How do bees make honey?

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Honey: the sweet, thick goodness that we use for everything ranging from skin regimens to food toppings. Honey is a great addition to several meals ranging from breakfast to dinner, and even for snacks. However, honey is hardly synthetic. This delicious treasure is made by a few million busy bees. But how do such small, tiny creatures make something so delicious in such large quantities?

There are a few species of bees, however, honey bees are the ones that make the honey (the name kind of gives it away). To begin the honey-making process, the honey bee first visits a flower. At this flower, the honey bee gathers nectar. While the bee visits the flowers, it transfers pollen from flower to flower.

The bee takes the nectar back to the hive and regurgitates the nectar directly into a “processor” in the honeycomb. Honeybees, at this point, have two different jobs. Some honeybees continue to go back to the flowers for more nectar, these are called foragers, and the rest of the bees continue to stay in the honeycomb, and these are called processor bees.

The processor bees add an enzyme called invertase each time they regurgitate their nectar, which consists mostly of sucrose and water. The invertase breaks the sugar down into glucose and fructose. Honey consists of only 18% of water, but the water makes up 70% of the nectar.  The ripening process begins after this, and the honeybees begin to dry out the nectar, which creates honey.  They fan their wings to create an airy current and assists water in evaporating from the nectar.

As soon as the nectar ripens into honey, it contains little to no water, so that  no microbes can continue to grow in it, meaning no contamination of bacteria or fungi. The processor bees then close the honeycomb with a wax seal, and that is how honeybees make honey.

Essentially, honeybees collect nectar from flowers, bring it back to their hives and honeycombs, regurgitate this nectar into a cell, add invertase, and begin the ripening process. It is a very easy, yet very complicated process. Next time you’re enjoying your honey, you can thank the bees!


Feature photo credit: Danny Perez Photography via photopin cc

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