Bees produce honey by regurgitating nectar they’ve collected from flowers. Some people believe that this “honey vomit” has health benefits that make it a superfood. But is honey really bee vomit? Check out this post to find out more about how these little ladies produce honey.
I know, I know. This is a strange title and subject for a blog post. You’d be surprised just how many times this question is asked. Actually it’s just one question inquiring minds ask about honey.
Is honey bee vomit?
Or is poop?
Is honey bee spit?
To lay all of these questions to rest, I’ve compiled this post just for you to learn all about how honey is made.
This post is all about answering the question: ‘is honey bee vomit’?
Table of Contents
A Brief History of Honey Use and Production
Honey use and production has a long history going back to prehistoric times. The ancient Egyptians used honey as a sweetener, and for healing, preserving, and embalming. It was such a valuable commodity that it symbolized both wealth and power.
Extensive records of beekeeping in Lower Egypt are documented with images of cylindrical hives dating back to the 7th century B.C. Bees and honey were thought to be magically produced according to myth and philosophy. Bees were believed to be gods and goddesses in many different cultures. Below are some examples of this:
- Northern Europe
- Nanosvelta is Roman-Germanic and Celtic (Nantosuelta in Celtic) goddess. In Celtic mythology she is the goddess of nature, earth, fire, and fertility. In images and statues of her, she carries a staff with a beehive on top.
- In Russia the bee god is Zosim. According to the story, he discovered beekeeping. His image in beehives provides the bees with protection.
- Depictions of bees in India are related to Hinduism.
- Images of Kama the Indian god of love include bees. The combination of the god of love and bees is symbolic of love being bittersweet.
- The Nectar-born Ones – Vishnu, Krishna, and Indra. Images of Vishnu show a blue bee on a lotus flower, while images of Krishna show a blue bee on his forehead.
- In Egypt, bees were the tears of Ra, who is the sun god and giver of life and resurrection.
- Ancient Maya
- The Ancient Mayans supposedly kept native stingless bees and celebrated Ah Mucan Cab, who was their bee god.
Modern Day Uses of Honey and Honey Production
Honey’s use has not slowed up, even with the reduction in honey production because of lower hive yields. The United States’ consumption of honey has increased over the past 30 years and Americans are the second largest consumer after China.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Situation and Outlook report, “Sugar and Sweeteners Outlook: June 2022”, the year 2021 set a new record for consumption.
“In 2021, consumption reached a new record high of 618 million pounds, up 8 percent from the previous year (figure 16). The previous record was 596 million pounds in 2017. Between 1991 to 2021, the average rate of growth is 10.7 million pounds per year.”
Abadam, Vidalina, Yeh, Adeline. “Sugar and Sweeteners Outlook: June 2022”. United States Department of Agriculture, June 2022. USDA, Economic Research Service, 16 Jun. 2022. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/outlooks/104129/sss-m-406.pdf?v=3296.2 . Accessed 12 Jan. 2022.
Is Honey Bee Vomit, Spit or Poop? The Bee’s Process of Making the Nectar of the Gods
We know that it’s been a coveted sweetener, medicine, and used for embalming and preserving for centuries. But what exactly is honey and how do bees make it?
What Honey Bees Make
Bees can actually make five different types of “products”: honey, wax, propolis, bee bread, and royal jelly. Our focus though is on honey. The process all starts with nectar. Plants have lots of different types of nectar and they all range in their sweetness and thickness. Nectar is a mixture of sugars and water that range in concentrations. The nectar’s concentration can range from 5% to 80%. There are 3 different types of sugar in nectar: sucrose, glucose, and fructose. Scent chemicals produced by flowers attract honey bees. The sweeter and thicker the nectar, the more honeybee will want that nectar.
Foraging and Collecting Nectar
While honeybees forage, they collect nectar and pollen. Pollen is typically what you’ll see packed on their legs like in the below picture. Nectar is collected from flowers by sucking it up through a straw-like tongue, known as the proboscis. The honey is then stored in what’s known as the honey sac, or crop. (Some texts refer to it as the honey ‘stomach’ but it’s not the bee’s actual stomach.) In the crop, an enzyme known as invertase breaks down the sucrose into a simpler glucose and fructose. In doing so, the bee makes a highly concentrated sugar mix of honey. Other enzymes release to increase the acidity of the nectar and kill off any bacteria.
After the honey bee collects the nectar, it goes through a maturing process. Nectar is a runny liquid and after maturing it becomes honey. When the honeybee returns to the hive, the process of maturing the honey begins. She regurgitates small amounts of honey from her honey stomach, works it with her tongue, and then swallows the liquid before regurgitating it once again. The worker bees also pass the nectar from mouth-to-mouth.Exposure to the air causes water to evaporate. In doing so, it reduces the amount of water levels in the nectar.
They’re able to reduce the water content from about 60% down to 20%! The decrease in water content is essential. It keeps mold and bacteria from growing. During this whole process, other bees within the hive constantly fan the honeycombs to create a draft. This helps with both temperature control and helps in the evaporation.
The whole process of reducing the moisture and drying out the honey takes 20 minutes. After the drying and enzyme manipulation, the honey bee is then able to deposit it into a storage cell.
So What IS Honey?
We can now see that honey isn’t vomit, spit, or poop from a bee. Although vomit seems like the likely term for it, this is an incorrect assumption. During nectar collection, it never passes into the honey bee’s stomach. To vomit means to eject contents through the mouth from the stomach. By definition, processing nectar into honey is not vomiting since it never enters the honey bee’s stomach.
Honey isn’t spit. Honey bees don’t produce saliva or spit like humans do. Per the breakdown of the process, there are enzymes that break down the honey. The only thing that is similar is these enzymes are produced in the salivary glands of the bee.
Honey is also not poop either. When bees eat honey, what they defecate isn’t honey. Instead they produce a sticky, yellow substance.
So What Have We Learned?
- Bees have been used for honey production and other purposes dating back to prehistoric times.
- Today, the US is the second largest consumer of honey in the world.
- Bees make honey from nectar that they collect from flowers.
- Nectar is a mixture of water and sugars that bees suck up through their proboscis (straw-like tongue) and store in their crop (second stomach).
- Enzymes release from the honey sac. These enzymes break down the sucrose in the nectar into simpler glucose and fructose. This creates a concentrated sugar mix of honey.
- When returning to the hive, worker bees regurgitate small amounts of honey from their crop, work it with their tongue, then swallow before regurgitating again. Honey bees also exchange the liquid from mouth-to-mouth, exposing it to the air. This process continues until the honey reaches the correct amount of moisture which prevents mold and bacteria from growing. They store the finished product in storage cells.
Honey is what feeds the whole hive throughout the year and is crucial to get them through the winter to make it to the next spring.
What did you learn from this post that you didn’t know before? Comment below!