Course:FNH200/2014w Team05 Honey

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Runny hunny

Honey is a sweet food made by bees using nectar. The Canadian honey industry is responsible for approximately $1 billion of the agriculture market, and apart of importing a small amount of bees from countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, is completely self sufficient [1]. Although honey has been used by civilizations for hundreds of years, its most prevalent period of usage is now, where it is being widely used as a sugar replacement in many cases.

How Honey is Made

Honey is a natural food made in nature, and cannot be manufactured humanly. The first step in the procedure of making honey begins with bees. Worker bees suck up nectar using a tube-like tongue into a stomach sac specifically made to store honey. This stomach can hold up to 70 mg of nectar, which amounts to being even heavier than the bee itself[2][3]. Bees need to suck nectar from up to 1500 flowers to completely fill this stomach. Nectar can be up to 80% water along with sugar. Bees then deposit the nectar into the honeycombs onto other worker bees, where it is then consumed and regurgitated multiple times to thoroughly break down sucrose into fructose and glucose components through enzymatic reactions. Due to the warm temperature in the beehives, water evaporates and forms a thick syrup within the combs, capped by the beeswax.

At this point, beekeepers come into play to harvest the honey for commercial use. They smoke the bees out with burning pine needles, to both alert them that intruders are about to enter their hive, and to depress them into a non-stinging state. Apiaries, which are commercial beehives, have up to nine wooden boards hanging side by side, each with its own honeycomb formed by thousands of bees. Boards are removed and transferred into another box designed for bee escape. Beekeepers spray it with cherry flavoured smoke which drive the bees away from the box.

After all these steps, the beekeeper is left with a clear honeycomb. The following steps would be to transfer these honeycombs to a processing facility. First, the wax on the honeycombs are scraped off using an uncapping machine and manually for the residues. The wax is essentially a byproduct used to make candles, furniture polish, lipsticks, etc. The frame would then be setted into a honey extractor. It is a machine that spins rapidly to extract the honey from the honeycomb. The last step is to filter the extracted honey to make sure that no wax are mixed in it. When filtering the honey, temperature should be kept at room temperature to ensure that the natural enzyme and flavors remain undamaged[4]. Finally, it is ready for bottling. Jars that are used for storage are vacuum cleaned and filled up with honey until only a quarter of an inch of air space remains in the jar, allowing room for air bubbles to escape [5]. An actively functioning beehive can produce up to 7 pounds of honey every day[6].

Characteristics of Honey

Honey is a sweet, viscous, supersaturated liquid made by bees––usually honey bees of the genus Apis––characterized by its high sugar content and very low water content. It exists in a supercooled state below its freezing point. There are many variations of honey that exist across the world as a result of different species of bees interacting with different species of flowering, nectar-producing plants. These variations of honey can contain different levels of water, sugar, etc. For our project, we describe the content of honey based on averages of the many commercially relevant honeys available in a typical market.


On average, 95-99% of the solids in honey are sugar, making it not much more than a carbohydrate [3]. Honey is about 83% sugar, comprising of the monosaccharides glucose (avg. 30%) and fructose (avg. 38%), however more than 22 other disaccharides exist in honey as well, notably sucrose and maltose, although at significantly lower levels [3][7]. At any one time, honey can contain any combination of different disaccharides due to chemical and enzymatic reactions happening between the sugars and the enzymes invertase and glucose oxidase, among others. In nature, flower nectar is primarily sucrose, and it is the invertase enzyme secreted by the digestive tracts of the honey bees that hydrolyzes the sucrose into glucose and fructose [8].

Water Content & Fermentation

Honey is a unique substance because it contains more sugars than water can normally dissolve. Honey fresh from the comb is on average only about 17% water [3]. This makes honey hygroscopic, causing it to absorb moisture directly from air if the honey is not kept in a well sealed container. This happens because it is trying to absorb the excess sugar. Because honey also naturally contains yeast from the flower nectars from which it is made, honey can ferment given the right conditions. When honey ferments, the water-induced yeasts react with the monosaccharides to produce carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol, which in the presence of oxygen will break down further into acetic acid and water, essentially destroying the honey and making it taste sour and bad, however useful in producing the alcoholic beverage mead [9]. Honey will tend to start fermenting at a water content of above 17% and will definitely ferment above 20% [7]. To prevent fermentation, it is imperative to limit honey's hygroscopic activity with proper storage. If honey is properly stored and it maintains its water content of 17%, it will generally not be able to absorb much water and therefore will be safe to consume for up to 1 year [7]. Honey that needs to be stored for longer than this amount of time will be pasteurized to destroy the yeast.


Although acids make up less than 2% of honey, they make up the next highest component that isn't sugar or water. Honey has an average pH level of 3.9, making it an acidic food, although it is very hard to tell this by taste considering that any hint of an acidic sourness is masked by how sweet it is. It contains both chemical and organic acids. The most prominent acid in honey is gluconic acid, which is a byproduct of the reaction between glucose oxidase and glucose. This reaction produces gluconolactone, which in turn yields gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide in the presence of oxygen[8][10]. Hydrogen peroxide helps to make honey antimicrobial, while gluconic acid contributes to honey’s flavor and aroma. Honey also contains many amino acids, notably proline, which is its most abundant amino acid. Amino acids commonly react with the various sugars to produce a wide array of different disaccharides.


Honey is generally always a thick, supersaturated liquid substance, and it remains this way because of its low water content. It becomes more and more viscous as temperatures drop. This is because low temperatures allow for lower molecular activity, therefore contributing to less friction between molecules. Honey already has low molecular friction due to its limited motion of water. It will never freeze because it exists below its freezing point, but it will simply become thicker and slower as temperatures drop below 25ºC [11].


Honey is supersaturated, and as a result, it is unstable in the sense that water cannot contain it, because glucose and fructose have to remain in balance in the water. Glucose crystallizes because it is more likely to granulate, or be pushed or ‘squeezed’ out of the water, due to its lower solubility than fructose. When granulation occurs, the glucose instantly crystallizes because it gets separated from the water and isolated into its solid sugar form. This tends to happen when honey is stirred rapidly due to the creation of tiny air pockets that could separate water, but as a general principle, honey will crystallize naturally even without agitation, due its instability [12]. When honey crystallizes, it takes on a semisolid state, in the form of solid crystals mixed in a mostly-fructose liquid solution. Crystallization will not degrade the honey, and can even add to its overall sweetness. It can also always revert to its liquid form through a heating process.


Because honey is primarily made of sugar, it can caramelize when heated. The rate at which it can caramelize will depend on the composition ratio of fructose to glucose, because glucose will caramelize faster than fructose. Gluconic acids in the honey also catalyze the overall heating of the honey, which will allow for faster caramelization. Honey experiences a Maillard reaction during caramelization. The amino acids will form melanoidins, which contribute to the darkening in color of the heated honey[10].


Honey Nutrition Facts

Honey is composed mainly of the sugars glucose and fructose; its third main component is water[13]. It is also made up of various other types of sugars, including galactose, maltose and sucrose, as well as acids, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes[14]. Because of the high level of fructose found in honey, it is almost twice as sweet as table sugar[15]. In regards to water content, the less honey has, the better the quality of honey[16]. The specific composition of each batch of honey is also dependent on the flowers available to the bees to produce the honey. The vitamins found in honey include B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and certain amino acids. The minerals found in honey include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc [16]. One of the best nutritional facts of honey is that this natural sweetener has antioxidants and is fat and cholesterol free[14].

Typical Carbohydrate Composition of Honey:

Per 1 cup serving (339 g)

Total Carbohydrates: 279 g

Dietary Fiber: 0.7 g

Sugars: 278 g

  • Fructose: 138765 mg
  • Glucose: 121174 mg
  • Galactose: 10510 mg
  • Maltose: 4882 mg
  • Sucrose: 3017 mg


Health Effects

The traditional uses of honey in health care can be traced back to several millenniums[17]. It was used medicinally by Ancient Greeks and Egyptians, and has been traditionally used in Ayurveda in India and in Traditional Chinese Medicine. An ancient use for honey was in medicine as a dressing for wounds, inflammations, and diseases of the intestine[18]. Today, medicinal uses of honey are largely confined to folk medicine. Modern research has found that honey does possess unique nutritional and medicinal properties; however it still has a limited use in modern medicine due to lack of scientific support.

Although there is much grey area in what we know of the benefits of honey from a medical viewpoint, some benefits of honey are still worth noting.

Antibacterial Properties

Honey is not a suitable medium for bacteria for two reasons - it is fairly acidic (average pH is 3.9) and it is too high in sugar content for growth to occur. The killing of the bacteria due to high sugar content is called the osmotic effect, which seems to function by literally drying out the bacteria. Some bacteria, however, can survive in the resting spore form, though not grown in honey [7].

The effective antimicrobial agent in honey also prohibits the growth of certain bacteria. It contains an enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide, which is believed to be the main reason for the antimicrobial activity of honey[19].


Sugar can be substituted with honey in many types of food and drinks. Honey contains about 69% glucose and fructose and is a natural sweetener, enabling it to be used as a sweetener that is better for your overall health than regular white sugar[20].


Honey contains nutraceuticals that help to eliminate free radicals in the body[21].

Source of Vitamins and Minerals

Honey contains a source of vitamins and minerals - typically Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron[22]. Although it does not contain a significant amount, vitamin and mineral content from regular sugar will be completely absent or insignificant.

Sources also state that honey is an energy booster, immune system builder, and prevents cancer; however, little to no efficacy has been identified[23].

Health Hazards

Health Hazard

Infants and children under 12 months of age are not recommended to consume honey due to risk of contracting botulism poisoning[24]. Although the risk is small, it is recommended to avoid this risk. This is not a danger for older children or adults[24].

Toxic Honey

Honey produced from the nectar of Rhododendrons may cause honey intoxication[24]. This type of honey contains a toxin that may cause symptoms such as, dizziness, weakness, excessive perspiration, nausea, and vomiting[24]. Less common and more severe side effects may include heart problems, low blood pressure, and chest pain[24].


Honey, which is made from pollen, may cause mild to severe allergic reactions[24]. Avoid honey if you are allergic to pollen.

Honey Consumption Trends in the Western World

Bowl of white sugar
Pasteurized honey

Honey is commonly used in the western world as a natural sweetener to replace sugar, corn syrup or synthetic sweeteners. There is an evident trend in US and in Canada of the replacement of sugar with honey in baking, sweetening beverages and foods. There are many websites dedicated to providing recipes for replacing sugar with honey in order to create a slightly healthier alternative to satisfy a sweet tooth. According to these sites it is encouraged to use 3/4 cups of honey for every cup of white sugar in order to maintain the same level of sweetness, and to reduce other liquids in the recipe to maintain the liquid consistency of the final product as honey adds a lot of moisture[25].

There are many health benefits associated with honey which might explain this health trend, as the western world continually searches for healthier alternatives for foods deemed unhealthy. Honey, although it still raises blood sugar levels, is said to raise blood sugar less than sucrose (table sugar) and dextrose (form of glucose found in foods)[26]. It is important to monitor our blood sugar to make sure it does not rise above normal, as abnormal blood sugar content (high or low) can be detrimental to our health. Honey also has more calories per teaspoon than table sugar, however we can use less honey due to its higher sweetness level than sucrose. According to the sweetness index fructose has a value of 140 whereas sucrose has a value of 100, and fructose is responsible for about half of the sugar content in honey[27][28]. These two qualities could be considered beneficial reasons to use less sucrose and more honey in our diets, however it is important to remember that sugar is sugar and all sweeteners should be used in moderation.

Another recent trend in the US and Canada is the use of Agave Nectar in place of honey and table sugar. Agave nectar is preferred over honey in vegan communities as agave comes directly from the sap of a plant and does not involve the labor of honey bees. Agave, like honey, has a lower glycemic index than sucrose, however agave has a glycemic index between 11-30 whereas honey is between 65-85, making honey more likely to cause blood sugar spikes[29]. Agave also has slightly less calories than honey per ounce. This fact alone can convince many substitute seekers to chose agave nectar over honey or other natural sweeteners. Due to the lower glycemic index and low calorie content, agave nectar has proven to be a popular sugar replacement for diabetic patients, however diabetic consumers are warned to treat all sweeteners the same, as they should all be used in moderation.

Honey Labeling Requirements

The labeling requirements put in place by the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act (CPLA) are specific to pure honey, both domestic and imported [30]. The labeling requirements for prepackaged honey are as follows, and include a variety of variations for imported products

Common Name [30]

“Honey” All products must be called “Honey” only or can be accompanied by the name of the blossom.

Net Quantity: g or kg [30]

The amount of honey contained within the package must be specified. Exceptions are made to allow the sale of novelty containers.

Grade [30]

If packed in Canada the grades used to determine quality are:

  • CANADA no. 1
  • CANADA no. 2
  • CANADA no. 3
  • ‘substandard’.

If packed outside of Canada the grades used to determine quality are:

  • Grade no. X


  • No. 1; No. 2; No 3.

NOTE: There is no “substandard” grade for imported products

Color [30]

  • White
  • golden
  • amber
  • dark

Additional Requirements [30]

As applicable Honey must be designated as “liquid”, “creamed”, “pressed”, or “pasteurized”.

Honey Packaging Requirements

Canadian Agriculture states that Canadian honey is 100% pure, needing no additives or preservatives, with a natural shelf life of approximately 2 years [1]. Since pure honey has such an extended shelf life on its own there is no need for packaging regulations, like sterilization [1].


Cristallizzazione del miele IMG 0371

Honey storage is tricky because even if stored in fairly good conditions honey can still become crystallized or cloudy over time. It is best to keep honey in a cool, dry area (around 23-32ºC) however refrigeration is not recommended as it can speed up the process of crystallization. There are methods used to return crystallized honey to its former liquid state such as placing the honey container in a hot water bath. Heating the honey dissolves the glucose crystals so that the substance becomes liquid again and easier to use. The other option is a honey warming cabinet. This method requires an insulated cabinet and a 40 watt light bulb which can take around 12-48 hours. This may seem like a long time, however a low temperature for an extended period of time slowly re-liquefies the honey, giving it a better chance to maintain its color and taste [12].

Notice that these methods require indirect sources of heat; directly heating the honey can easily lead to overheating which will affect the overall taste and color of the product. However, it is advisable to throw away the honey after a couple sessions of heating as it can damage the overall taste of the honey and make the honey more vulnerable to bacteria and other forms of microbial growth.

Different types of honey crystallize at faster rates than others. For example honeys such as Tupelo, Sage, and Cranberry crystallize very slowly whereas everyday processed honey and lavender honey crystallize at a very rapid pace. These are generally due to the different water contents and glucose to fructose ratios in the different forms of honey. Raw honey collected directly from the honeycomb in the beehive and sold also has a tendency to crystallize at a less rapid pace than processed honey[12][31].

In order to prevent your honey from crystallizing here are a few tips:

  • Keep honey at the ideal temperature of 21-27 degrees Celsius
  • Avoid storing honey at low temperatures such as with refrigeration
  • If you are willing to pay the extra cost, purchasing raw honey or honeys with low glucose levels such as cranberry or sage honey will reduce the chance of crystallization as some of these monofloral honeys (made from the nectar of one kind of plant) can resist crystallization all together [32] .


Possible Exam Question

Q: Which of the following contributes the most sweetness in honey?

  • A) Fructose
  • B) Glucose
  • C) Gluconic Acid
  • D) Sucrose
  • E) None of the above

A: A) Fructose


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Canadian Agriculture: Honey
  2. How Honey is Made Ford's Honey Farm
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 The Chemical Composition of Honey, Dr. David W Ball (2007). Journal of Chemical Education. 84 (10).
  4. Honey Processing
  5. Extracting, Bottling and Selling Honey C. J. Wenning. 2012
  6. How It's Made - Honey 2009. [Video]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Honey Composition and Properties, J.W. White, Jr., L.W. Doner. (1980). Beekeeping in the United States Agriculture Handbook Number 335. p. 82-91.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Honey Enzymes
  9. Fermentation & Crystallization
  10. 10.0 10.1 pH and Acids in Honey
  11. Effect of Temperature on Viscosity of Honey Diego Gómez-Díaza, J. M. Navazaa* & L. C. Quintáns-Riveiro (2009). International Journal of Food Properties. 12 (2).
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Bee Keepers - Crystallization, Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Honey Crystallization" defined multiple times with different content
  13. Carbohydrates and the Sweetness of Honey
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Nutrition Facts and Analysis of Honey
  15. Cooking With Honey
  16. 16.0 16.1 Honey Nutrition
  17. Benefits of Honey
  18. Traditional and Modern Uses of Natural Honey in Human Diseases: A Review Eteraf-Oskouei, Tahereh, and Moslem Najafi (2013). “Traditional and Modern Uses of Natural Honey in Human Diseases: A Review.” Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences 16.6. 731–742.
  19. Honey Properties
  20. Sweetener
  21. Antioxidants
  22. Vitamins and Minerals
  23. Benefits of Honey
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 24.5 Health Hazards Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Health Hazards" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Health Hazards" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Health Hazards" defined multiple times with different content
  25. Honey Used in Baking
  26. Is Honey Good or Bad?
  27. Relative sweetness of carbohydrate sweeteners *Perceived sweetness of a sweetener compared to sucrose as a reference. Adapted from: Desrosier, N. W. 1976. Elements of Food Technology. AVI Publishing Company. Westport, CT. Pomeranz, Y. 1985. Functional Properties of Food Components. Academic Press Inc., Orlando, Fl.
  28. Nutrition Data of Honey
  29. Agave
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3 30.4 30.5 Canadian Food Inspection Agency: Labelling Requirements for Honey Products
  31. Crystallization
  32. Sage Honey