By: Tini Thangjam
I am confident that each and everyone one of you has tasted honey. However, have you ever given a thought about how this sparkling golden coloured liquid came into existence and how much it affects us? When we think of honey, bees automatically come to mind. We wonder how those wonderful little insects produce such delicious treat. Well to know about all of this, let’s first take a ride to the sun filled garden, among the flowers and with the bees to understand one of nature’s beautiful gift.
Honey is a natural sweetener produced from the nectar collected by bees. The bees put in their blood, sweat and tears all year round just so they can make honey. It is not an exaggeration but a fact that bees collect nectar from 2million flowers and travel a distance of 50,000 miles just to make one pound of honey which is approximately 0.5kg. In the same action they too pollinate flowers.
It has been used since time immemorial by many civilizations that were established on the Earth. A Mesolithic rock painting in a cave, in Spain dating back 8000 years depicts foragers collecting honey. The Egyptians, Mayans, Romans, Greek, Babylonians, Chinese and various other cultures have used honey since ancient times. There are documented accounts of spiritual and therapeutic use of honey in India, in the Vedas and Ayurveda texts. In those times, honey was used in medicine, religious rituals and as a sweetener and preservative in food applications. Even to this date, the origin of the use of honey is still a topic of controversy.
However, today we will not be focusing on either history and production of honey nor about bees. Our sole focus today is to know what honey actually is, what quality it possesses that is helpful to us and its possible adulterations. Honey is a viscous liquid consisting of various sugars such as fructose, maltose, glucose and sucrose which contributes to its characteristic sweetness. Unlike refined sugar, it contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These additional nutrients help contribute to health promoting benefits of honey. They can be classified in two ways; by its floral source and processing type. According to its floral source one can classify them as blended, polyfloral, monofloral and honeydew honey. Whereas, the processing type classifies them as crystallized, pasteurized, creamed, raw, strained and into various other categories. They taste different and has certain floral notes and sweet aroma. Any of these is safe for consumption. They should be stored in air tight containers to prevent absorption of moisture as honey is hygroscopic. This is done to prevent fermentation.
The antioxidants such as, phenolic acids and flavonoids present in them are enormously helpful in protecting body against cell damage caused by free radicals. Furthermore, honey has been recognized for its antimicrobial properties. High sugar concentration, hydrogen peroxide and low pH contributes to the antibacterial property. This makes honey a remedy for wounds and burns as it helps prevent infections and promote healing. It’s traditional to use honey as a treatment for burns and skin injuries. Partial thickness burns and some post-operative infections treated with honey has shown some positive effects. However, treatment of others injuries is not supported with evidence. Though, FDA has approved some medical grade honey for minor burns and wounds. In recent years, it has been found that it possesses potential anti-inflammatory effects. As chronic inflammation is the key to most chronic diseases, honey can help battle it out. It is highly beneficial for conditions such as arthritis, digestive disorders and skin conditions. However, more data is to be collected regarding this aspect.
Honey not only imparts health benefits but it also contributes towards cultural and economic significance. It is used world-wide as a sweetener in baking, cooking and as a condiment. It is used as a preservative due to its high sugar concentration that retards the microbial growth. Economically, the production of honey generates employment in the beekeeping as well as the processing industries. It provides livelihoods for many individuals, simultaneously contributing towards food security. We should be aware and promote that it is essential to maintain sustainable honey production by prioritizing well-being of the bees and conservation of their natural habitat.
Even though, honey has humongous benefits it should not be consumed by individuals who have weak immune system, diabetic patients and children below the age of 1 year old. If infants consume honey, they may sometimes get infant botulism by exposure to spores of Clostridium botulinum which produces toxin in the baby’s intestine. Another huge problem we encounter in the field of honey consumption is the adulteration. They are adulterated by adding water or sugars. Sugars are the main adulterant such as corn syrups, invert sugars and rice syrups. To curb this development, many regulations and standards have been established, one of the most prominent being the FSSAI standards which states 18 parameters for honey.
Conclusively, honey is a versatile natural ingredient that has benefits and potentials in medicine, culinary and balance diet. Whether used as a sweet treat or medicinally, it has stood the test of time, dating back from centuries and still being a beloved and beneficial substance.
(The writer has finished her Bachelors in Food Technology from College of Food Technology CAU, Lamphel, Manipur. The writer can be reached at [email protected])
Honey: Nature’s Guilty Pleasure
By: Tini Thangjam