Honey is a sweet, viscous liquid produced by bees from flower nectar. The flavour and colour of this substance is determined by the kind of flowers from which the nectar is gathered. The most common honey flavours include orange blossom, rosemary, blackberry and raspberry. The technique used to extract the honey from the bee hives is called apiculture.

Characteristics

Honey is a food product that can be stored for a long period of time without having to be thrown away. In fact, when the first archaeologists entered the Egyptian pyramids, they found honey that was still preserved in perfect conditions. Thanks to its high sugar concentration, it kills bacteria through osmotic lysis. Its chemical composition is primarily a mixture of two sugars: glucose or dextrose (31%) and fructose or levulose (38%), as well as saccharose (2%).

Kind of honey

Flower honey, made by bees using the nectar from flowers. In monofloral honeys, the nectar of a single species predominates, such as chestnut, rosemary, thyme, heather, orange blossom, linden, acacia or eucalyptus. Multifloral (mixed-flower) honey comes from the nectar of different plant species in highly varied proportions. Flower honey is transparent and solidifies over time depending on its provenance and the temperature. The solidification process is quicker at temperatures under 14º C. Heather honey tends to harden quite quickly, while chestnut honey takes much longer to harden.

Forest honey, produced by bees from the sweet secretions of aphids, woodlice and other insects that suck sap, usually from pines, firs, holm oaks and cork oaks. It tends to be less sweet and darker in colour. It rarely solidifies and can have a spicy, resiny scent and flavour. Treacle (or forest honey) has a unique piny flavour and is prized for its medicinal uses in Europe and Turkey.

Honey in history and culture

It is believed that humans began to extract honey from beehives in around 10,000 BC, according to paintings found in Araña cave in Bicorb (Valencia). Hippocrates, the father of medicine, praised honey’s therapeutic powers and used it to treat a variety of skin disorders and ulcers and to alleviate pain in general. The Egyptians, in turn, used it to treat cataracts, sores, cuts and burns. In Ancient Rome, doctors used honey to help their patients fall asleep.

In the Bible, honey is cited several times, always as a symbol of pleasure. For this reason, the rivers of Paradise flow with honey (an image taken from the Koran). The Jews ate fruit spread with honey to wish each other a Happy New Year full of sweet times. Likewise, Greek brides dipped their fingers in honey before crossing the threshold of their marital house to have a good marriage and a sweet relationship with their mother-in-law. Among the Romans, honey was served as a gift for the bride and groom on their marriage night (honeymoon), or as a currency of exchange, along with gold and salt.

In the kitchen

Honey is primarily used in desserts, to spread on bread and toast (breakfast and snacks) and as an addition to drinks, such as tea. Given that it is rich in sugars like fructose, honey is hygroscopic (it absorbs moisture in the air), which means that bread and cakes take longer to harden if they contain a bit of honey. It can also be an essential ingredient in healthy cooking, in both traditional and creative cuisine. In fact, honey can not only sweeten desserts but also be used as an ingredient when cooking a variety of recipes made with meat, in salads and in sauces.

Therapeutic properties

Honey has many therapeutic properties. It can be used externally thanks to its anti-microbial and antiseptic properties, as it helps scars to form and helps to prevent infections in superficial wounds and burns. Thanks to its astringent and softening qualities, it is also used in cosmetics, including moisturisers, facial cleansing masks and toners. It is also a fine natural preservative and an ally against ageing, since it contains antioxidants that halt the appearance of free radicals.

Rich in vitamins, minerals and amino acids, honey is also a powerful anti-microbial agent which helps to combat colds: a warm cup of milk or herbal tea with a spoonful of honey is always a good remedy. Among the scant minerals it contains, the most common ones are calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc, phosphorous and potassium. Honey contains almost half the existing amino acids, organic acids (acetic and citric, among others) and B-complex vitamins and vitamins C, D and E. Plus it has a considerable amount of antioxidants (flavonoids and phenolic). It is recommended to consume honey at a temperature of no higher 60º C than so that it does not lose all its beneficial properties, given that some of these elements may become volatile.
Due to its content of simple sugars, which assimilate quickly, honey is highly caloric (almost 3.4 calories per gram).