The natural chemistry of honey from bees. Bees are masters using enzymes and dehydration techniques, they perform honey chemistry. These alchemists of the natural world can transform the sugar in the nectar into a super energetic food.
We often wonder how honey is made by bees, the chemistry of honey is a complex process where flowers and bees intervene, making it a natural and nutritious food.
Table of Content
- How do they do it?
- The chemical composition of honey
- The chemical composition of nectar
- The differences
- Inside the hive
- What can harm it?
- Heat and crystallization can also affect the color of honey.
The Natural Chemistry of Honey From Bees
How do they do it (honey from bees)?
First, it’s no small feat, honey is made up of at least 181 chemical components.
Its unique flavor is the result of complex chemical processes, which is why the sugary syrups that are intended to replace it cannot even be compared.
Therefore, the innate wisdom of Mother Nature cannot be copied. Last year alone, bees produced the impressive number of nearly 100 million kilos of honey. That’s pretty chemical.
The chemical composition of honey
Honey is composed mostly of the sugars glucose and fructose. It’s what scientists call an oversaturated solution.
In this way. when the sugar is mixed in a glass of water, a part of the sugar will remain at the bottom of the glass.
That’s because water (solvent) will only be able to dissolve a certain amount. But, if the water is hot, more and more sugar can be dissolved.
Likewise, oversaturation, heat, enzymes, or other chemical agents can increase the amount of material that can be dissolved. These solutions tend to crystallize easily.
Syrups, sweets, and honey are considered oversaturated products. It is because of this state of oversaturation, and its low water content (15-18%), that honey is viscous.
That means it’s pretty consistent despite its fluidity, even sometimes it’s solid. Its main ingredients are carbohydrates (sugars), it also contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, organic acids, pollen, fragrances, and vegetable flavors.
The chemical composition of nectar
All honey starts with nectar. While honey is viscous and has little water, nectar is 80% water or so.
It’s a very light solution—colorless and nowhere near as sweet as honey. It is also chemically different.
Bees can convert nectar compound sugars into simpler sugars by using enzymes, for this reason, honey is much easier to digest than table sugar.
Its sugars (glucose and fructose) are simpler than sucrose (table sugar).
Sugar is sometimes referred to as “sweet carbohydrates.” (Carbohydrates are one of three primary classes of food, along with protein and fat.)
Some sugars like glucose and fructose are simple, while others like saccharin are more complex.
Bees change these compound sugars they find in the nectar of flowers into simple sugars.
This process is known as hydrolysis. To transform saccharin into glucose and fructose, it is necessary to add heat, acids, or enzymes to the mixture.
It’s a complicated process in the lab. But, when it comes to honey chemistry, bees (and their enzymes) are much more efficient than scientists.
In honey 95 to 99.9% of solids are sugars, to understand how it works, you need to understand sugar. Pure cane sugar is almost all saccharin. It is known as a disaccharide and is made up of two simple sugars together.
This is why it is sometimes referred to as “double sugar.” Saccharin, found in nectar, is made up of the simple sugars glucose and fructose.
These simple sugars are called monosaccharides, which means “a sugar.” Even though fructose and glucose have the same chemical formula (C6H12O6), they are two different sugars.
Bees don’t just collect nectar, they chemically transform it.
After the nectar is collected by a bee, it adds the enzyme invertase. This enzyme helps transform sucrose into two equal parts of glucose and fructose. This is the beginning of honey. Other enzymes help flavor, honey. The enzyme amylase helps break down amylose into glucose.
Glucose is easier to digest and is what makes honey sweet. Another enzyme, glucose oxidase, breaks down glucose and stabilizes the pH of honey. Catalase transforms hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen.
This keeps the hydrogen peroxide content low, (although some people believe that the hydrogen peroxide in honey is what helps maintain it, it is more likely to be due to its slightly acidic pH and low water content.)
Like a good chemist, bees follow the plan to create honey. Foragers collect nectar with their tongues. Invertase is mixed while carrying nectar. It begins to break the saccharin into glucose and fructose in the stomach pouch where the honey is kept.
Foragers transfer nectar to bees in the hive, who add more enzymes. This process is repeated over and over again, and as the bees pass the nectar each of them adds more and more enzymes that help dissolve the nectar into glucose and fructose.
Inside the hive
The bees that are in the hive regurgitate and drink the nectar again for 20 minutes, thus breaking down the sugars. When the nectar is about 20% water, they deposit it in the cell, where the bees fan it to accelerate the evaporation process and thus condense the honey.
Bees stop when the water concentration is between 17-18% and then store it. In this way, through the use of enzymes and evaporation, the oversaturated solution is created.
Like any oversaturated solution, honey tends to crystallize. Crystallization occurs when long chains of glucose (polysaccharides) in honey are broken. Glucose molecules begin to stick to each other around a speck of dust or pollen. These glucose crystals fall and are left at the bottom of the container.
The problem with crystallization is that when glucose is separated from honey, the remaining liquid contains larger amounts of water. And with enough water and sugar, the honey begins to ferment. Temperature also affects crystallization.
Honey is best preserved above 10 Celsius. In addition, researchers have concluded that honey removed from the honeycomb and processed is more likely to crystallize than honey that stays in the honeycomb due to the fine particles of matter that enter the mixture. Other factors that contribute to crystallization are dust, air bubbles, and pollen in honey.
Crystallization is not always a bad thing. Creamy honey depends on controlled crystallization. While natural crystallization creates granitic crystals, controlled crystallization creates a smooth, creamy product.
What can harm it?
Heating honey can also lead to chemical transformations. Sometimes, honey darkens due to a process called the Maillard reaction. Because honey is slightly acidic with a pH close to 4 this can occur sometimes.
It’s because the amino acids in honey begin to react with sugars. Caramelization occurs when the heat begins to break the molecular bonds of honey. When these bonds or bonds are broken, the caramelized sugar is left as a result.
Heat and crystallization can also affect the color of honey.
The crystals in honey make it appear a lighter color. This is why cream honey is a softer color. In nature, the color of honey depends on the type of flower from which the bees have collected the nectar.
In this way, the honey that is collected in autumn usually has a different color from the one collected in spring. Due to the different blooms. Honey is usually classified into 7 color categories: watery white, very white, white, very soft yellow, amber, and dark amber.
Honey is hygroscopic. This means that it absorbs moisture.
If left unclosed, it will begin to collect moisture from the environment. This moisture will cause the fermentation process to begin. Normally, honey has a very low level of humidity that helps its conservation, however, the humidity exceeds 25%, it will ferment.
For this reason, beekeepers collect honey that has already been operculated (closed with wax). It has a much lower humidity level and is less likely to ferment.
For example, in the United States, honey production is spread throughout the states. It is estimated that there are more than 266 million swarms of bees in the UNITED STATES, with an average production of about 26 kilos of honey per hive.
What makes these numbers even more interesting is that they are not the result of human artifice. Honey is the original product of bees, beekeepers only guide them. They are the real alchemists.
His incredible ability to discover and transform nectar into honey has resulted in hundreds of different types of honey. Very sweet statistics.