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The Basics of Honey

30 May 2017

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What exactly is honey?

The National Honey Board says honey starts out as flower nectar. Bees collect the nectar and deposit it into honeycombs, where it breaks down into simple sugars aided by enzymes from the bees and the air circulation from the buzzing wings in the beehive. It then transforms into the honey we know and love.


Did you know? A typical hive contains about 60,000 bees. The worker bees of the hive, all female, will each make one twelfth of one teaspoon of honey in her lifetime!

The color and flavor of honey will depend on its type of flower nectar. Wildflowers produce a darker honey, while other types of flowers may produce a lighter, sweeter honey. Bees across America use more than 300 types of flowering plants to make different varieties of honey. Because worker bees inevitably produce more honey than is necessary for their hive, beekeepers can collect the extra honey from the honeycombs, which ends up in our grocery stores and in our pantries.

Does honey really have an endless shelf life?

Honey’s chemical makeup, consistency, acidity and other factors allow it to feasibly last for an indefinite amount of time, if kept in an unopened, airtight container. In fact, archaeologists have found thousand-year-old containers of unspoiled honey in ancient Egyptian tombs. However, the containers most of us buy from farmer’s markets and grocery stores are not completely re-sealable, so it’s probably not a good idea to store your honey for more than several months at a time.

Can eating local honey help with seasonal allergies?

It’s been thought that eating local honey can help treat symptoms of seasonal allergies, because local honey contains local pollen, and exposure to those allergens could, in turn, reduce sensitivity to those pollens and decrease allergic symptoms.

However, even with local honey, it’s still extremely hard to trace the exact source of pollen and to know the exact amounts of pollen in each serving of honey. There is no way to know exactly how much, if any, pollen exposure is actually happening or helping. Mayo Clinic confirms, “Honey has been anecdotally reported to lessen symptoms in people with seasonal allergies. But these results haven't been consistently duplicated in clinical studies. For now, it appears that honey may just be a sweet placebo. But don't let that stop you from using it in food and beverages.”

FYI: Don't give honey to children before their first birthday. Not only is it a choking hazard because it’s hard for them to swallow, honey carries a risk of infant botulism, a rare but serious form of food poisoning.

Other health benefits of honey

Honey is a humectant, so it attracts and retains moisture (which is why it will spoil if it’s not sealed properly) and can work in moisturizing products like lotions, creams and shampoos as a natural beauty ingredient.
  • Honey can help suppress a cough by coating the throat and relieving the itch
  • Honey contains antioxidants and trace amounts of proteins and minerals like calcium, phosphorus and magnesium
  • Honey can be used as an alternative sweetener in place of sugar in certain recipes
Honey is still a form of sugar, so diabetics should consult their physician before consuming it.

Where to find local honey in Oklahoma

Look for these honey producers and more at your local farmers markets.