There is a buzz in the air as bees emerge from their winter hibernation and start to forage. Spring is the busiest time of year for the bees as they restock their honey supplies. But what is honey, what types of honey are there, what is the best honey, where does it come from and what is the difference between runny and set honey?
What is honey?
The nectar collected by honey bees from flowers is carried back to the hive and passed to worker bees, who prepare it for storage by adding enzymes. The nectar is then transferred to the wax storage chambers where the excess water is evaporated by worker bees fanning their wings; this process converts the nectar into honey.
Sucrose (nectar) + invertase (bee enzyme) = fructose + glucose (honey)
Honey is a complex mix of natural sugars (80%), water (18%) and minerals, vitamins, pollen and protein (2%).
Types of honey
Honey is either defined by its floral source or by its country of origin. Nectar collected from just one kind of flower is known as monofloral (Manuka, Sidr, Orange blossom, Acacia etc), whereas nectar collected from multiple types of flowers is known as polyfloral (Bashkir). Blended honeys are a combination of different types of honey to achieve a particular taste, in much the same way as tea or whisky is blended.
What is the best honey?
The best, and most expensive, honeys in the world are made from the nectar collected from trees. Manuka honey is made from the nectar of the flowering Manuka tree, which is native to, and grows only in, New Zealand. Sidr honey comes from the Sidr tree, which is native throughout Asia, and Bashkir honey comes from Linden forests growing high in the Ural Mountains in Russia.
What is the difference between runny and set honey?
Approximately 70% of honey is made up of fructose and glucose (the other 10% of natural sugars are maltose and sucrose). It is the balance of these two sugars, fructose and glucose, which determines whether honey is runny or set. The higher the fructose content the runnier the honey, and the more glucose content, the more crystallised (set) the honey. There is no difference in the taste or nutritional value between runny honey and set honey.