pollen contamination in honey.

Virtually absent in newly produced honey, hydroxvmethylfurfural (HMF) is a byproduct of fructose decay, formed during storage or during heating. Thus, its presence is considered the main indicator of honey deterioration.

Even though some of the substances responsible for honey colour and flavour have been identified (see Table 2.7) the majority are still unknown. It is more than likely that honeys from different botanical origins contain different aromatic and other substances which contribute to the specific colours and flavours and thus allow to distinguish one honey from another. Similarly, it is very likely that, depending on their botanical origin, honeys contain traces of pharmacologically active substances. Some of them have been identified, such as those responsible for the toxicity of certain honeys (see also section 2.9), but for the majority of possible substances, scientific verification requires further studies.

Table 2.6
Average composition of U.S honeys and ranges of values (White, et al., 1962)

Component
(% except pH and diastase valute)
Average
Standard deviation
Range
Water
<>17.2

1.5

13.4 - 22.9

Fructose

38.2

2.1

27.2 - 44.3

Glucose

31.3

3.0

22.0 - 40.7

Sucrose

1.3

0.9

0.2 - 7.6

Maltose (reducing disaccharides calculated as maltose)

7.3

2.1

2.7 - 16.0

Higher sugars

1.5

1.0

0.1 - 8.5

Free acids (as gluconic acid)

0.43

0.16

0.13 - 092

Lactone (as glucolactone)

0.14

0.07

0.0 - 0.37

Total acid (as gluconic acid)

0.57

0.20

0.17 - 1.17

Ash

0.169

0.15

0.020 - 1.028

Nitrogen

0.041

0.026

0.000 - 0.133

pH

3.91

-

3.42 - 6.10

Diastase value

20.8

9.8

2.1 - 61.2

 

2.4 The physiological effects of honey

2.4.1 Unconfirmed circumstantial evidence

For thousands of years honey was the only source of concentrated sugar. uniqueness, scarcity and desirability connected it to divinity very early in human history thus ascribing to it symbolic, magic and therapeutic significance. Much of the myth many of the traditional medicinal uses have continued until today.

Few of these medicinal benefits have seen scientific confirmation and they are not always exclusive to honey. The majority are due to the high sugar content and therefore can also be found in other sweet substances with high sugar contents. It was not by accident that sugar, when first introduced to Europe, was considered a medicine for many diseases and was used with caution.

The major properties and effects commonly attributed to honey (Donadieu, 1983) are briefly described below, but there are hundreds of different local uses in various countries, according to the specific cultures and traditions, and it is impossible to mention all of them. The Koran also mentions several uses for honey and other bee products (El Banby, 1987).

Nutritional benefits

Honey is said to facilitate better physical performance and resistance to fatigue, particularly for repeated effort; it also promotes higher mental efficiency. It is therefore used by both the healthy and the sick for any kind of weakness, particularly in the case of digestive or assimilative problems. Improved growth of non-breast fed newborn infants, improved calcium fixation in bones and curing anaemia and anorexia may all be attributed to some nutritional benefit or stimulation from eating honey.

Benefits to the digestive apparatus

Honey is said to improve food assimilation and to be useful for chronic and infective intestinal problems such as constipation, duodenal ulcers and liver disturbances. Salem (1981) and Haffejee and Moosa (1985) have reported successful treatment of various gastrointestinal disorders.

Benefits to the respiratory system

In temperate climates and places with considerable temperature fluctuations, honey is a well known remedy for colds and mouth, throat or bronchial irritations and infections. The benefits, apart from antibacterial effects, are assumed to relate to the soothing and relaxing effect of fructose.

Benefits to skin and wound healing

Honey is used in moisturizing and nourishing cosmetic creams, but also in pharmaceutical preparations applied directly on open wounds, sores, bed sores, ulcers, varicose ulcers and burns. It helps against infections, promotes tissue regeneration, and reduces scarring also in its pure, unprocessed form (Hutton, 1966; Manjo, 1975; Armon, 1980 and Dumronglert, 1983). If applied immediately, honey reduces blistering of burns and speeds regeneration of new tissue. Many case histories are reported in the literature for human as well as veterinary medicine (sores, open wounds and teat lesions in cows). A cream, applied three times per day and prepared from equal parts of honey, rye flour and olive oil, has been successfully used on many sores and open wounds -even gangrenous wounds in horses (Lu~hrs, 1935). Lu cke (1935) successfully tested a honey and cod liver oil mixture suspended in a simple non-reactive cream base on open wounds in humans, but he gave no details on proportions.

Table 2.7:
List of coupoponds found in honey, but not necessarily present in all honeys
(from Gonnet and Vache, 1985 modified with data from Withe,
1975b Bogdanov and Crane, 1990)

List of coupoponds found in honey, but not necessarily present in all honeys (from Gonnet and Vache, 1985 modified with data from Withe, 1975b Bogdanov and Crane, 1990)

 

Benefit to eye disorders

Clinical cases or traditional claims that honey reduces and cures eye cataracts, cures conjunctivitis and various afflictions of the cornea if applied directly into the eye, are known from Europe (Mikhailov, 1950), Asia, and Central America. This is said to be more true for Meliponid and Trigonid honeys from South and Central America and India. There are also case histories of ceratitis rosacea and corneal ulcers, healed with pure honey or a 3 % sulphidine ointment in which Vaseline was replaced by honey.

Medicine-like benefit

Frequently, specific benefits of unifloral honeys are reported, based on the traditional assumption that honey made from the nectar of a medicinal plant has the same or similar beneficial activity as the one recognized for the whole plant or some parts of it. Even if no transfer of active ingredients is involved, mechanisms similar to homeopathic potentiation are possible. Empirically effective therapies such as Bach flower therapy and aroma-therapy suggest that there can be much more to the medicinal value of honey than chemical analysis and quantification reveals. These claims are not supported by orthodox scientific evidence.

Diabetes

Frequently, claims are voiced that honey is good for diabetics. This is unlikely to find confirmation because of its high sugar content. However, it is better than products made with cane sugar, as a study by Katsilambros et al., (1988) has shown. It revealed that insulin levels were lower when compared to the uptake of equal caloric values of other foods, but blood sugar level was equal or higher than in the other compared products shortly after eating. In healthy individuals, the consumption of honey produced lower blood sugar readings than the consumption of the same quantity of sucrose (Shambaugh et al., 1990).

Ayurvedic medicine

Traditional, but well-studied medicinal systems as the ayurvedic medicine of India, use honey predominantly as a vehicle for faster absorption of various drugs such as herbal extracts. Secondarily, it is also thought to support the treatment of several more specific ailments, particularly those related to respiratory irritations and infections, mouth sores and eye cataracts. It also serves as a general tonic for newborn infants (see also section 2.9), the young and the elderly, the convalescent and hard working farmers (Nananiaya, 1992, personal communication). In general, no distinction is being made between honey from Apis mellifera A. cerana or A. dorsata.

Other benefits

Honey is said to normalize kidney function, reduce fevers and help insomnia. It is also supposed to help recovery from alcohol intoxication and protect the liver; effects also ascribed to fructose syrups. Heart, circulation and liver ailments and convalescent patients in general improved after injection with solutions of 20 and 40% honey in water (Kaul, 1967).

2.4.2  Scientific evidence

According to scientific evidence it would be better to consider honey as a food, rather than a medicine. Most of the benefits described above, at least for internal use, can most likely be ascribed to nutritional effects of some kind. On the other hand, our scientific understanding of cause and effect, typically only confirmed if a single compound measurably affects a well defined symptom, is far too limited to explain possibly more complex and subtle, particularly synergistic interactions.

Energy source

As food, honey is mainly composed of the simple sugars fructose and glucose, which form the basis of almost all indications on how, when and why to use it. The main consideration is the fact that honey provides immediately available calories, from which it derives its energy value for healthy and sick people: quick access to energy without requiring lengthy or complicated digestive action. The same direct absorption also carries a risk of pathological sugar metabolism, such as diabetes and obesity.

Non-energetic nutrients

Often honey is recommended because of its content of other nutrients like vitamins and minerals, but their quantity is so low that it is unrealistic to think they can provide any significant supplement in a deficient diet (Table 2.8). Similar arguments are made for the nutritional and health benefits from most other bee products, particularly pollen and royal jelly. Although their beneficial characteristics have been shown in numerous cases, they cannot be based on simple numeric values, i.e. X amount of substance Y. Yet, it is well known that the quality and availability of a nutrient is important for its usefulness to the body. Micronutrients in unprocessed honey can be assumed to be of the highest quality possible. Thus from a nutritional point of view, a synergistic balancing effect or one that unlocks the availability of other nutrients already present, is one of the more plausible yet untested hypotheses.

Topical applications

Topical applications under controlled conditions have shown accelerated wound healing in animals (Bergman et al., 1983, El Banby et al. 1989) and of experimental burn wounds in rats (Burlando, 1978) but also of various types of wounds, including post-operative ones in humans (Cavanagh et al., 1970; Kandil et al., 1987a, b and 1989; Effem, 1988 and Green, 1988). Similar, yet not equal, effects are obtained with the application of purified sucrose and special polysaccharide powders (Chirife et al., 1982). External as well as internal wounds from operations become bacteriologically sterile within a few days and dry out. The simultaneous stimulation of tissue regeneration by honey reduces scarring and healing times. In addition, dressings applied with honey do not stick to the wounds or delicate new skins. In many tropical field hospitals, where antibiotics and other medicines are scarce, honey has been employed successfully for a long time.

 Table 2.8:
Nutrients in honey in relation to human requirements (Crane, 1980)

Nutrient

Unit

Average amount in 100 g honey

Recommended daily intake

Energy equivalent

Vitamins

A

B1 (Thiamin)

B2 (Riboflavin)

Nicotinic acid (niacin)

B6 (Pyridoxine)

Pantothenic acid

Bc (Folic acid)

B12 (Cyanocobaltamine)

C (Ascorbic acid)

D

E (Tocopherol)

H (Biotin)

Minerals

Calcium

Chlorine

Copper

Iodine

Iron

Magnesium

Phosphorous

Potassium

Sodium

Zinc

kcal

 

I.U.

mg.

mg.

mg.

mg.

mg.

mg.

mg.

m g

mg.

I.U.

I.U.

mg.

mg.

mg.

mg.

mg.

mg.

mg.

mg.

mg.

mg.

mg.

304

 

-

0.004 - 0.006

0.002- 0.06

0.11.- 0.36

0.008 - 0.32

0.02 - 0.11

-

-

2.2 - 2.4

-

-

-

 

4 - 30

2 - 20

0.01 - 0.1

-

  1. - 3.4

0.7 - 13

2 - 60

10 - 470

0.6 - 40

0.2 0.5

2800

 

5000

1.5

1.7

20

2.0

10

0.4

6

60

400

30

0.3

 

1000

 

2.0

0.15

18

400

1000

-

-

15

 

Antibacterial activity

Antibacterial activity is the easiest to test and is probably the most studied biological activity of honey. In normal honey it is attributed to high sugar concentration and acidity (pH range 3.5 to 5.0). Yet, since also diluted honey has shown antibacterial activity, the active ingredient was attributed to an elusive substance generically termed "inhibin". Much of this activity was later attributed to hydrogen peroxide (H202) an enzymatic by-product during the formation of gluconic acid from glucose. The responsible enzyme, glucose oxidase is basically inactive in concentrated normal honey. Thus, in honey solutions (diluted honey) with the right pH, antibacterial activity is largely due to the presence of hydrogen peroxide. The biological significance of such a mechanism arises from the requirement to protect immature honey (with high moisture content) inside the colony until higher sugar concentrations are achieved.

Both mechanisms can partially explain the sterilizing effect of honey on wounds and some of its efficacy against cold infections, but it does not explain its beneficial effect on burn wounds (Heggers, et al., 1987) and faster wound healing with less scarred tissue. Subralimanyam (1993) has experienced 100% acceptance of skin grafts after storage in honey for up to 12 weeks. Antibacterial activity varies greatly between different types of honey (Dustmann, 1979; Revathy and Banerji, 1980; Jeddar et al., 1985 and Molan et al., 1988). In addition to glucose oxidase, honey seems to contain other mostly unknown substances with antibacterial effects, among which are polyphenols. These other factors have been identified in a few cases (Toth et al., 1987; Bogdanov, 1989 and Molan et al., 1989) but as a whole there are few scientific studies on the various claims of the beneficial effects of honey. However, it has been well demonstrated that most of the antibacterial activities of honey are lost after heating or prolonged exposure to sunlight (Dustmann, 1979).

Information sources on honey therapy

Mladenov (1972) published a book (in Rumanian) on honey therapy in Rumania and there are several articles on honey therapy in Apimondia (1976) as well as in Crane (1975 and 1990). The American Apitherapy Society collects case histories and scientific information on all therapeutical uses of bee products.

2.5 The use of honey today

2.5.1  As a food

Honey is most commonly consumed in its unprocessed state, i.e. liquid, crystallized or in the comb. In these forms it is taken as medicine, eaten as food or incorporated as an ingredient in various food recipes.

However, honey is considered a food only in a few societies such as those of the industrialized countries in Europe and North America, Latin America, North Africa, the Near East and increasingly in Japan. In most parts of Africa it is used for brewing honey beer and to a much lesser degree, as medicine. In most of Asia it is generally regarded as a medicine or at most an occasional sweet. High per capita consumption in industrialized nations (see 2.10) does not reflect the consumption of unprocessed honey per person but includes a very large quantity of honey used in industrial food production, i.e. as a food ingredient.

In order to increase consumption and to make the various honeys more attractive, a large variety of packaging and semi-processed and pure honey products are marketed. Though they are strictly still "only" honey, their form of presentation can add a certain value to the primary product and is therefore briefly discussed here. One of the more appreciated forms, price wise at least, of selling natural honey seems to be honey in its natural comb. Including pieces of comb honey in jars with liquid honey (chunk honey) is very attractive to many consumers and appears to disperse suspicions of adulteration. Creamed honey (soft, finely crystallized honey) is a very pleasant product which is convenient in use because it does not drip. Honey is sometimes "enhanced" by adding pollen, propolis and/or royal jelly without changing the state of the honey itself. These products are described in the pollen, propolis and royal jelly chapters. For other "improvements" in the form and size of packaging see section 2.6.11.

In some countries the appearance of the marketed honey is not very important, i.e. it may be liquid, crystallized or semi-crystallized and with or without wax particles etc. Therefore it can be bottled as it is. In other countries, consumers want not only clean honey but also prefer liquid honey. Consumer education may change this attitude, particularly where it is based on the widespread but false belief that honey crystallizes because it is adulterated with sugar. To remain liquid however, many honeys require special processing (see 2.12.1).

Slow crystallizing honeys can be sold without further processing or may be used, if lightly coloured, to pour around bottled chunks of comb honey or fruits and nuts. Light coloured honeys are particularly suitable for sale as comb honey in special clear packages (see Figure 2.16 a). But any kind of honey can be sold as comb honey as long as the combs are evenly sealed and relatively new, i.e. with white or light yellow wax. In blending different honeys, attention has to be paid to the final ratio of glucose to fructose and the possible need for additional heat treatments Fast and slow crystallizing honeys low in moisture content can be processed to prolong their liquid state (see section 2.12.1) or can be forced to crystallize under controlled conditions to achieve a soft and uniform consistency (see section 2.12.2).

Uniformly crystallized honey is attractive both visually and for its convenience of use. It is also less likely to ferment than badly crystallized or semi-crystallized honeys (see Figure 2.3). Different storage temperatures in different climates, among other factors influence the crystallization and speed of re-liquefaction of honeys. Stored above 25C, most honeys remain liquid or reliquify slowly, but lose much of their aroma in just a few months

2.5.2 As a food ingredient

The traditional use of honey in food preparations has been substituted in most cases by sugar and more recently by various sugar syrups derived from starches. These exhibit similar composition and characteristics, but at a much reduced cost. At the same time, as part of the increasing appreciation of more natural products in many countries, honey has been "rediscovered" as a valuable food and therefore confers, also as an ingredient, an enhanced market value to the end product. Many honey containing industrial products which were developed in the last decades, but which did not have the expected success, are currently being remarketed more successfully.

Outside of the thousands of "home-made" recipes in each cultural tradition, honey is largely used on a small scale as well as at an industrial level in baked products, confectionary, candy, marmalades, jams, spreads, breakfast cereals, beverages, milk products and many preserved products. In particular, the relatively new industry of "natural", health and biological products uses honey abundantly as the sweetener of first choice, together with non-refined sugars in substitution of refined sucrose (cane and beet sugar). In fact, honey can substitute all or part of the normal sugar in most products (see 2.12.11). Limitations are presented on one side by costs and handling characteristics and on the other by the natural variations in honey characteristics which change the end product, make it more variable and require more frequent adjustments in the industrial formulations (recipes).

Recipe books for home use of honey have been published in many languages. Many of these recipes can also be adapted for artisanal and small scale production. Aside from the occasional information in special trade books or journals, information or recipes about large-scale uses of honey are difficult to find. One French text on industrial food production with honey is a good source (Paillon, 1960). Otherwise the National Honey Board of the USA (see Annex 2) is able to provide information and technical assistance including tips on promotion and marketing, to small and large industrial users of honey.

To baked products, aside from the already mentioned consumer appeal, honey confers several other advantages such as a particular soft, spongy (springy) consistency which persists longer. Products that contain honey also dry out more slowly and have a lesser tendency to crack. These properties are due to the hygroscopicity of honey, a trait honey has in common with other sweeteners high in fructose, like acid-hydrolysed corn syrup or other syrups made from starches and fruit juices. Another advantage consists of more uniform baking with a more evenly browned crust at lower temperatures. These characteristics too, are mostly due to the fructose content. Yet another advantage is an improved aroma, conferred by relatively small percentages of honey (up to 6% by weight of the flour) in sweet cakes, biscuits, breads and similar products (see Figure 2.4). Since most beneficial effects can be obtained with relatively small quantities, the baking industry prefers strong flavoured honeys thus maximizing flavour for the lowest possible cost. On the other hand not more than one third of the sugar in a baking recipe should normally be replaced by honey.

In confectionerv production, honey is still included in many traditional products which are consumed locally in considerable quantities but are also exported, such as torrone from Italy, tur6n from Spain, nougat from France and halvah from Turkey and Greece. For the production of caramels (bonbons) honey is used only in very small quantities, since its hygroscopicity presents a major disadvantage: it reduces the preservation time and softens the caramels at the surface causing them to stick together. Some caramels, made with special machinery have a liquid honey core. In gelatinous or gum products, honey can be used in the same way as other flavouring agents (aromas or fruit pulp). The chocolate industry uses honey in only a few products. One Swiss chocolate in particular, in which honey is included in the form of broken nougat, can be found worldwide.

In the breakfast cereal industry, honey is used either in its liquid or in its dried and pulverized form, both for better flavour and increased consumer appeal. It can be mixed with cereal flakes and dried fruits or applied as a component of the sweetening and flavouring film which covers the flakes. The dryness or hardness of the cereal can be adjusted with the honey content and the degree of drying. Some cereal recipes are given in Chapter 3.

Numerous snack bars (candy bars) are marketed in which honey constitutes the binding and sweetening agent. Other ingredients of the mixtures can be dried fruits (like raisins, figs, apples, apricots, prunes, dates, pineapple, papaya, etc.), nuts and seeds (like hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, pistachios, ground nuts, cashew nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, linseeds or coconut flakes), cereals of all kinds (rolled, as flakes or in puffed form) and possibly other ingredients such as milk powder, pollen, cacao, carob and aromas. The ingredients are chopped to various sizes and mixed with the hot honey and sugar. Depending on the composition and the degree of heating of the sugars (including honey) a more or less solid product is obtained after cooling. Some can be cooled in moulds, some be cut after cooling and others, which remain soft, have to be layered between wafers or biscuits and coated with chocolate. In any case, all such products are fairly hygroscopic and need to be packed with material impermeable to moisture. A few recipes can be found in Chapter 3 and section 2.12.6.

In the wide variety of spreads for bread, there are products in which honey is either the major ingredient, such as "flavoured" honeys, or in which it only substitutes for sugar as in cream spreads and fruit preserves. Flavoured honeys are usually marketed in crystallized form as the addition of the other ingredients speeds up the crystallization anyhow. It is better to control the crystallization and mixing rather than leaving it to chance and having the other ingredients separate from the liquid honey after a short time. The ingredients are either mixed with the honey at the same time as the seed crystals or they are mixed after crystallization has been completed, to obtain a harder or softer end product respectively. For further details see recipes of creamed honey in section 2.12.2. Sun-dried or freeze-dried fruits like raisins, apricots or strawberries may be chopped and nuts and seeds may be pureed and included in the honey, as may be cacao, cream or milk powders and even butter. In some cases the product has to be stored in a refrigerator.

Separate attention needs to be devoted to honeys with added aromas or essences, be it fruit or other aromatic essences. Such practices are, or at least have been, more common in Eastern Europe where sometimes the aromas, food colouring or even medicinal drugs were fed to the bees in sugar syrup and the "honey" extracted from these colonies sold as "strawberry honey" or "mint honey", etc. However, they are not truly honey (see definition in section 2.1). To the consumer they present something very similar to natural honeys, at least in appearance. Therefore, European Union (EU) legislation does not allow commercialization of these products under the name of honey. Adding aromas to liquid or creamed honey produced from natural sources is yet a different approach compatible with European legislation, if labelled accordingly, but of questionable consumer appeal. This honey must be labelled so it can be distinguished from unifloral honeys.

  Some honey-based bakery products also showing granola (mijesli) bars.

Figure 2.4: Some honey-based bakery products
also showing granola (mijesli) bars.

In the preparation of marmalades and jams, honey can replace all or part of the sugars used. The fruit and honey mixture is concentrated by boiling or under vacuum (reduced pressure) until a sugar concentration of at least 63 % is reached, which is sufficient for preservation. The boiling time can be reduced by using partially sun-dried fruits. Any reduction of boiling time or temperature will improve flavour and reduce caramelization. The last two methods, boiling under reduced pressure and using sun-dried fruits, preserve the original flavours better. The use of sun-dried fruit also requires less fuel and 1e~~ expensive equipment (see section 2.12.12). For these types of preserves a refractometer is helpful to determine the final sugar concentration. Another alternative is the preparation of "semi-preserves", i.e. those which use less sugar (honey) and boiling (30 minutes), store well in their unopened (sterilized) original containers, but once opened have to be refrigerated or consumed within a few days. The same procedures as under section 8.10.7 can be followed.

The quantity and ratio of honey and fruits varies with the fruit and the choice of preserves. Fresh fruits contain between 3 and 20% of sugar and honey contains approximately 80% thus the approximate requirements can be calculated. To obtain a suitable consistency in those preserves with a relatively low sugar content, pectin is added at a rate of 0.1 to 0.2%. Lemon juice or citric and tartaric acid may have to be added to make the mixture sufficiently acidic for the pectin to gel. For home and artisanal use of honey in marmalades, jellies and fruit syrups, there is a multitude of family recipes, but industrial use of honey in preserves remains very limited, probably because of economic considerations. A simple honey jelly made from a mixture of honey, pectin and water is presented in section 2.12.13.

In Italy, a product type with whole dried fruits or nuts in honey, or honey with dried fruits and nuts, is quite popular (see Figure 2.5). Clear jars, preferably glass, are partially filled with low moisture, slow crystallizing, light coloured honey and then filled with dried fruits or nuts. If dried fruits with a relatively high water content like pineapple, chestnut, apricots and figs are added, fermentation may occur and the final moisture content of such honeys has to be closely observed or the honey be replaced (see section 2.12.8).

  Hazel nuts packed in liquid honey.

Figure 2.5 : Hazel nuts packed in liquid honey.


The use of honey mixed with milk or milk products is a very common home remedy against colds and infections of the throat. In the industrial sector some non-medicinal honey-milk products exist, such as pasteurized and homogenized milk sweetened with honey for long-term storage. One particular honey-milk is prepared with dried milk powder plus 25 % honey and 10% glucose (Spo~ttel, 1950). Another product is yoghurt with honey (Spanish Dairy Corp., 1975). In South America dulce de leche (sweet milk) is almost as essential to the Argentinean diet as meat, and is an extremely popular spread. Though mostly prepared with other sugars, honey makes for a much richer flavour (see section 2.12.7). In yoghurt, honey is used as a sweetener or like other flavourings and is mixed at the rate of 10 to 15 % either before or after fermentation. Alternatively, it may be left separately at the bottom of the container. The mixing causes a slight loss of viscosity of the yoghurt, which can be corrected by adding skimmed milk solids (Brown and Kosikowski, 1970). One of the Italian industry leaders in this sector produces a yoghurt with orange blossom honey, the aroma of which blends very well with the yoghurt. In special combination packages a fruit granola mix is packed above a honey-sweetened yoghurt (Colangelo, 1980).

Adding honey to ice creams has been suggested several times, but at least in Italy, ice creams sweetened with honey have never had much commercial success, probably due to the fact that these ice creams melt more easily and at lower temperatures than those made with sugar. This causes problems in distribution and open sales presentations together with other sugar-based ice creams. In other countries, but particularly when ice cream is sold in pre-packaged individual portions or larger 0.5 to 2 litre containers, honey-based ice creams are marketed successfully. The addition of more than 7.5 % honey softens the ice cream significantly, due to its lower freezing point.

In the industrial non-alcoholic beverage industry, the use of honey is relatively recent and is expanding. The reasons can be found in a wider distribution of "functional" drinks such as health orientated, strengthening or replenishing isotonic drinks. Honey drinks are most frequently mixed with lemon juice for a pleasant sweet and sour taste, but other fruit flavourings such as apple juice are often added. In 1990, over 40 new honey drinks were introduced in Japan, of which one (on a honey and lemon juice base) was introduced by the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Tokyo (PRC, 1990). In many fruit juices too, honey is added as a flavouring and sweetener. In apple juice it is also used to clarify the fresh juice (Lee and Kime, 1984) by adding 4% of a solution containing equal proportions of honey and water (Wakayama and Lee, 1987). Ice tea can be flavoured and clarified with the addition of honey and lemon juice.

These new beverages take advantage of a special ultrafiltration process. This filtration through special membranes eliminates any impurities, microscopic granules (pollen) microorganisms and even macromolecules such as proteins, which might otherwise produce turbidity or flocculation in clear beverages. Such ultrafiltered honey loses some of its flavour and colour but gains in consistency, which is highly appreciated by food processors for its lower production cost. This ultrafiltration may soon find wider application not only in the beverage industry, but also in the dairy, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries (Lagrange, 1991).

For inclusion in some recipes, honey is also dried or dehydrated by various industrial techniques (Olstrom, 1983), usually some type of vacuum or spray drying. However, dried honey is even more hygroscopic and needs to be stabilized by mixing with other powders such as starches, flours or other non-hygroscopic sugars, which are compatible with the final recipe. The percentage of stabilizers is in general around 55 % but may vary from 20 to 70% in case of, for example, porous maltitol powder (Ebisu et al., 1988). The powdered honey is used in dry mixes for cakes, breads and drinks or energy health powders and avoids the need to handle any liquid or sticky honey. Other applications are in cosmetics and alcoholic beverages, where additional water content is not desired or where handling of liquids increases production cost. Lupke (1980) discusses the use of dried honey in baked goods in Germany. Yener et al. (1987) describes different production techniques used in Turkey for the stabilized dry honey powder. Crane (1990) reports granular dried honey as reducing shrinkage of meat products by 19% and production of an additive-free dried honey powder has been mentioned in the Speedy Bee (1988).

Honey is also used in the manufacturing of sauces, the preparation of canned meat and honey cured (cooked) hams. Distilled alcoholic beverages incorporate honey as a flavouring agent after distillation, as for example Benedictine in France, Drambuie in Scotland, Irish Mist in Ireland, Grappa al Miele in Italy, Krupnik in Poland, Barenfang in Germany and many others.

For all the mentioned preparations, most of all for those with a high honey content, the quality and flavour of that honey are important. Any recipe will have to be adapted to the type of honey available and most of all to its water content, which determines the cooking or baking times in pastries and preserves, and the appearance, consistency and stability of other products.

2.5.3 As an ingredient in medicine-like products

The medicinal use of honey is probably its most widely known use, but such uses do not require special preparations. If not used straight, it is mixed at home with other liquids such as hot milk, teas or other infusions, wine and other alcoholic beverages. The pharmacopoeias of many countries describe a honey-based preparation which can be prepared by pharmacists (honey rose water) which is used for topical application in infected throats and various ulcers of the mouth (see 2.12.15).

More common is the use of honey in herbal and other traditional extracts. If the extract is presented in the form of a syrup, the preparations need to be sterilized with heat before or after the addition of the active ingredients, or a preservative like potassium sorbate or alcohol needs to be added. Sometimes fermented honey syrups are used as a base. These fermented syrups are made by adding yeasts to a mix that contains a much higher ratio of sugar to water (1:1) than is used for honey wines, mead or beer (see next section). Plant extracts are added after fermentation and clarification.

The addition of honey to herbal extracts and also prior to fermentation (as described above) is commonly practised in ayurvedic medicine as mentioned in 2.4.1. Traditional African medicinal extracts are also mixed with honey and probably not only because they are easier to take that way. In Europe, many traditional formulations are also known and some were even recommended by Hippocrates (Adams, 1939).

Honey is also a fundamental ingredient in some medicinal wines and vinegars. In one case herbs are crushed and immersed for 10 to 30 days in the wine, to which some alcohol may be added in order to improve the extraction and preservation. The liquid obtained needs to be filtered and pasteurized; honey is then added.

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