3.10 Caution

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Pollen allergies, also called hay fever have been known for a long time but in today's stressful environment it seems that more and more people suffer from allergies. Often it is difficult to identify the exact source. Specific pollen allergies may be avoided by changing one's environment. Desensitization with established Western medical methods (subcutaneous injections of pollen extracts) are slow and generally have only a temporary effect, so they need to be repeated. Traditional and alternative health practitioners have claimed to cure pollen allergies. It is said that the consumption of locally produced honey has a desensitizing effect because all honeys contain small quantities of pollen. However, not all available pollen species are collected by bees and thus may not occur in the particular honey. There is not even anecdotal evidence that honey consumption will remedy pollen allergies, but consuming small quantities of honey regularly has not harmed anyone yet. The consumption of pressed honey which always has a very high pollen content, may at times cause small allergic reactions (personal experience) Feinberg et al., (1940) have shown in numerous comparisons that pollen consumption only marginally improved allergic reactions, so marginally in fact that it cannot be recommended, nor can improvements be distinguished from improvements possibly due to general improvements in health.

The greatest risk of allergic reactions exists with the direct consumption of pollen. This, however, can be avoided by consuming pollen packed in capsules or coated pills which prevent direct contact with any mucous membranes. Once in the digestive tract, the body generally does not show any allergic reaction. Again, careful trials by sensitive individuals are recommended if consumption is assisted upon.

This preempts any foods in which pollen has been incorporated, but allows taking pollen for special health reasons. Barrionuevo (1983) and personal trials by the author, who is strongly allergic to some pollen species, confirmed that by avoiding contact with eyes, nose, mouth, throat and pharynx, no allergic reactions occurred with ingested pollen. Intestinal allergies to pollen are rarer than most food allergies (Schmidt and Buchmann, 1992). Still, careful trials by sensitive individuals are recommended for all products containing pollen.

Since there are so many different substances in the different pollen species to which people react with allergies, only some extractions or a general denaturalization can inactivate most of the allergens for commercial production. This probably ruins some of the beneficial characteristics of the pollen as well. Getting pollen from areas without the allergy-causing species may help individuals who want to consume pollen, but such identification and separation is unlikely to be feasible for commercial production.

A simple muscle resistance test (kinesiology) can show allergic sensitivities before actual contact with the substance occurs.

As a precaution, everybody, even those people who have not known any pollen allergies before, should first try very small quantities of the pollen or the product containing the pollen. Allergic reactions normally occur within a short period of time, from a few minutes to a few hours.

To avoid any problems with customers and with those who consume foods or use cosmetics and medicine-like products containing pollen, it would be advisable to include a warning on the product label, for example "This product contains pollen which may cause allergic reactions. Try small quantities first".

Pollen should not be collected or purchased from areas with heavy industrial, urban or agricultural pollution (pesticide). The geographical origin of the pollen should be known, and producers as well as buyers and retailers should be using adequate cold storage.

3.11 Market Outlook

Dried pollen prices in the USA range from US$5 to 13 per kg wholesale and US$11 30 per kg retail (American Bee Journal, 1993). Encapsulated pollen or pollen tablets sell vials of 50 to 100 units and retail at prices of up to US$900/kg, at least in Italy and the

The bulk pollen consumer market seems to be growing in industrialized countries, but pollen tablets are still a common feature of health food stores and command an excessively high price. Encapsulation and extraction of pollen lend themselves easily to small scale manufacturing and result in safer consumer products.

Most of the buyers and large scale sellers of pollen are also honey traders. Crane (1990) however reports that a lot of commercial pollen is not bee collected, but machine-collected from certain wind pollinated plants which release very large quantities of dry pollen.

At least in industrialized countries and those with increasing numbers of health conscious consumers, pollen consumption is likely to increase further. It is difficult to see how wholesale prices of bulk pollen could drop much lower. On the other hand, there seems to be a wide market for reasonably priced, encapsulated pollen and tablets.

Promotion of pollen from uncontaminated, unpolluted or even tropical forest areas may find a small consumer base in importing countries.

The high nutritional value of pollen should find special consideration in rural communities. Though not a traditional food, the ease of mixing it with other foods should facilitate acceptance. Rural hospitals could be the first to promote the use of pollen.

Various commercial products containing bee-collected pollen in either a processed or unprocessed (from left to righ): liquid pollen extract, granola bar (musli), different coloured pollen pills and capsules and dried pollen.
Figure 3.9 : Various commercial products containing bee-collected pollen in either a processed or unprocessed (from left to righ): liquid pollen extract, granola bar (musli), different coloured pollen pills and capsules and dried pollen.

3.12 Recipes

Pollen can be added to a variety of foods and snacks. It does not involve any special adaptation of recipes, because the pollen is usually added in small quantities. However, pollen has a distinct flavour of its own and is usually slightly sweet. Thus it will alter delicate flavours and can even be detected in products with stronger flavours such as chocolate bars or granolas. Quantities should therefore be adjusted according to flavour.

Considering the sensitivity of pollen, its inclusion in products requiring processing (particularly heating) may cause a significant loss of beneficial effects. Fermentation into beebread may not only preserve many of the beneficial characteristics, but also add new enzymatic ingredients. Since pollen can easily be included in most recipes, only a few are provided here which might be marketable by small enterprises, including beekeepers. Various processed forms (encapsulated, pills, extracts) are presented (see Figure 3.9) and additional recipes can be found in Chapters 2, 5, 8 and 9.

3.12.1 Pollen extract

To avoid the granular structure of pollen or avoid some of the allergenic effects, pollen extracts can be prepared. The most common solvents for extraction are various types of alcohols. The higher the alcohol concentration, the more complete is the extraction of oils, fats, colours, resins and fat soluble vitamins from pollen. Solvents with lower concentration of alcohol mainly dissolve tannins, acids and carbohydrates. Therefore, with a variation of the alcohol concentration different types of extracts can be prepared. A propylene glycol extract contains most water soluble material, leaving behind the proteins, thus eliminating most if not all allergenic material. Such an extract is well suited for external applications such as in cosmetics. Oil extractions have been reported as inefficient. Treatment with diethylene glycol monomethyl ether discolours pollen and its extracts (D'Albert, 1956) where coloration may not be desired (cosmetics).

The following extract is prepared with a very high percent alcohol (95 % or more) to get most of the substances out of the pollen. The alcohol has to be food grade (fit for human consumption). Distilled beverages usually contain 40-60% alcohol or less, and so only produce less complete extracts.

A glass bottle or glazed clay pot is filled with 4 parts of 95% alcohol and 1 part of beebread (Dany, 1988). Bee-collected pollen can be used as well, but beebread has different (higher) nutritional values (see 3.12.2). Agitate the mixture at least once a day and leave it for 8 days. More frequent agitation improves extraction. The mixture is filtered through afine cotton cloth and stored in a dark glass bottle. It can be stored for a long time. The filtrate can again be washed in water and this weaker extract may be used immediately.

For further potentiation, 50 g of broken propolis can be added for extraction at the start. For medicinal purposes other herbal extracts can be added as well as mead, royal jelly etc.

A revitalizing concentrate, a teaspoon taken three times a day, is described (in parts by weight). Different proportions and additional ingredients are possible.

4 Honey 4 Honey
1 Wheat germ (or wheat extract) 0.5 Pollen (or extract)
1 Pollen extract 0.5 Yeast (or stimulating plant extarct)
1 Dry yeast (brewers or bakers yeast) 0.05-0.5 Royal jelly
0.1-0.4 Royal jelly

3.12.2 Beebread (after Dany, 1988)

Normally, the term beebread refers to the pollen stored by the bees in their combs. The beebread has already been processed by the bees for storage with the addition of various enzymes and honey, which subsequently ferments. This type of lactic acid fermentation is similar to that in yoghurts (and other fermented milk products) and renders the end product more digestible and enriched with new nutrients. One advantage is almost unlimited storability of beebread in comparison with dried or frozen pollen in which nutritional values are rapidly lost. The natural process carried out by the bees can more or less be repeated artificially with dry or fresh bee-collected pollen. It is important however, to provide the correct conditions during the fermentation process.

The container

Wide-mouthed bottles or jars with airtight lids are absolutely essential. Airtight stainless steel or glazed clay pots can also be used. Containers should always be large enough to leave enough airspace (20 to 25 % of the total volume) above the culture.

The temperature

The temperature for the first two to three days should be between 28 and 320C; the bees maintain a temperature of approximately 34C. After the first two or three days the temperature should be lowered to 20C.

The high initial temperature is important to stop the growth of undesirable bacteria as quickly as possible. At this ideal temperature all bacteria grow fast so that an excess of gas and acid accumulates. Only lactic acid producing bacteria (lactobacilli) and some yeasts continue to grow. The former soon dominate the whole culture. This final growth of lactobacilli should proceed slowly, hence the reduction in temperature after 2-3 days.

The starter culture

It is best to start the culture with an inoculation of the right bacteria such as Lactobacillus xylosus or lactobacilli contained in whey. Freeze-dried bacteria are best if they can be purchased, but otherwise, the best cultures are those that can be obtained from dairies. Whey itself can be used. If the whey is derived from unprocessed fresh milk it should be boiled before use. A culture can also be started with natural beebread.


Fermentation produces a pleasant degree of acidity (ideally pH 3.6-3.8). Some pollen species may promote excessive yeast growth but this does not spoil the beebread. If the flavour is strange or some other mildew-like or unpleasant odours arise from the beebread, discard it and try again. The final product, can be stored for years, once unsealed, it can be dried and thus is storable for many more months.

General conditions

For successful fermentation, exact quantities are less important than the correct conditions:

- the pollen to be fermented needs to be maintained under pressure
- the air space above the food needs to be sufficient (20-25 % of total volume)
- the container needs to be airtight
- the temperature should not drop below 18C

Ingredients (in parts by weight):

Clean water
Whey or very small quantity of dried lactic acid bacteria

Clean and slightly dry the fresh pollen. If dried pollen is used, an extra 0.5 parts of water is added and the final mix soaked for a couple of hours before placing it in the fermentation vessels. If the mixture is too dry, a little more honey-water solution can be added.

Heat the water, stir in the honey and boil for at least 5 minutes. Do not allow the mix to boil over.  Let the mix cool. When the temperature is approximately 30-32 0C, stir in the whey or starter culture and add the pollen. Press into the fermentation container.

When preparing large quantities in large containers, the pollen mass should be weighted down with a couple of weights (clean stones) on a very clean board.

Close the container well and place in a warm place (30-32 0C).

After 2-3 days, remove to a cool area (preferably at 200C). 8 to 12 days later the fermentation will have passed its peak and the beebread should be ready. The lower the temperature, the slower is the progress of fermentation. Leave the jars sealed for storage.

3.12.3 Honev with pollen

Health food stores and beekeepers sometimes add up to 5 % (by weight) of pollen to honey. Using fresh pollen may lead to fermentation of the honey. Very well dried and finely ground pollen, however is more difficult to mix into the honey. Mix the pollen with a smaller quantity of honey and then add it to the final batch.

No matter how well the powdered pollen pellets are mixed into the honey, the pollen will separate and rise to the top of the honey in a very short time. This does not look very attractive but people will be more inclined to buy the product if the cause is explained properly on the label. This is a more palatable way to eat pollen than eating the dry pellets directly and appears to preserve the delicate characteristics of pollen very well. One way to avoid separation is to mix the pollen with creamed or crystallized honey (see recipes in Chapter 2).

The most likely customers for such products are people who are more knowledgeable and very health conscious. Therefore, other bee products such as royal jelly or propolis can be added to the honey mixture and a still better price may be obtained. How much this improves the health or nutritional value of the honey mix remains unanswered. Since honey improves the uptake of several nutrients, it may benefit the absorption of other substances as well. The resulting product should have a fairly long shelf life, but particularly if royal jelly is added, the product should be refrigerated.

3.12.4 Granola or breakfast cereals

Dry pollen pellets can be sprinkled directly over a prepared breakfast or incorporated in a cereal. Most prepared cereals require baking during processing or heating prior to eating, either would reduce the beneficial characteristics of pollen.

In order to be included in granola, pollen pellets need to be pulverized and then sprinkled over the cooling cereal (granola) while it is still moist and sticky. Inclusion in the granola dough prior to baking is not recommended.

Pulverized pollen pellets may be mixed dry with powdery breakfast cereals or sprayed onto the cereal together with a honey (sugar) syrup possibly including other flavours or fruit juice after roasting or baking of the cereal.

An alternative for baked granolas as well as dry cereals (muesli) would be to include one or more measured portions of dried pollen pellets in a separate bag, ready to be added by the consumer. This avoids problems for some allergic consumers, saves processing and preserves the beneficial characteristics of pollen.


A basic granola recipe requires:

One or more of the rolled or puffed grains (rye, wheat, barley, buckwheat, oat, rice or some of the local grains still grown in many parts of the world), heated vegetable oil and a variety of seeds, nuts, dried fruits, coconut, wheat germ, etc., shredded or finely chopped and added in proportions determined by the preference of the manufacturer or customer.

Dried milk powder can be added and dried fruits, fruit juice or honey can be used for sweetening. Any pollen or insect larvae should only be added after toasting.

The rolled grains are spread in a baking pan and toasted under fre quent stirring for 10 to 15 minutes in an oven heated to 1500C. Then the rest of the ingredients are added and toasted for another 15 minutes with more stirring. A simpler alternative which however reduces the nutrient value of some of the ingredients involves mixing all the ingredients together and toasting them - also at 150 0C - for 35 minutes. Once cooled, store tightly covered and preferably refrigerated.

A muesli or dry cereal usually consists only of dried ingredients. No toasting or baking is necessary. The same granola ingredients can be mixed but without the oil. For consumption, the muesli is mixed with cold milk, water or fruit juice. Alternatively, it may be briefly boiled to soften the rolled grains.

Granola bars

To make granola bars, the same granola mixture should be pressed into the preferred shape after the first toasting. The second toasting is then completed at a slightly lower temperature and over a longer period of time. If sufficient honey is used, the hot mixture can be pressed into oiled forms also just before the toasting is finished, when the granola is still moist and sticky.

The sample recipe below is adapted from "The Joy of Cooking" (Rombauer and Rombauer Becker, 1975):

Ingredients (in parts by volume, e.g. cups):

Rolled oats
Dry milk
Rolled rye or barley
Coarsely chopped almonds
Wheat or corn flakes (or rolled)
Shredded or flaked coconuts
Vegetable oil
Hulled sunflower seeds
Sesame seeds
Wheat germ
Pollen, insect larvae or dried fruits

Preheat the oven to 150 0C. Scatter the rolled grains on a baking sheet or pan and toast for 15 minutes in the oven, stirring frequently. Slowly heat the oil and honey and add the remaining ingredients. Then combine with the toasted grains and spread thinly in the pan, continuing to toast in the oven and stirring frequently for another 15 minutes or until the ingredients are toasted. While the ingredients are still warm and sticky, sprinkle the pollen pellets, pollen powder, insect larvae or chopped dried fruits onto the granola and form into bars of the desired size.

3.12.5 Candy bars

There are many ways of preparing candy bars with nuts, chocolate, grains, popcorn and puffed rice to which pollen or even larvae can be added For replacing part of the sugars with honey in any recipe see the recipe section in Chapter 2.

The following is a general recipe from the same source as the granola and can be modified substantially for different flavours, textures etc.

Ingredients (in parts by volume):

3 Honey
4 Butter
0.3 Water
4 to 6 Slivered almonds (or other nuts, larvae or pollen)
3 Melted semisweet chocolate
1 Finely chopped nuts, larvae, pollen or raisins

Sliver or break large nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts and brazil nuts but, peanuts, for example, can be left whole. If a roasted nut flavour is preferred, add the nuts at the beginning to the honey, butter and water mix. If not, spread them on a buttered slab or pan and pour the cooked syrup over them.

Heat the honey, butter and water in a heavy skillet. Cook rapidly and stir constantly for about 10 minutes or until the mixture reaches the hard-crack stage (1500C). Add the nuts and larvae quickly and pour into a buttered pan or slab or pour the syrup over the nuts on a buttered slab. When almost cool, sprinkle with pollen powder (or crushed pollen pellets) and brush with the melted chocolate. Before the chocolate hardens, dust with the finely chopped nuts, larvae or pollen. After cooling, break into pieces and wrap individually.

In order to form even-sized bars or round shapes, pour the syrup into buttered moulds. Before completely cooled, these bars can be dipped in melted chocolate and sprinkled with any of the above materials for decoration. For special care with chocolate coatings, see also recipes in Chapter 2.

Many regions have their own special and preferred sweets and candy bars. Pollen can be incorporated into many of these recipes. Such incorporations should take place towards the end of processing, and the first cooling phase, in order to preserve as much as possible of the subtle characteristics and benefits of the pollen.

Cereal-fruit bar

The following two recipes (adapted from Dany, 1988) preserve all the nutritious values which might otherwise be destroyed through heating in the previous preparations. The baking described in the granola and candy bar recipes is replaced by drying at temperatures of 40 to 45 0C. This also facilitates processing for those who do not have access to baking stoves.

The oats used here can be replaced by one or a mixture of other grains. They should however be rolled into flakes. The pollen extract (3.12.1) mentioned here, can also be powdered, bee-collected pollen or the fermented manmade beebread mentioned in section 3.12.2.

Basic Ingredients (in parts by volume):

Rolled oats
Boiled water or fruit juice
Vegetable oil or fat
Dry yeast (brewers yeast, bakers yeast or other)
Pollen extract

The following ingredients (by piece per 50 g. of oats) can be mixed according to taste and availability:

Figs Or 1 tablesp Chopped chocolate
Banana 4 Dried apricots
Apple Apple
2 teasp
Ground almonds 1 tablesp Soybeans (toasted or boiled)
1 tablesp
Sunflower seeds 1
1 tablesp
Raisins 1 tablesp Raisins
Dates 1 tablesp Chopped nuts

A small amount of honey can be added for sweetening.

For a more unusual flavour the following is recommended:

50 g
Rolled oats
30 g
Fresh pureed tomatoes
1-2 tblsp
Pollen extract
A pureed green pepper
Finely chopped onion
Clove of garlic
Small quantities of herbal spices: estragon, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano or chili pepper (according to taste)

The pollen extract is dissolved in the water or fruit juice and the liquid poured over the rolled grains. Stir and leave for a while to allow absorption of the liquid, then add the other ingredients, mix and knead well and if necessary add a little water.

Spread the dough to dry on an oiled slab, board or sheet, to a thickness of 1 cm or less. Wax paper or a food grade plastic foil may also be used instead of the oiled slab. The thinner the dough is spread, the better the drying. Precut the dough into bars with a knife


Slow drying at low temperatures is recommended. In a warm room, in an opened solar drier or in the direct sun, the mixture should be covered with a cloth to exclude flies, bees, dust and other contaminations. In an oven, the temperature should not exceed 50 0C with a door left partly open.

The fruit and nut mixtures will keep for a couple of weeks but the vegetable mixture should be consumed as soon as possible. Individual bars can be wrapped in waxed paper or plastic foil approved for food use.

3.12.6 Pollen supplements and substitutes in beekeeping

Haydak (1967) successfully tested a soybean flour, dried brewer's yeast and dry skimmed milk mixture in the proportions of 3:1:1. As a pollen substitute fed to honeybee colonies during a period of shortage, the mixture stimulated early colony development and overcame pesticide damage. One kilogramme of this substitute should be mixed with 2 litres of a concentrated sugar syrup in order to make it attractive to the bees. The sugar syrup is mixed in proportions of 2 parts granulated sugar with 1 part of hot water. A few egg yolks can be added as well and the mixture should be left standing overnight. The final consistency should be such that the paste stays on top of the frames, preferably wrapped in wax paper to prevent it from drying out.

Pollen supplements can be mixed from dried bee-collected pollen and various types of sugar syrup. However, the nutritional value of pollen (as larval food) deteriorates with time and under certain storage conditions as described in section 3.8. A more detailed discussion on this subject can be found in Dietz (1975).

3.12.7 Cosmetics

The claims attributed to the cosmetic effects of pollen have not been proven nor do pollen-based products seem to outperform alternative non-allergenic products. Given the risk to a growing percentage of allergic customers, it is not possible to recommend use of pollen in commercial products. If one wants to include pollen in personal cosmetics, the pollen pellets should be well dried and carefully ground to a very fine powder. They are likely to remain slightly abrasive, but can be ground further. The powder is mixed without heating at 1 % or less into any preferred preparation. Some alcoholic extracts, appear to cause no allergic reactions. Unfortunately, nothing is known about their effectiveness. For recipes see Chapter 9.

3.12.8 Pills and capsules

The best profit margin for selling pollen appears to be in selling it pill form. As mentioned earlier, the value of 1 kg of pollen pills or capsules can reach US$900 as compared to US$1 11-30 for 1 kg of dried pollen in the same stores. This enormous price margin cannot be achieved everywhere, but reflects a consumer attitude that exists in some countries.

In order to process pollen into pills a simple machine is necessary, which even second hand may cost a few thousand dollars. A paste of pollen and honey is prepared for pressing. No additives are necessary but gum arabic or a little pulverized wax can be incorporated. Coating the pills with wax render them non-allergenic, i.e. preventing contact with mucous membranes. If no pill press is available, more gum arabic or other gel and wax mixtures should then be used so that pills can be formed individually (see also 5.16.5).

For small enterprises, a more economical and feasible way of marketing dried pollen pellets for human consumption is by encapsulation. Gelatine capsules of 0 or 00 size are filled with the dried pollen. If the filling is conducted carefully, little or no pollen should be left on the outside, where it could cause harm. Extra cleaning may be required and a warning about possible allergic reactions should be printed on the label.

There are small, manually operated capsule fillers available for just a few dollars. Medium-size machines, which can fill 500 to 1000 capsules per hour can be made by a precision workshop (see Figure 3.10 and Annex 2). Bigger machines handling up to 10,000 capsules per hour are available for large scale production. Pollen can be encapsulated dry in its original pellet form, as a ground powder, a honey/pollen paste, or in combination with other products particularly honey (for longer preservation) but also with propolis and royal jelly. Capsules should be stored in well sealed glass or plastic bottles. They should preferably be refrigerated and consumed within 180 days. Frozen storage and the use of higher proportions of honey or propolis will significantly prolong the useful storage life.

Figure A) One machine separates the capsule halves, sorts and places them into separate trays.
Figure b) A second machine allows filling of capsule halves in presorted trays from a) and then closes the capsules. Using both machines, 1500-4 000 capsules can be filled, compacted and closed per hour by one person.
Figure 3.10: Medium-size hand-operated capsule filler. a) One machine separates the capsule halves, sorts and places them into separate trays. b) A second machine allows filling of capsule halves in presorted trays from a) and then closes the capsules. Using both machines, 1500-4 000 capsules can be filled, compacted and closed per hour by one person.


A small and cheap device for manually filling small quantities of hard gelatin capsules.
Figure 3.11: A small and cheap device for manually filling small quantities of hard gelatin capsules. With the top piece raised, as on the right, the pollen is brushed into the capsules. Once the top piece is lowered, as on the left side, the capsules can be closed.


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