Honey, a pure, natural sweetener prepared by bees from nectar collected from wild and cultivated flowers, was the first sweetener known to man. It is frequently mentioned in the Bible and depicted in cave paintings from prehistoric times. Early civilizations, like the Greeks and Romans, called honey, "the nectar of the gods". It has been said that honey bees were not native to North America; and that early settlers brought bee colonies to the East Coast States. Native Americans termed them the "white man's fly".
When bees have access to large areas of one kind of flower, such as clover, basswood, goldenrod, or buckwheat, they produce honey with a flavor and color typical of that particular plant. Bees also make natural blends of honey from many different flowers in areas where no one flower predominates. Honeys are also blended during packing to produce a pleasing taste combination that can be duplicated throughout the year.
To make honey from nectar, honey bees evaporate much of the moisture and add compounds called enzymes that change the composition of the nectar. Some of the complex sugars are broken down into simpler ones; and some of the sugar is converted into an edible acid called gluconic acid. This process helps to give honey it's distinctive taste. When the moisture content of the honey is reduced to about 17%, the bees fill the small cells of the comb and seal them with a white beeswax capping. We can then remove the sealed combs from the beehives to use them on our table as comb honey or to have them extracted for use as liquid honey. You need not worry about eating the wax with the honey because beeswax is a completely wholesome product.
Honey flavors range from mild and bland to strong and pungent. The color ranges from black to white. Pigment (color) begins in the nectar at the plant and is transported back to the hive. It is intensified by the natural process that the bees put it through (reducing the moisture level, etc.). Darker colored honey does not mean lesser quality; it means a different source of nectar and a different taste of honey.
Comb Honey (honeycomb)
Direct from the hive honey-filled beeswax comb as stored naturally by the bees.
Liquid Honey (extracted)
Prepared by cutting off the wax cappings and whirling the comb in a honey extractor, where centrifugal force moves the honey out of the cells.
Creamed Honey (granulated)
Made by blending one part finely granulated honey with nine parts liquid honey. The mixture is stored at about 57 degrees until it becomes firm.
Comb honey in a jar with liquid honey poured around it.
Production of Honey
Comb honey requires no extraction equipment and its production is often practiced by newcomers to the craft, for the first few seasons of operation. It can be done with any type of hive including Top Bar Hives. There may be no equipment required, but the beekeeper is selling his comb along with his honey crop which may be a disadvantage if beeswax is required as a crop or useful by-product.
Squeezing and straining... Is where the comb is cut up into chunks, placed in a cloth bag and the contents squeezed so that the honey p through the cloth and drains into a suitable container. This may be the only way to harvest some types of thixotropic honey like ****.
Sections whether round, square or rectangular can be very profitable, provided that your customers are educated enough and understand the value of good quality sections. Cassette sections also come into this category and are gaining in popularity among both beekeepers and their customers.
The majority of honey in the western world is 'extracted honey' that is put into various containers and jars. The combs are reusable and can be considered a capital resource. I have heard stories of extracting combs that are fifty years old and still going strong.
The 'extractors' page covers wax extractors as well as honey extractors and various methods of extraction.
The treatment of extracted honey to remove foreign bodies is dealt with under filtration.
Creaming and homogenizing are methods of dealing with crystallized or granulated honey.
Quoting from [Usama El Kady]:
The main honey producing countries are China, Argentina, the US, Turkey,
Ukraine and Mexico. Together they concentrate 48% of world production. China stands out with a production three times as large as that of Argentina.
China is also the world's largest producer of honey and the largest single importer of the golden sweet to the USA, said Bruce Boynton of the National Honey Board. Almost 19% of the honey consumed in the USA comes from China.
Americans ate 400 million pounds of honey in 2006, 70% of which was imported. Much of China's population is still engaged in rural agriculture, of which bees are an integral part. The second-largest exporter to the USA was Argentina, which supplies about 16% of honey consumed here, Boynton said.