This Rosh Hashanah, Forget Everything You Thought You Knew About Honey

Rachel Talshir
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Some honey is made from bees collecting natural pollen and nectar from flowers. Other honeys have "alternative" origins.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik
Rachel Talshir

In honor of Rosh Hashanah, we met with Tuby Dickman of Organic Honey for answer to our sweetest and most pressing honey questions.

What’s the difference between solid and liquid honey?

There are many myths about honey quality and its consistency. Many people think that if honey is runny, that means it’s been heated, or on the other hand that solidified honey has been mixed with sugar, or made by bees that were fed sugar. All false.

The main determining factor of a honey’s consistency is the flower from which it was produced. Clover honey, for example, is almost butter-like in consistency, while avocado-flower honey tends to be more liquid. In addition, honey congeals and crystallizes at low temperature.

Commercial honey producers often heat the product, in order to delay crystallization and keep the honey liquid while creating a uniform product.

An Israeli beekeeper tends to his friends.Credit: Eyal Toueg

In short, any honey that’s been heated will be liquid, but not all liquid honey is fake or the result of heating. Thicker honey does not indicate that the bees were fed with sugar.

Why do bees make honey?

Honey is an energy-rich syrup, full of different sugars (mostly fructose and glucose) and rich with amino acids and enzymes.

Honeybees gather flower nectar, which is about 20 percent sugar, as an energy source. Since most flowers blossom only briefly, in spring, bees need a way to store that energy. They reduce the liquid concentration in the nectar by forcing it to evaporate, bringing its concentrated sugar level to around 80%.

In Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, 3,000-year-old honey was found, and according to archaeologists it was quite tasty.

For all you stock market busy bees, there's a new app to rank stock buzz.Credit: Reuters

Collective stomachs

The bees that collect the flower nectar store it in their crops, or so-called honey stomachs, which are separate from the bees’ “personal” stomachs, and fly it back to the hive. When in the collective stomach, enzymes and amino acids from the bees seep into nectar. Each bee brings nectar to other bees, which hold the nectar in their mouths while the other bees flap their wings to accelerate evaporation.

The nectar continues to be reduced in volume, passing through dozens if not hundreds of bees, each time it gets further enriched with fantastic enzymes and the sugar concentration rises. After the solution has been significantly reduced, the bees store the solution in wax cells and continue to flap their wings until the right level of concentration is reached.

If you stand near a hive in the evening, you can smell the honey wafting from the bees because of their intensive evaporation efforts, which takes place mostly at night, at which time thousands of bees return from the field and begin reducing it.

The bees can sense, in their bodies and even through the electromagnetic resonance emanating from the honey as a result of their wing movement, the solution’s exact sugar levels. The bees are the planet’s smallest and most accurate glucometer. They don’t even eat the honey.

Bees swarming around their hive.Credit: Yuval Tebol

How much honey does a single bee produce?

Throughout its life, a single bee can make about a teaspoon or a teaspoon and a half of honey. To create and store one kilogram of honey, a swarm will fly the equivalent of three times around the globe, some 88,550 kilometers, visiting up to four million flowers.

Can diabetics eat honey?

Conventional wisdom says honey is just “another sugar” and therefore prohibited to people with diabetes. But some researchers claim that in societies where honey was consumed but not cane or beet sugar (native peoples of North America and Papua New Guinea), diabetes was nonexistent.

According to Dr. Ron Fessenden’s book “The Honey Revolution: Restoring the Health of Future Generations,” honey is preferable to other sweeteners for raising blood-sugar levels in someone with Type 1 diabetes, since it produces a more moderate rise that does not lead to a crash in sugar levels later.

Fessenden says that people with prediabetes can safely consume small amounts of honey.

Some practitioners believe that honey requires less insulin to metabolize and raises blood-sugar levels more slowly than white sugar, and is preferable to alternatives such as stevia and saccharin, especially for people with Type 2 diabetes.

Despite the relatively high level of sugar in honey, its glycemic value is much lower than white sugar because the sugars in honey are both glucose and fructose. Honey is sweeter than sugar by 30 percent, so you can also use less to reach the same level of sweetness.

Is honey kosher?

According to the Talmud, honey is considered kosher even though bees are considered treif. According to the Talmud’s logic, the products of a sullied animal are also treif, and thus honey was also supposed to be non-kosher, but the sages were wise and they understood the the origin of honey was flowers, not bees, and thus its kosher.