Honey, Delicious Science


First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Honey doesn’t come from a bee’s bum. It’s vomit. Tasty vomit.

Secondly, there’s the popular stereotype that girls aren’t good at math. I’m calling shenanigans on that one. All worker bees are female, and bees excel at hexagons in their hives. Which is possibly the most perfect shape, according to those hipsters, the mathematicians.

These busy little women barf the nectar into their honeycombs, slurp it up to digest for a bit in their ‘honey stomachs’, and barf it again repeatedly until they’re happy with the quality. Then they fan it with their wings to evaporate most of the water. Once it’s passed bee-inspection, it’s got the shelf life of a Twinkie.

Honey has been collected for over 10,000 years and used for food, medicine, religious practices, and embalming (again with these wacky Egyptians). Old folk remedies are being vindicated by modern medicine, and honey is once more being recognized for its healing properties. From sore throats, coughs and ulcers, to serious burns and open wounds. It inhibits the growth of bacteria, and when exposed to oxygen, will actually form hydrogen peroxide.

But the most important thing about honey is that it tastes delicious. Almost every cuisine has a use for honey in food preparation. From stir-fried tofu, to milk sweets, to baking, to beer. We Americans are used to seeing honey mostly as ‘honey mustard’, or ‘honey barbecue’. Or in breakfast cereals. The funny thing is though, if you look at the ingredients list, sometimes it actually includes honey. Sometimes.

Honey is tasty when used properly in cooking. It’s also a famous source of “getting too drunk to remember what I did last night.” The ancient Indians (from India) and Greeks did love their little tipple of drink now and again in the form of mead. And the Vikings were big fans, spreading love of mead across Europe and beyond. It may explain why they got as far as the Americas.

Haven’t you ever had a few drinks and thought to yourself how perfect a frozen pizza would be for a late night snack–and next thing you know, you’re waking up in someone’s beanbag chair, cuddling an empty family-size Cheez-it box and clutching a doorknob to an as-yet-undetermined house? They probably had that same “oh, crap, where did we park the longship?” feeling when they woke up in Canada.

Mead is not the only form of honey that gets you in the wrong way. When bees make honey from the wrong flowers, it could get you drunk and even dead. Oleander is a no-brainer. It’s poisonous, and it makes a wonderful decorative shrub. Not a good honey. And several kinds of laurel and rhododendron make bad honey–locals beware that azalea is in this family. By bad honey, I mean dizziness, vomiting, irregular heartbeat, convulsions, and even death.

If all bees just disappeared (yes, we’re looking at that problem with Colony Collapse Disorder), many of the vegetables and fruit we enjoy would have no pollinators and they would stop producing. So honey or no honey, bees are more valuable than we realize in our everyday hum-drum lives. Some vegans feel we should refrain from eating honey as well, as this exploits members of the animal kingdom. Maybe bees figured it out and are just not showing up for work anymore.

Get your hands on some honey while you can. Good honey comes in a variety of colors and flavors. It doesn’t drip like water; it pours in ribbons like syrup. And it only has honey in it. A jar that lists ingredients other than honey should be rejected and scoffed at. Heating honey above 98.6 degrees starts to destroy any beneficial qualities, but it still tastes good. So eat honey plain in the raw when you can.

Many cultures equate honey with fertility. Probably why an affectionate name for your significant other is ‘honey’. Kind of ironic that something starting with lady bees throwing up, is honored as a magic elixir, that if it works, results in human women throwing up. For the first trimester at least.


2 Replies to “Honey, Delicious Science”

  1. Very informative. Never knew that bees can make poisonous honey. Good to know, as I’d like to have bees someday.

  2. Bees fascinate me. There’s so much about their social structure, their communication, and the honey itself that is amazing. Bee-keeping is an incredibly wonderful hobby that we enjoy our friends to have–because it means access to a lot of tasty honey! (So keep in touch heehee)

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