SALES of the stuff have overtaken jam for the first time. So is that because we now realise that as well as tasting great, honey has many other benefits?
Honey sales are booming and it’s just overtaken jam as the nation’s favourite spread. Last year Britons spent more than £100million on it. Bees gather nectar, which is a sweet sticky substance exuded by most flowers. Only worker bees, which are all female and live for up to eight weeks, collect nectar. These bees have two stomachs – one for food, the other for transporting nectar, which is mixed with enzymes from glands in the insects’ mouths.
This mix is stored in hexagonal wax honeycomb until the water content has been reduced to around 17 per cent. It’s then sealed with a thin layer of wax, which allows the honey to be stored by the bees until needed. At this stage it’s also ready for harvest.
* It’s been calculated that it takes about 27,000 bees to make a jar of honey. In a good season a single hive can produce about 60lb of honey. Bees fly about 55,000 miles (that’s the equivalent of one-and-a-half times round the world) to make a single pound. During a single collection trip a bee will visit up to 100 flowers. Bees fly at speeds of up to 20mph and beat their wings about 180 times a minute.
* The type of honey depends on the flowers and the plants nearest the hive. Crops such as oil seed rape produce a honey that sets hard, whereas garden flowers tend to produce a liquid honey. If the hive-keeper wants to produce a mono-honey (such as orange blossom) the bees are kept well away from other sources of nectar.
Polyflora honeys are made from nectar from different flowers, while blended honeys come from different colonies selected to achieve a specific taste. Honey doesn’t only come from flowers and plants. Bees can also produce honey by gathering the sweet secretions of insects. This type of honey is known as honeydew and is usually dark and strong-tasting.
* For centuries honey has been said to possess numerous health benefits. Because of honey’s very low water content it’s thought to prevent the growth of harmful micro-organisms, while it also contains hydrogen peroxide which is hostile to bacteria. Recent research has involved using honey to treat wounds and burns and combat MRSA.
* It’s also claimed that eating honey made from local flowers can reduce the symptoms of hay fever. Experts say that a soothing mix of honey and lemon, or a hot toddy also containing a nip of whisky, is just as effective as expensive cough remedies.
* Tradition has it that old beekeepers rarely suffer from arthritis and in Russia bee venom is used to treat the condition. China, Turkey and the Ukraine are the world’s top three honey producers. About 100 million tons is produced worldwide every year. Austria, Germany and Switzerland, where an average of more than 2lb per person is eaten each year, are the biggest consumers.
The world’s most expensive honey, costing up to £65 a jar, comes from hives in a remote part of New Zealand. Manuka honey (named after the flowering bush found on the country’s North Island) is prized for its medicinal qualities and has been championed by celebrities including singer Katherine Jenkins and tennis player Novak Djokovic. Only 1,700 tons a year are produced, leading to cheap honey being passed off as Manuka by counterfeiters.
* Cave paintings show ancient man foraging for honey 8,000 years ago. In Roman times taxes were paid using honey. In Greek mythology it was used to nurse the infant god Zeus.
* It’s not cruel to take honey from hives. It’s estimated that bees can produce two to three times more than they need. It’s been claimed that a single colony of bees could theoretically produce a ton of honey every year. In a colony there is a single queen bee and up to 60,000 honeybees. There are about 85,000 bee colonies in the UK, which is about half the number in the mid-1960s.
* Before sugar began arriving in Britain from Caribbean plantations honey was the nation’s main sweetener. The resurgence in honey sales is being partly driven by its growing popularity as a baking ingredient and natural alternative to sugar. Honey contains about 300 calories per 100g, which is slightly less than sugar. Honey also contains small levels of vitamins and minerals, whereas sugar has none but it’s not recommended to eat too much.
* In the UK there are an estimated 24,000 amateur beekeepers.
*Honey is the main ingredient in the alcoholic drink mead, which was traditionally known as “the drink of kings”. In pagan times it was the custom for the happy couple to drink mead for a month after their wedding, which is thought to be the origin of the term honeymoon. Today, honey is gaining popularity as an ingredient in cocktails. The Waldorf Astoria in New York has hives on the roof, providing honey for its barmen.