How is honey produced and how healthy is it??

Sweet, aromatic and natural: honey is one of the most popular foods in this country. Nowhere in the world is as much of it consumed as in Germany. Statistically, each of us eats a little more than a kilo of honey a year. But the demand is considerably greater than the supply from local beekeepers. But how is honey actually produced, what varieties and labels are there and how healthy is it really?

How honey is created?

Honey is a pure, untreated natural product. Bees produce it to have supplies for the winter. To do this, they first collect flower nectar in their honey stomach, a kind of crop. Back in the hive, they pump or choke it back up and hand it over to the other worker bees, who fill their honey stomachs with it. In the process, endogenous enzymes are added to the nectar, which later make the honey so valuable.

At the same time, some of the water in the nectar evaporates. The hive bees initially store the sweet mass in open combs, where it continues to evaporate water. When the honey is dry enough, the workers seal the combs with wax, which they produce in their bodies.

But bees also make use of the so-called honeydew – produced, among other things, by aphids. The aphids feed on the sap of deciduous and coniferous trees. Their sweet sticky excretions are called honeydew. The honey that the bees make from it is particularly dark and aromatic. It is sold as forest or fir honey.

What is varietal honey?

Long row of hives at the edge of a canola field. Two beekeepers stand at the end of the row. © NDR/ TOB Filmproduktions

Bees are "flowering bees": Once they have found a good nectar source such as rapeseed, lime or heather, they fly to it again and again. Such a solid source beekeepers call "Tracht". If the proportion of a particular cluster in the honey is between 60 and 80 percent, it is referred to as varietal honey. Shares of other honeys are called Beitracht. Beekeepers distinguish a total of more than 40 types of honey in Germany.

A little can beekeepers control, on which flowers their bees collect nectar. Because the animals usually fly only a few kilometers away. This is why beekeepers transport their beehives, the "hives, targeted to specific locations, such as the edges of rapeseed fields.

Honey: a natural product

Close-up of freshly extracted honey Photo: Maja Bahtijarevic

The beekeeper removes the frames with the honey-filled combs from the beehive. The wax layer with which the combs are sealed must be removed, then the honey can be spun out. This only works if the honey is similarly warm as in the beehive, i.e. about 35 degrees. The term "cold-spun, with which on some honeys is recruited, is therefore nonsense; and actually also not permitted.

The most important quality characteristic of honey is its water content. If a honey contains too much water, it ferments. The honey regulation permits up to 20 per cent. Only visible impurities may be filtered out of the honey. Otherwise, nothing may be removed from the honey or added to it. It is therefore a completely untreated natural product that is not sterilized. Infants under the age of one are not allowed to eat honey for this reason. Bacteria, which the intestinal flora of infants is not yet able to cope with, can be found in the honey.

Why honey is not vegan

Beekeepers take the bees’ winter stores away with the honey. In order for the animals to survive the cold season, they are fed with special bee food or a sugar solution. Exactly that is one of the reasons, why Veganer do not eat honey. For them, it is ethically unacceptable to take away the bees’ food and replace it with artificial food. Animal protection organizations such as PETA also point out that bees are kept under less than natural conditions and that the animals are often injured or killed when the honeycombs are collected.

Where does our honey come from and how is it labeled??

Hall with huge stacks of metal barrels in which honey is stored. NDR TOB Film

In the German beekeepers’ association are far more than 100.000 hobby or part-time beekeepers organized. From the beekeeping can live in Germany however only approximately 80 beekeepers. To meet demand in this country, honey is also imported – 84.000 tons in total in 2016. According to the Federal Statistical Office, it comes from more than 70 countries. Argentina has replaced Mexico as the previous leader, supplying about 16 percent of it. In second, third, and fourth place in 2016 were Mexico, Ukraine, and China, respectively.

On many honey jars in the supermarket you can find information like this: "Mixture of honey from EC countries and non-EU countries". Actually according to honey regulation the country of origin of a honey must be indicated. However, if there are several, such formulations may be chosen. According to the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations, however, this has practically no significance for consumers.

Only honey produced in Germany by members of the German Beekeepers’ Association is allowed to bear the registered trademark "Genuine German Honey" carry.

How well is honey controlled and how long is its shelf life??

The control system for supermarket honey is usually very elaborate. The purchased goods are examined for residues. If something is found, the commodity goes back. The situation is different for beekeeper’s honey, i.e. honey produced regionally. The German Beekeepers’ Association states that between three and 15 percent of its members are inspected each year. But many beekeepers do not consider this sufficient.

In addition, there are no manufacturer’s certificates for certain batches of beekeeper’s honey. If you do not harvest enough honey yourself, you can buy honey from other beekeepers, but only the same amount that you have produced yourself. However, the honey must come from beekeepers’ association colleagues from Germany. However, this is not controlled.

Thanks to the bees and the substances they add to the honey, it is preserved in a completely natural way. If you store it cool, dry and protected from light, you can still eat it years later.

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