What Is Real Honey Made Of?​

Honey is made with the nectar of a flowering plant. Field bees collect nectar from flowers using their tongue. They suck out the sugary liquid and save it in their bellies until they return home to their hive. Once they return, they turn the nectar into honey. 

What is honey made of that makes it different from nectar and different from commercial sweeteners? Let’s find out.

What Is Honey Made Of?

Honey is a carbohydrate that’s ripened in the belly of bees. It’s made of mostly sugar. The super-saturated sugar solution also has water, amino acids, proteins, trace minerals, and aroma compounds like phenols. 

The specific make-up of different types of honey is conditional. Factors like climate, environment, pollen source, and the process of ripening impact ratios like sugar-water content in the end product. 

The beekeeper also plays a role. Harvesting at the optimum times influences the components in honey. If harvested early, the water content may be higher than intended. Wait too long and some of your honey may crystallize. In both of these scenarios, viscosity and quality may be affected.

What Sugar Is Honey Made Of?

The main sugars in honey are easily digestible simple sugars, like those found in fruit. These simple sugars are dextrose and levulose. They also go by their more common names of glucose (dextrose) and fructose (levulose). 

There are 22 other complex sugars that may be found in honey in differing, but always small, amounts. 

Sucrose is one of those 22 as it is one of the main ingredients in nectar. Maltose, which is a mix of sugars, is also often found in honey. The rest of the complex sugars are sometimes referred to as “honey dextrin.”

Most of the complex sugars aren’t found naturally in nectar. Instead, they’re thought to be introduced in the fermentation process by an enzyme or during chemical processes occurring in the honey itself. The simple sugars, glucose and fructose, are a result of an enzyme introduced in ripening. This splits sucrose from a complex form into its simple forms.

Is Honey Mostly Water and Sugar?

Once bees deposit digested honey into the comb, they fan the combs with their wings to evaporate water. From nectar to honey, the water content is very different. Nectar is about 80% water, making it much more fluid. Honey, as we know, is a very viscous product, with about 13–25 percent of its make-up being water. 

Water highly affects spoilage as yeast in honey grows more in water. The result is that higher water content can cause more risk for fermentation and spoilage.

What Is Honey Made of Chemically?

There are chemical components of honey that serve key roles in its value to us as consumers. 

Acidity is one of the elements that add notes of flavor to honey and affect its pH levels. Lactone, gluconic, and formic acid are some of the main acidic components. The acid in honey actually provides protection from microorganisms, which keeps the food from spoiling. 

Honey has proteins that are mainly in the form of enzymes, which act as catalysts. There are eight to eleven proteins found in honey, among which four are common in almost all honey types. These four enzymes are added to the honey from the bees themselves during the ripening process:

  • Invertase
  • Diastase
  • Glucose oxidase
  • Catalase

Invertase splits sucrose into dextrose and levulose. Diastase converts starch to maltose and helps stabilize honey in storage. Glucose oxidase and catalase form hydrogen peroxide, which is the antibacterial component of honey. 

Organic compounds, often called honey volatiles, create a variety of smells in honey. The compounds come from both bees and the flowering blooms that provided nectar.

The volatiles that specifically comes from plants, like terpenes, norisoprenoids and benzene, are used to determine where honey originates. The plant compounds point to plant species that allow scientists to pinpoint geographical origins. 

Is Honey Anti-Inflammatory?

Components that aid positive health effects can be found in honey and/or its plant extracts. The earliest use of honey medicinally is from 6,000 years ago. Almost all major religious texts also mention honey as a valuable medicine. There are many reported health benefits of honey::

  • Antibacterial
  • Antiviral
  • Antifungal 
  • Antitumor
  • Antioxidant 
  • Anti-inflammatory

What Is Fake Honey Made Of?

Fake honey is increasingly popular because there’s a lot of money to be made in the health-conscious market. Table sugar, molasses, corn powder, coloring and gelatin are often the culprit components found in fake honey.

Now that you know what honey is made of, it would be hard to argue that a product made from the ingredients above could be called honey. However, what about adulterated honey?

Adulterants can also be added by heat to honey. The most common sources of adulterants are sugar cane, sugar beet syrup, maltose syrup, and high fructose corn syrup. 

How Do You Know the Real Honey?

It’s actually harder than you might think to be able to tell real versus fake honey when you’re buying it from the store. Labels on products are misleading and are often, unfortunately, a lie, as is the case with many products, not just honey in the market. 

One proven way to detect real honey from fake honey is a laboratory test called the attenuated total reflectance Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy and chemometric method. This involves reading the wavelengths of the chemical components of honey to determine where it fits in a spectrum that determines the authenticity of the sample.

When it comes to a visual inspection, it’s pretty difficult. The factors that make up a honey of the highest quality and those that help you determine a “fake” honey have some overlap. 

To tell a honey of the highest quality, look for the following:

  • No extra matter, like extreme pollen, powder, and propolis
  • Zero fermentation
  • Water content in acceptable levels
  • Fair taste and smell, no off-tastes or aroma from another source

To find a fake honey, you also look for one that doesn’t have any ‘extra matter.’ On the other hand, some real honey might be expected to have some of these elements, especially pollen, in the end product. The guidelines for visual review of authenticity can be contradictory. 

Honey Is More Complex Than It Seems

Honey is a complex organic product. Composed of seemingly simple ingredients, you would never imagine that honey would be so widespread. With the application of honey in medicine and its sophisticated replication as a falsified product, the layers of the beehive go deeper than they first appear.

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