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Food - Honey

( Originally Published 1917 )

The story of honey, one of our most popular sweets, is older than the Bible, older even than history. It was a favorite food of the ancients to whom sugar was unknown.

What is honey? Honey is the nectar secreted by the glands of flowers and gathered by bees for their winter use. Of all the sweets that come to our tables, honey is undoubtedly the most delicate and fragrant. It might almost be called the perfume of foods, for honey is the very essence of the flowers, sometimes retaining their distinctive aroma. Naturally the flowers of heavy perfume, growing in southern climates, secrete honey of much stronger flavor than those of a milder odor, common to more northerly climates. The warmer or temperate lands produce more honey because they have a greater abundance of flowers. Nevertheless, honey is gathered as far north as Finland and Quebec during the summer months.

How honey is stored. Housed in hives, the bees build combs made of layers of pure wax and divided into thousands of tiny cells in which the honey is stored. As it takes the bees about half their time to build the combs, the modern bee farmer makes the comb bases for them of beeswax. The bees accept these gifts and begin their work of gathering honey with little loss of time.

Bees as consumers of honey. The honey which the little workers store in the combs is used to feed their young and to provision the entire swarm through the unproductive months when there are no flowers from which to gather sweets. So the bee farmer must not take all the honey gathered by the bees; he must see that they have their share. For this purpose, the hive is divided into two parts, the lower, or "brood," section being for the honey used as bee food, and the upper part being for the honey which goes to the bee farmer, after the brood combs are filled.

The frames, with their wax sheets of comb foundation, are called sections, each of which isintended to hold a pound of honey. Large frames are used when the beekeeper intends to extract the honey before marketing it.

Quality, color, and flavor of honey. Most flowers secrete nectar, though by no means in uniform quantity or flavor. To this fact are due the differences in quality, color, and flavor found among the brands of honey from different parts of the world. The honey produced from orange blossoms, for instance, is of light color and mild flavor, while that produced from buckwheat is noted for its dark color and its very pronounced flavor. The quality of honey is also affected by the soil from which the flowers draw the material for making their nectar.

Honey-yielding plants. In the United States, the greater part of the honey produced is alfalfa honey from the Western States, where several million dollars worth is sold every year. Sweet clover, white sage, and other mountain flowers also contribute to the western supply. In the Central States, white clover, sweet clover, Spanish needle, and heartsease furnish much of the supply. In the Southern States, cotton, mesquite, horsemint, and sweet clover, and in the East, North, and Canada, buckwheat and white clover are the leading honey flowers. Orange blossoms, cleome, aster, and basswood complete the list of the principal honey-yielding plants of North America.

The bees of Scotland gather their honey from the heather. The honey of England and Northern France is much like that of Scotland. In Mexico, the bees secure it from the mesquite, the guajilla, the catclaw, and the horsemint. In the vicinity of Narbonne, France, the bees make Narbonne honey, which is like our white clover honey. The bees of Greece still draw their nectar from the wild thyme, as they have done from earliest ages when Mount Hymettus, near: Athens, was celebrated, in many a classic master-piece of prose and verse, for the quality of its honey.

Poisonous honey. Can you find Trebizond on, your map? It is a town on the Black Sea in Asiatic Turkey. The bees in the country around Trebizond collect honey from poisonous flowers, and as a result the honey found there is poisonous. Great care is used to warn strangers against its use. Honey experts the world over know about the injurious qualities of Trebizond honey.

New and old ways of handling honey. You may have heard about "lee trees" and the ancient method of gathering honey from hollow logs or stationary boxes covered with boards. The old-fashioned bee farmer did not know how to gather his honey without making a dense cloud of smoke to drive out the bees, or killing the whole swarm with sulphur fumes. The combs, which had to be cut from the box, could not possibly be removed without injuring the swarm. The honey obtained by this method was usually of poor quality, containing bits of wood, bee glue, bee bread or pollen, and dead bees.

So when it was pressed out of the combs, it had to be strained, thereby gaining the name of "strained" honey.

The up-to-date bee farmer, however, uses movable frame hives and honey sections, in which each comb is hung separately in a frame. With the aid of a little smoke to keep the bees quiet, he can remove the honey with small waste of time and without killing a single bee or so much as getting his hands sticky from honey. This method enables him to keep the honey pure and sanitary and free from contact with any touch save that of the bees.

Kinds of honey. When we go into a store to buy honey, we find that there are usually three kinds from which to choose. Comb honey is the product in the comb, just as it comes from the hive. Strained honey, now generally known as extracted honey, is that which has been extracted from the combs, strained, and put up in bottles or cans. It forms about nine tenths of all the honey sold. Candied or granulated honey is honey that has been allowed to crystallize into a kind of sugar.

Blending honey. Because of the great variety of honey flavors, it is customary to blend the product, much as coffees and teas are blended. For instance, the flavor of the honey made from mountain sage is very mild, while that made from buckwheat is decidedly strong. But a blend of these two makes a very delicious honey.

Wide use of honey. Honey is one of the most widely used of all foods. We are told by an explorer that when traveling through a river basin in the wildest and most unfrequented part of Burma and Tibet, his party was able to secure from the Lissu natives besides a few pounds of rice and maize two bamboo tubes full of honey.

In one year, the United States imported from other countries more than 115,000 gallons of honey. About half of this came from Cuba, and perhaps a third from Mexico. Among many other countries from which we receive honey are Greece, New Zealand, Tasmania, China, Japan, Portugal, Switzerland, Jamaica, England, Russia, and Turkey.

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