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What is Honey?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Honey is a sweet, yellow to amber colored, viscous fluid produced by bees. Other insects can also produce the substance, but that made by bees is what most people are familiar with, since it has been consumed for centuries as a sweetener. As an alternative to sugar, honey is a sweet, dense, flavorful food that can vary widely in taste and color, depending on what the bees are eating. Most grocers sell it, since it is a very popular food around the world.

To harvest honey, humans set up apiaries, facilities specifically designed for housing bees. The beekeeper provides a solid structure for the bees to use as a hive, and an assortment of flowers may be planted in the region to flavor the honey and encourage the bees to stay. A colony of bees includes a single queen, an assortment of drones, and a large number of worker bees. The social structure of a hive is actually quite complex, and naturalists have devoted extensive study to the lives of bees and the ways in which they communicate.

Worker bees travel outside the hive to collect nectar from flowers. When they return to the hive, the bees convert the nectar into honey, and store it in waxy combs designed to keep it stable until it is needed. Bees use what they produce as a food source when they have difficulty finding other foods. Humans have also been taking advantage of the substance as a food for thousands of years.

Honey is naturally sweet, and it was the only major sweetener in use among humans for quite some time. It can be used in baking, used as a spread on breads, or added to drinks for additional sweetness. The substance is also used in the manufacture of savory foods, like honey glazed hams. Beekeepers can control the flavor to some extent with plantings of different flowers; as a general rule, the darker the product, the more intense the flavor.

Most vegans do not eat honey, since it is an animal product. Many believe that bees are exploited to make commercial products, since their environment is heavily manipulated. In addition, bees can lose their lives in the commercial industry, due to the way in which they are handled. Most humans overlook these ethical issues, however, including some vegans and vegetarians who are fond of the sweet, flavorful food.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon998734 — On Aug 15, 2017

Honey is not bee vomit. This is something that gets spread around, especially in the vegan literature. Vomit is when we regurgitate the contents of our stomach. Honey bees have a special sac they use to carry nectar, that is not attached to their digestive tract. Honey Bees also have a "pollen basket" which is a concave spot on their hind legs that lets them carry pollen back to the hive, just like the their honey sac allows them to carry nectar. Honey bees don't have hands, after all.

By bagley79 — On Sep 07, 2012

Honey is something that can be used internally and externally. A cup of tea always tastes twice as good with a spoonful of honey in it. I have also used it on burns and wounds for quick healing. It has antibiotic properties that soldiers have used for many years.

You can't argue that honey is an animal product, but the bees are going to make honey whether it is done commercially or not. From what I have learned about honeybees is they make way more honey than they need. The surplus can be removed from the hive as long as they leave enough honey for the bees to eat during the winter.

By Mykol — On Sep 06, 2012

I know a local beekeeper and he told me that honey doesn't spoil. I have been looking for natural products to use instead of white sugar and have been buying honey from him.

I had an old jar of honey on the shelf that had crystallized and I thought it was spoiled. He told me to just warm it up and it would be fine. He also explained to me they found unopened containers of honey in Egyptian tombs that were thousands of years old, and the honey was still good!

By golf07 — On Sep 05, 2012

We raise honeybees and have learned a whole lot about bees and honey in the process. Most people really like the first honey of the season which is usually a very light, sweet honey.

We don't limit our honeybees to certain flowers, but most of the nectar they bring in early in the year is from white clover, and this makes a wonderful tasting honey. Many of our customers will stock up on this sweeter honey.

As the season goes on, the honey tends to get darker in color. In the fall they will often bring in nectar from goldenrod and aster and this is not nearly as sweet tasting. I save this honey and use it specifically for baking.

By andee — On Sep 05, 2012

@anon38787-- I have also heard that local honey is good for people suffering from allergies. I was told if you buy honey from within a few miles of where you live, you can cut down on your allergy symptoms.

The reason for this is because the honey would contain nectar from local flowers which can help you build up an immunity to their allergic reaction. I think the key is to take it consistently. If you just hit and miss, you probably won't notice much difference, but if you take a spoonful or two every day, you should notice that your allergies are not as severe.

This has worked well for my mom anyway. She used to suffer terribly with allergies in the spring and fall. Now she buys natural honey from a local beekeeper and makes sure you uses some every day. Her allergies are not totally gone, but she doesn't have to rely so much on medication to take care of her symptoms.

By anon239988 — On Jan 11, 2012

Honey is not like high fructose corn syrup if it is raw and natural.

By anon140564 — On Jan 07, 2011

Honey is a concentrated solution of fructose and glucose, just like high fructose corn syrup. It's amazing how the perception of each is so different.

By anon127066 — On Nov 15, 2010

Is honey really a bee's vomit? because I'm confused.

By anon95168 — On Jul 11, 2010

honey is bee vomit! Yuck.

By anon72740 — On Mar 24, 2010

Try Honeystix, liquid honey in a straw (37 flavors), a convenient way to be able to take your honey anywhere anytime.

By anon38787 — On Jul 28, 2009

Local raw honey is great for those suffering from respiratory problems. It is a preventative remedy and not a cure all food. For those who have sinus problems honey can be a cure.

By sputnik — On Mar 10, 2008

There are so many benefits of this sweet bee product. It can be used internally and externally. Honey has antibacterial properties, and as such is helpful in healing wounds. It can be applied to a variety of sores and wounds directly, or mixed with other herbs and applied where needed.

Internally honey has soothing effect on nerves, digestive system, and respiratory system. It helps maintain electrolyte balance, therefore it is helpful when diarrhea or vomiting are present. It is kind of a first aid item, valuable to have around the house.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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