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The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life

The Science Behind Honey’s Eternal Shelf Life
A slew of factors—its acidity, its lack of water and the presence of hydrogen peroxide—work in perfect harmony, allowing the sticky treat to last forever 

[By Natasha Geiling via smithsonianmag.com]

Modern archeologists, excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, have often found something unexpected amongst the tombs’ artifacts: pots of honey, thousands of years old, and yet still preserved. Through millennia, the archeologists discover, the food remains unspoiled, an unmistakable testament to the eternal shelf-life of honey.

There are a few other examples of foods that keep–indefinitely–in their raw state: salt, sugar, dried rice are a few. But there’s something about honey; it can remain preserved in a completely edible form, and while you wouldn’t want to chow down on raw rice or straight salt, one could ostensibly dip into a thousand year old jar of honey and enjoy it, without preparation, as if it were a day old. Moreover, honey’s longevity lends it other properties–mainly medicinal–that other resilient foods don’t have. Which raises the question–what exactly makes honey such a special food?

The answer is as complex as honey’s flavor–you don’t get a food source with no expiration date without a whole slew of factors working in perfect harmony.

The first comes from the chemical make-up of honey itself. Honey is, first and foremost, a sugar. Sugars are hygroscopic, a term that means they contain very little water in their natural state but can readily suck in moisture if left unsealed. As Amina Harris, executive director of the Honey and Pollination Center at the Robert Mondavi Institute at Univeristy of California, Davis explains, “Honey in its natural form is very low moisture. Very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive in an environment like that, they just die. They’re smothered by it, essentially.” What Harris points out represents an important feature of honey’s longevity: for honey to spoil, there needs to be something inside of it that can spoil. With such an inhospitable environment, organisms can’t survive long enough within the jar of honey to have the chance to spoil.

Honey is also naturally extremely acidic. “It has a pH that falls between 3 and 4.5, approximately, and that acid will kill off almost anything that wants to grow there,” Harris explains. So bacteria and spoil-ready organisms must look elsewhere for a home–the life expectancy inside of honey is just too low.

But honey isn’t the only hygroscopic food source out there. Molasses, for example, which comes from the byproduct of cane sugar, is extremely hygroscopic, and is acidic, though less so than honey (molasses has a pH of around 5.5). And yet–although it may take a long time, as the sugar cane product has a longer shelf-life than fresh produce, eventually molasses will spoil.

So why does one sugar solution spoil, while another lasts indefinitely? Enter bees.

“Bees are magical,” Harris jokes. But there is certainly a special alchemy that goes into honey. Nectar, the first material collected by bees to make honey, is naturally very high in water–anywhere from 60-80 percent, by Harris’ estimate. But through the process of making honey, the bees play a large part in removing much of this moisture by flapping their wings to literally dry out the nectar. On top of behavior, the chemical makeup of a bees stomach also plays a large part in honey’s resilience. Bees have an enzyme in their stomachs called glucose oxidase (PDF). When the bees regurgitate the nectar from their mouths into the combs to make honey, this enzyme mixes with the nectar, breaking it down into two by-products: gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. “Then,” Harris explains, “hydrogen peroxide is the next thing that goes into work against all these other bad things that could possibly grow.”

For this reason, honey has been used for centuries as a medicinal remedy. Because it’s so thick, rejects any kind of growth and contains hydrogen peroxide, it creates the perfect barrier against infection for wounds. The earliest recorded use of honey for medicinal purposes comes from Sumerian clay tablets, which state that honey was used in 30 percent of prescriptions. The ancient Egyptians used medicinal honey regularly, making ointments to treat skin and eye diseases. “Honey was used to cover a wound or a burn or a slash, or something like that, because nothing could grow on it – so it was a natural bandage,” Harris explains.

What’s more, when honey isn’t sealed in a jar, it sucks in moisture. “While it’s drawing water out of the wound, which is how it might get infected, it’s letting off this very minute amount of hydrogen peroxide. The amount of hydrogen peroxide comes off of honey is exactly what we need–it’s so small and so minute that it actually promotes healing.” And honey for healing open gashes is no longer just folk medicinein the past decade, Derma Sciences, a medical device company, has been marketing and selling MEDIHONEY, bandages covered in honey used in hospitals around the world.

If you buy your honey from the supermarket, that little plastic bottle of golden nectar has been heated, strained and processed so that it contains zero particulates, meaning that there’s nothing in the liquid for molecules to crystallize on, and your supermarket honey will look the same for almost forever. If you buy your honey from a small-scale vendor, however, certain particulates might remain, from pollen to enzymes. With these particulates, the honey might crystallize, but don’t worry–if it’s sealed, it’s not spoiled and won’t be for quite some time.

A jar of honey’s seal, it turns out, is the final factor that’s key to honey’s long shelf life, as exemplified by the storied millennia-old Egyptian specimens. While honey is certainly a super-food, it isn’t supernatural–if you leave it out, unsealed in a humid environment, it will spoil. As Harris explains, ” As long as the lid stays on it and no water is added to it, honey will not go bad. As soon as you add water to it, it may go bad. Or if you open the lid, it may get more water in it and it may go bad.”

So if you’re interested in keeping honey for hundreds of years, do what the bees do and keep it sealed–a hard thing to do with this delicious treat!

[Read original article via smithsonianmag.com]

Read full story · Posted in Yay Bees

WATCH: Micro-Science: The Honey Bee [Interactive]

Earth Unplugged:
Did you know a honey bee has hairy eyes? Micro-Science takes you beyond the reach of your own eyes to reveal the tiny details you won’t believe are there.

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2 DAY Queen Rearing Workshop with Les Crowder

If you are interested in the mysterious task of rearing queens perhaps you would like to join Les Crowder and OneStrongHive for a TWO DAY WORKSHOP! We will do some first hand queen cup making, grafting and all that bringing these precious gals into being entails.

This will be a two day workshop on Saturday and Sunday the 8th and 9th of March, from 10:00 AM – 4:30 PM each day. 

The price for the 2 day workshop is $130 and it will take place in Silver Lake, California. Payment can be made in advance with PayPal (payments to: oramomi@gmail.com) or you can pay with cash or check at the workshop in person.

RSVP
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/675162239191982/
Meetup: http://www.meetup.com/HoneyLove/events/165698232/

Queen Rearing Workshop

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HoneyLove Newsletter JANUARY

CLICK BELOW TO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MONTHLY NEWSLETTER!
http://goo.gl/QZxZ3W

January Newsletter 2014

View full newsletter here: http://us5.campaign-archive1.com/?u=bd28d4b1ae114be68c43384ee&id=ac76a82563

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, HoneyLove HQ, HoneyLove Workshops, School Outreach

SAVE THE DATE: 12/10 @ 2:30pm – LA City PLUM Committee BEE VOTE!!

RSVP: Meetup | Facebook
Tuesday, December 10, 2:30PM
@ City Hall (3rd Floor – Public Works Board Meeting Room)
Please come out and show your support for urban beekeeping in Los Angeles!
And if you haven’t done so already, please sign our petition and send a quick email of support!!

Sanctuary Group Jump 2013

Read full story · Posted in News, Yay Bees

LISTEN: "Guerrilla Beekeeping in L.A." via KQED Public Radio

Interview by Colin Berry.
The California Report is a production of KQED Public Radio.

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Commercial honeybee colonies around the world are collapsing, and scientists are trying to figure out why. The good news? Bees are thriving in urban areas. In California, San Francisco, San Jose, and other big cities have laws that allow beekeeping. Los Angeles could be next, if a coalition of amateur beekeepers has anything to say about it. Reporter: Colin Berry

Deep in a sunny backyard in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake district, a colony of 50,000 Western honeybees is getting oriented to its new surroundings. Yesterday, the swarm was living under the eaves of a house in Whittier, some 20 miles away. But they’re here today because Walker Rollins and Kirk Anderson took the time to remove them — humanely.

Anderson and Rollins are members of a club called Backwards Beekeepers, which relocates bee swarms and colonies in L.A. several times a week. Yet in doing so, they’re breaking the law, because beekeeping here is illegal, and the city’s most common tactic in dealing with feral bees is to exterminate them.

Anderson says most people with a bad opinion about feral bees have barely any experience working with them. “Bees are like people,” he said. “Everybody has a bad day. If a beehive has a bad day, people want to have it destroyed. If a person has a bad day, they put them on Oprah.”

But many Angelenos are frightened of bees, and might be uneasy with the thought of 50,000 of them living next door. Ron Lorenzen, an urban forestry manager for the city, says that while he wouldn’t oppose a law allowing beekeeping in residential areas, his own agency’s rationale for eradicating bees on public property is based on evidence of a dangerous new hybrid.

“I’m not a bee professional, but a pest control adviser [in our office] said that 80 percent of the hives they’re finding are actually Africanized colonies. Evidently the bees are becoming more homogenous.”

Africanized bee colonies have been associated with the “killer” bees that have recently attacked people and animals, causing some fatalities. Western honeybees are considered less aggressive.

Backwards Beekeeper co-founder Kirk Anderson, who’s raised bees for 45 years, thinks what Lorenzen says is nonsense. Bees aren’t pests, Anderson says, and relying on pest experts to determine a city’s bee policy is ludicrous.

“All bees are defensive,” he explained. “There’s always been mean bees, and they can be mean for different reasons. By understanding them, you can do things so you don’t trigger their meanness or their defensive actions.”

Across the city, Rob and Chelsea McFarland run a nonprofit called Honey Love. After piloting feasibility studies and launching petitions, the McFarlands have begun lobbying the city’s 95 neighborhood councils to make beekeeping legal in L.A.

“We go on right after the ordinances for much heavier topics like gangs and drugs,” Chelsea said. “We go up and we’re like, ‘Yay bees!’ and they’re like, ‘You guys are the most delightful ordinance we’ve ever had to vote on.’”

These guerrilla beekeepers believe that cities, with their diverse vegetation and lack of agricultural pesticides, are the bees’ best bet for countering colony collapse disorder (CCD), and that legalizing bees in L.A. would be a big win for everybody. (CCD is a phenomenon where honeybees abandon their hives; it has been on the increase in recent years and is significant economically because many crops worldwide are pollinated by honeybees.)

Rob McFarland says that encouraging people to keep honeybees in cities makes them safer from factors that are endangering the insects commercially.

Rob and Chelsea McFarland have the support of 11th District city council member Mike Bonin. His proposal — allowing beekeeping in single-family neighborhoods — is moving through the Planning Commission and could be up for a vote in as few as five months.

“Currently, we allow single-family homes to do truck gardening — growing berries, flowers, fruits, herbs, mushrooms and nuts for private use or for sale at farmers’ markets,” Bonin explained. “This proposal would afford the same opportunity for beekeeping.”

Beekeeping is legal in San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento. Russell Bates, who founded Backwards Beekeepers with his wife, Amy Seidenwurm, and Kirk Anderson, says interest in beekeeping is rising all over California, especially in urban areas where people are passionate about local agriculture and sustainability.

“We’ve seen it on the rise in Arcata and Berkeley and Oakland,” he said. “It bubbles up wherever people are curious about how to be more in tune with nature.”

Officials estimate there are 10 colonies of feral bees in every square mile of L.A. With support for the new law beginning to swarm, the state’s biggest city could be bee-friendly by this time next year.

[view original post via californiareport.org]

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLove Buzz, HoneyLove Interviews

WATCH: Bob Redmond and the Flight Path project

Interview by Rob McFarland—HoneyLove.org

FLIGHT PATH PROJECT 
Produced by The Common Acre with support from the Port of Seattle and Urban Bee Company, the project will turn scrub land into pollinator habitat, and transform a corner of the airport concourse (Terminal “Bee,” naturally) into a sparkling art and education exhibit.

Core co-producers are Bob Redmond, Kate Fernandez, Rod Hatfield, Amy Baranski, and Charlie Spitzack, with collective experience managing and directing programs at some of Seattle’s most established organizations including Bumbershoot, Town Hall Seattle, Experience Music Project, Smoke Farm, the Capitol Hill Arts Center, Spaceboat, and others. We will involve 30 – 40 regional artists, with additional involvement from local scientists, engineers, and designers.

The Port of Seattle is the nation’s 15th busiest airport, with 34 million visitors per year. This project was inspired by related work in Chicago, as well as Frankfurt, Germany, and Düsseldorf, Germany.

Urban Bee Company is a progressive urban agricultural organization in Seattle, with a focus on bees, habitat, and sustainable agriculture. They deliver honey by bicycle and operate numerous apiaries in community gardens.

For more information please check out CommonAcre.org

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PHOTOS: School Outreach in Manhattan Beach

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Thank you to Susan for doing another awesome school outreach in Manhattan Beach! YAY BEES!

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Join the HoneyLove School Outreach Team!
Interested in helping to spread a buzz for bees at local Los Angeles schools? We are starting a new task force to visit 50 schools in 2014 and WE NEED YOUR HELP!
HoneyLove will provide outreach materials to all volunteers who complete the training!

Contact us and let us know you are interested in learning how to volunteer! outreach@honeylove.org

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Gunther Hauk Interview by Focus on Food


Spikenard Farms Radio
Listen to the latest Focus On Food interview with renowned biodynamic beekeeper Gunther Hauk via instituteofurbanecology.org

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Flash Mob: National Honey Bee Day Waggle Dance

On August 17th HoneyLovers, beekeepers and honey bee enthusiasts across the country celebrated National Honey Bee Day to honor nature’s hardest working insect, and HoneyLove decided to celebrate with a Waggle Dance Flash Mob. We choreographed a routine and invited everyone to participate in person or by uploading a video. Special THANK YOU goes out to LUSH Cosmetics and all who joined in the festivities to help make it the best National Honey Bee Day EVER!!!

MUSIC: “When You’re Smiling” by the Leftover Cuties: http://goo.gl/eiGBR

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel HERE: http://full.sc/MRAY21

 

Read full story · Posted in HoneyLovin, Yay Bees