Honey As A Product

Present World Production and Consumption

According to figures available, 1.1 million tonnes were produced in 1999. Honey yields per hive are usually highest in countries with an extensive belt between latitudes 23 and 30° (N or S), including China, Argentina, Mexico, and Australia.

Honey as Food

Honey from bees' nests was probably eaten by some mammals, including bears, before humans did so, and chimpanzees have been observed using tools to get access to honey in bees' nests in a tree. In Africa, India, and Spain, rock art from Mesolithic times and later shows human honey hunters harvesting from nests in trees or rocks.

Within the historical period, the use of honey is recorded from around 3000 B.C. onward. In India it was used by the famous surgeon Susruta around 1400 B.C. and much praised in the Vedas, sacred Hindu books collected together about 1500 B.C. In Rome, Columella judged honeys by their plant source, that from thyme being the best. Honey from a few plants, including Rhododendron, is toxic; in 399 B.C. when Xenophon's army retreated from Persia across Pontus in Asia Minor, the soldiers ate honey near the Black Sea coast that probably came from R. ponticum. It made them very ill, but they recovered by the third day. Records of baking with honey survive from 1200 B.C. onward in ancient Egypt.

Honey in Medicine

Honey has been regarded as a health-giving substance since ancient times, and Pythagoras (ca. 530 B.C.) was said to have attributed his long life to his constant use of it. Honey is a common ingredient of cough mixtures and lozenges and is often recommended as a symptomatic treatment for dyspepsia and peptic ulcers; the organism Helibacter pylori, which is a common cause of peptic ulceration, is inhibited by honey. Some sufferers from hay fever may be helped by eating honey that contains pollen.

A beneficial effect on wound healing has been known since early times, and a mechanism for this was established in the 1960s. The hypopharyngeal glands of A. mellifera workers secrete the enzyme glucose oxidase; this enters the honey, and in the presence of water a small amount of hydrogen peroxide is produced, which is bactericidal. Also, honey is hygroscopic, so it extracts exudates from infected lesions. For these reasons, honey is currently used in a number of hospitals, especially on wounds that are difficult to dress.

Honey in Alcoholic Drinks

From ancient times onward, drinks have been made by fermenting fruit to make wine, or cereals to make ale or beer. In many regions where bees were kept in hives, an important use of honey was its fermentation to produce an alcoholic drink, often referred to as mead. Where vines were grown, wine had a higher social status than honey-based drinks and tended to displace them, but honey-based drinks remained important north of the warmer vine-growing areas. In tropical Africa "honey beer" was made by fermenting honey for a short period.

See Also the Following Articles

Beekeeping • Commercial Products from Insects • Medicine, Insects in

Further Reading

Crane, E. (1975). "Honey: A Comprehensive Survey." Heinemann, London. Crane, E. (1999). "The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting."

Duckworth, London. Crane, E., Walker, P., and Day, R. (1984). "Directory of Important World

Honey Sources." International Bee Research Association, London. Graham, J. G. (ed.) (1992). "The Hive and the Honey Bee," revised edition,

Chap. 21. Dadant, Hamilton, IL. Killion, E. E. (1981). "Honey in the Comb," revised edition. Dadant, Hamilton, IL.

Riches, H. R. C. (2000). "Medical Aspects of Beekeeping." HR Books, Northwood, U.K.

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