Did you know that North Americans consume a lot more honey than they can produce? In fact, numbers show that up to three-quarters of our honey comes from elsewhere. While that’s great for our collective sweet tooth, it can be trickier to know what’s in imported honey, with some blends including lesser ingredients like cheap corn syrup or unwelcome GMOs.
That’s why we like to encourage people to turn to local honey and take notice of its unique local subtleties. After all, every jar of honey is a direct reflection of the biodiversity around the hive – effectively making it a celebration of unique floral variations that impact everything from taste, to color, and texture.
Turns out, there’s a lot more to that little jar of golden nectar than you might think. Here are 6 facts about honey that are bound to make your next spoonful just a little sweeter!
1. Bees like to keep it local
Though it’s believed a bee would have to fly around the world multiple times to produce a single pound of honey, bees usually visit trees, plants and flowers within a 3-5km (2-3 miles) radius of their hive to gather nectar, pollen, and resin. If they spot particularly delicious nectar, they’ve been known to travel up to 8km! That’s quite the trek if you consider that a worker bee’s life expectancy during production season is only 6 weeks!
That’s what we call dedication.
2. Transforming nectar is hard work
Turning nectar into honey is no small feat. When gathered, nectar is about 70% water – as opposed to the 17% contained in honey. To reduce the moisture, bees rapidly fan their wings over the hive’s open cells, effectively “drying out” the nectar by circulating fresh air and evaporating out the humidity. In the process, they even add an enzyme called invertase to the mix, which in turn helps us humans process and digest sugar properly.
Talk about a full-package deal.
3. Urban hives have impressive yields
Though you may have heard that the average bee only produces one-tenth of a teaspoon in its lifetime, urban hives actually produce about 100 jars of honey every year. Once the pollen has been collected and the nectar has been transformed, the bees store the resulting honey in cells for long-term use, then seal each cell with a thin layer of wax to keep it fresh and delicious.
Looks like many hands – or corbiculae – really do make for light work.
4. You can ignore that “best by” date
Thanks to its antibacterial properties, artisanal honey can actually be preserved indefinitely. In fact, it’s even proven useful for medicinal uses like wound care, where it creates a barrier from infection and promotes faster healing. What’s more? Artisanal honey is a living, untransformed raw product, which makes it a great sweetener for raw food diets or people looking to cut down on refined sugars.
See? Indulging your sweet cravings doesn’t have to be bad for you.
5. Pasteurized honey is a different beast
Just as raw milk cheese stands in an entirely different league than its pasteurized counterpart, raw and grocery-standard pasteurized honey are worlds apart. Through the pasteurization process, honey loses all of its natural vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants – not to mention most of its taste. It’s kind of like those “juice drinks” masquerading as real juice…the real stuff is always better.
So that begs the question: should we even call it honey?
6. There’s no need to worry about crystals
Though many honey lovers take crystallization as a sign that their honey is deteriorating, it’s actually a perfectly natural process. All artisanal, raw honey will eventually crystallize – adding texture and richness to the honey’s flavor. In fact, some even prefer honey once it’s crystallized, saying it makes it that much easier to spread, measure and cook with.
Those little grains make for great homemade body scrubs too.
But of course, honey isn’t just about soft skin and tasty treats – it’s also about engaging in a broader conversation about the fragility and interconnectedness of our planet and food systems. If you live in an urban environment, that conversation is more important than ever, and can actually become a precious tool for urban dwellers and building owners to add value to their ecosystems and buildings.