Tuesday, September 08, 2009

September is National Honey Month

Honey can come from several species of bees, but the honey bee is best known to produce honey. In its lifetime, a single honey bee will produce only about one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. It takes about 550 bees to visit 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey.

These hard working insects have been around for 30 million years with evidence of humans collecting their honey for at least 10,000 years. Archeologists have found cave paintings depicting women collecting honey and honeycomb from hives. Honey has also long been referenced in religion and is evident in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.

Bees use the nectar they collect from flowers to produce honey. They collect the nectar by sucking the nectar from flowers with their straw-like tongues and storing it in one of their two stomachs. They have a regular stomach to digest food and a second stomach to store nectar. They can carry double their body weight with stored nectar. The collected nectar is taken to the hive where worker bees mix the honey with enzymes to break down the complex sugars making it easier to use later and more bacteria resistant. The nectar is then spread throughout the honeycomb, where the water is evaporated from the nectar turning it into gooey honey. This honey is used as a food source during the cold months for the bees. In one year, an average honeybee colony will eat between 120 and 200 pounds of the honey they produce. Beekeepers encourage overproduction of honey by the bees so to not endanger the hive.

Honey produced by honeybees must be 100% pure with no additional additives. Honey produced by other types of bees does not follow this same strict guideline. Honey is usually classified by the flowers in which the nectar is collected. Honey classifications include: Blended meaning coming from more than one type of plant; Polyfloral or wild flower honey comes from varies types of flowers; Monofloral comes primarily from one type of flower. Raw honey is completely unprocessed. Pasteurized honey has been processed to prevent crystallization over time.

If your honey develops crystals, the honey is still good. Gently warm it in the microwave or in a pan of warm water until the crystals dissolve.

Besides used as a sweetener, honey has also been used to embalm bodies, as a form of currency and as a gift to Gods. It has also been used for medicinal purposes like as a sore throat remedy. It is also used topically for its antibacterial and antiseptic qualities. By consuming locally produced honey, it may help combat seasonal allergies.

Honey can be added to coffee or tea to sweeten instead of using sugar. It can be drizzled over fresh fruit or added to your favorite vinaigrette in salads. To makes a great additional to barbeque sauce and helps caramelize the outside of the meat when cooking. It can be mixed with butter and spread over warm biscuits or toast.

Infants under one year of age should not eat honey because of the risk of botulism from their underdeveloped digestive systems.

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