The best known product of the hive.

The waxen walls of a bee’s honeycomb have a
gold-tinged translucence, are fragile and easily
crushed. Yet, left untouched, it can be perfectly
preserved. Edible honeycomb was found in the
tombs of the Pharaohs, over 3,000 years old. 
Harvesting honey is as old as man's sweet tooth.

Archaeologists have unearthed in northern
Israel the ruins of a beekeeping operation 3000
years old. The hives, made from straw and
unbaked clay, are intact. They were stacked in
rows in a room.  Along with the hives were
found honeycombs and beeswax.
Out of the 20,00 species of bees, 4 produce honey.  Bees forage for nectar (a sweet liquid), and pollen (a powder).  Nectar has a high carbohydrate content and pollen a high protein content. 

Bees actually have two stomachs; their honey crop which they use like a nectar backpack and their regular stomach. The honey crop holds almost 70 mg of nectar and when full, it weighs almost as much as the bee does. Honeybees must visit between 100 and 1500 flowers in order to fill their honey crop.

Nectar is almost 80% water with some complex sugars. House bees add a salivary enzyme to the nectar to convert it to honey.  When the moisture content has dropped to less than 20%, the bees move the ripe droplet of honey to a cell.  When full of honey, the cell is capped with fresh wax.  Honey that has been harvested by the beekeeper with the moisture content above 20%, is considered unripe and will ferment.  Capped honey can also ferment if humidity is high.  Harvested unripe honey can be manually dried by the beekeeper.  Honey weighs about 12 lbs. per gallon.

Honey is classified according to source, color, and flavor.  Nectar gathered from several sources is called wildflower honey.    Color wise, honey ranges from white, light amber, dark amber, to straw colored.  Flavor is mild in the lighter colored honeys; generally the darker the honey the stronger the flavor.

Honey is packaged either as liquid, comb, a combination of both, or creamed. Liquid honey has a tendency to eventually crystallize.  In an effort to control this, some beekeepers make creamed honey.   Creamed honey is the controlled granulation of honey and results in extremely small sugar crystals. The smaller the crystals the better the creamed honey. A good creamed honey is smooth, not grainy.   It spreads like butter at room temperature, and unlike liquid honey, doesn't drip.


Characteristics of Honey

Pure honey lasts a long time.  It does, however, darken with age .  Two characteristics of honey  are fermentation and granulation.

Honey is hydroscopic which means that honey absorbs moisture.  If the moisture content of honey exceeds 18.6%, the fermentation yeast in the honey will turn the sugars of the honey into alcohol.  This causes honey to have a sour taste.  The honey yeast is not able to grow at cool temperatures, with the optimum temperature for honey fermentation being above 80°.  If honey is stored at below 50°, the yeast cannot grow.   While fermented honey can be feed back to the bees, it is unfit for human consumption.  It is recommended that if honey is to be stored for any length of time, it should have a moisture content of around 17%.  A good way to keep honey for long periods of time is to freeze it.  

All honey granulates at some point.  That is, it becomes a semi solid sugar-like substance.    Honey that has granulated can be returned to a liquid state by heating it.  Granulated honey  in jars can be put into a water bath having a temperature of 95 to 120 degrees F.   Honey is darkened each time it is subjected to heat.  If honey is heated to over 160 degrees F. for any period of time, the taste will change and the color will darken considerably.  It will also result in damage to the nutritional value of honey.  Commercial honey packers usually heat honey to 160 degrees and then rapidly cool it.  This causes the death of the yeast and reduces crystallization for several years, giving the product long life on the grocery stores shelf.  The resulting honey is, however, devoid of any nutritional value.


Honey Content                      

Honey is a mixture of sugars and other compounds. The specific composition of any batch of honey will depend largely on the mix of flowers consumed by the bees that produced the honey. Honey has a density of about 1500 kg/m3 (50% denser than water), which means about 12.5 pounds per US gallon.

Honey is a great source of antioxidants, potassium, calcium, minerals and 22 amino acids. Honey also has a much lower Glycemic Index than sugar and is more easily digested, letting your body absorb the nutrients. Unlike refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey possesses 181 different molecules that posses the biological capacity to fight free radicals, bacteria, and inflammation. Table sugar has little value other than as a sweetener. When sugar cane is processed to become the white table sugar we all know and love, all of the inherent nutrition is stripped away. The sugar loses all of those vitamins, proteins and good-for-you enzymes. Since there is no processing of raw honey, it retains all of that.While honey has more calories per tablespoon (64) than the sugar (46), it is naturally more sweet than sugar- so you end up needing less.

What's in Your Honey?

Do you know where your honey comes from? It's something you might want to think about. Food Safety News, a site set up by food safety lawyer Bill Marler, reports that lab tests show that most honey sold on supermarket and drug store shelves today isn't really honey according to international quality standards, or safety requirements set by the Food and Drug Administration.

Pollen is a key ingredient in real honey. Without it, honey can't be traced to it's country of origin.  According to FSN, you won't find much pollen in American store-bought honey because it's been so ultra-filtered (mostly from China and India) that it's largely pollen-free. Know your honey source. Imported honey may be from bees forced fed a high frutose corn syrup diet, impure, loaded with antibiotics, and include questionable additives.



Commercially Processed Honey

Commercially processed honey is heated for a couple of reasons.  It gives it long shelf life and kills the botulism spores that are in it naturally.  While heating honey to 150 degrees tends to stall crystallization, heating honey up to 98 degrees causes loss of nearly 200 compounds.  Heating to 104 degrees destroys invertase, the bee enzyme that converts nectar to honey.  Pasteurized honey is heated to 170 degrees and held there for four to five minutes, essentially destroying the nutrition.  Heating honey to high temperatures causes it to burn, changes the flavor and destroys the compounds that have health benefits.

If you're looking for real honey with its pollen content intact, make sure it says raw honey. For the best honey, you should buy unprocessed, minimumly filtered (to remove wax particles and bee parts) honey locally at farmer's markets or directly from the beekeeper.  Note: while the botulism spores in raw honey do not affect most, they can harm babies.  Do not feed raw honey to infants under one year of age. Because their immature digestive systems, they can end up in the hospital with life threatening consquences.


Health Benefits

Consuming locally produced raw honey is said to have health benefits. Raw honey may reduce sensitivity to seasonal allergens due to the locally gathered pollen within it. Plus, we all know to put honey in our tea when we have sore throats, but most of us don’t stop to ask why. The unique chemical composition of low water content and relatively high acidic level in honey creates a low pH (3.2-4.5) environment that makes it very unfavourable for bacteria or other micro-organism to grow. Due to its naturally occurring antiseptic and antibacterial qualities, raw honey has been used for centuries as a topical application to help prevent infection. While this practice became less frequent with the discovery of antibiotics, honey is making a comeback in modern medicine, again being used as a topical dressing.

Know your honey source.  Imported honey may be impure and include questionable additives. Commercial processing of honey destroys its nutritional value. Buying raw, filtered honey locally insures you are receving pure honey with the best flavor and all its nutrition intact. 


Heating Honey

Heating honey to 150 degrees tends to stall crystallization.   However heating honey up to 98 degrees causes loss of nearly 200 compounds.  Heating to 104 degrees destroys invertase, the bee enzyme that converts nectar to honey.   Pasteurized honey is heated to 170 degrees and held there for four to five minutes, essentially destroying the nutrition.  Heating honey to high temperatures causes it to burn, changes the flavor and destroys the compounds that have health benefits. For the best honey, the consumer should buy filtered, unprocessed honey locally.

Store tightly sealed liquid honey in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year; store comb and chunk honey for 6 months.  While honey can be frozen, it should not be refrigerated.  When refrigerated, honey crystallizes, becoming gooey and grainy.  Honey can be re-liquefied by placing the container in a pan of hot water over low heat for 10-15 minutes.


Honey Substitution

Honey can be substituted for sugar, and sugar substituted for honey. However, since honey is ounce for ounce sweeter than sugar, you need to use less of it in most recipes. 

Sugar Substitution: 1 1/4 cup sugar + 1/4 cup water = 1 cup honey

Honey Substitution :
1 C. sugar = 3/4 C. honey minus 1/4 C. liquid or plus 4 Tbs. flour plus 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 C. sugar = 6 Tbs. honey minus 2 Tbs. liquid or plus 2 Tbs. flour plus 1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/3 C. sugar = 1/4 C. honey minus 1 1/2 Tbs. liquid or plus 1 1/2 Tbs. flour plus 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 C. sugar = 3 Tbs. honey minus 1 Tbs. liquid or plus 1 Tbs. flour plus 1/16 tsp. baking soda

For easier measuring, coat measuring cup with oil. The honey will slide right out. Cook cakes and other baked goods made with honey 25° lower.  Honey softens cookie batters. For crisper variety of cookies, add 4 Tbs. flour for each 3/4 cup honey used.


Honey Conversion Charts

Honey volume vs. weight conversions

Honey volume weight chart:
Honey Cup Gram Ounce Pound Kilogram Tablespoon Teaspoon
cup US 1 340g 12 oz 0.75 lb 0.34Kg 16 48
ounce 0.08 28g 1 oz 0.06 lb 0.03Kg 1.3 4
fluid ounce 0.1 42.5g 1.5 oz 0.09 lb 0.04Kg 2 6
pound 1.33 453.6g 15.9 oz 1 lb 0.45Kg 21 64
kilogram 2.94 1000g 35.3 oz 2.2 lb 1Kg 47 141
tablespoon 0.06 21g 0.75 oz 0.05 lb 0.02Kg 1 3
teaspoon 0.02 7.1g 0.25 oz 0.015 lb 0.007Kg 0.33 1


Convert cup of honey into grams, ounces, or tablespoons.

Honey equivalent measurements
Cups Grams Ounces Tablespoons
⅛ cup of honey 42.5 gram 1.5 ounce 2 tbl.sp
¼ cup of honey 85 gram 3 ounce 4 tbl.sp
⅓ cup of honey 113.3 gram 4 ounce 5.3 tbl.sp
⅜ cup of honey 127.5 gram 4.5 ounce 6 tbl.sp
½ cup of honey 170 gram 6 ounce 8 tbl.sp
⅝ cup of honey 212.5 gram 7.5 ounce 10 tbl.sp
⅔ cup of honey 226.7 gram 8 ounce 10.7 tbl.sp
¾ cup of honey 255 gram 9 ounce 12 tbl.sp
⅞ cup of honey 297.5 gram 10.5 ounce 14 tbl.sp
1 cup of honey 340 gram 12 oz 16 tbl.sp