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10 Things to know about Bees and Honey

Courtesy of TheraBee Honey
 

Bees are incredible creatures and honey is the liquid gold by-product so many people enjoy for its amazing range of tastes and its substantial health benefits. Like many things here in the wine country of Paso Robles, honey is a must-have staple of our artisan-based culinary toolkit. As beekeepers and the creators of TheraBee, we find that people are becoming increasingly aware of the importance bees have in ensuring the pollination of so many fruits, nuts and vegetables that make up the food on our tables. As we participate in more local events, we find that we spend as much time talking about the bees as we do about our Culinary Honey(TM). Here are 10 things you should know about honey and the bees that create it:

 

1.) Bee Facts | Bees are incredible. Here’s a few one liners you can use at the next cocktail party:
a. It takes 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey
b. One bee makes 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her lifetime
c. A worker bee’s lifespan is 6 weeks, a queen can live up to 4 years
d. A queen bee lays 1,500-2,000 eggs a day
e. The average bee hive contains 20,000 to 60,000 bees, depending on the time of year
f. Bees can flap their wings as fast as 11,000 times per second.
g. Honey bee pollination supports $15 billion worth of agriculture in the U.S.

2.) Are the Bees Dying? | Bees, like many of our natural wildlife have to fight for survival. Bees are “generalist pollinators” and plant diversity is important to their diet, so when they don’t have access to a wide range of pollen and nectar sources, their life span is shortened and their immune system is compromised. Drought, urban growth, mites and monoculture agriculture all put stresses on the bees that make them more susceptible to the detrimental effects of some pesticides. We are lucky that many of the local vineyards have responsible growing practices and are reducing pesticide use and planting flowering hedgerows or ground cover crops like mustards, clover and buckwheat.

3.) Chicks Rule | Did you know that most bees are girls? Yep, in fact, the queen can determine when and if there are male bees (Drones) around since their sole purpose is to mate with virgin queens. Boy bees are lazy! They don’t collect food or pollen, don’t tend to the larvae or the hive and they are taken care of and fed by the rest of the hive (the ladies). But there is a drawback to this easy lifestyle – they are kicked out of the hive and starve to death when food resources are scarce. And to make matters worse, should they be so lucky as to mate with a virgin queen, they die immediately after mating. Ouch!

4.) How do Bees Make Honey? | Bees collect pollen and nectar from flowers, but only the nectar is used make the honey. They use the pollen for their own food. When pollen gets back to the hive after being collected in the pollen sacs of the bees legs, the bees stuff it into a honeycomb cell, add some enzymes (Technically their “spit”) to the pollen and make “bee bread” which is what the bees prefer to eat. Nectar is stored in the bee’s stomach, where it gets broken down into simple sugars, regurgitated, placed into the honeycomb then constantly fanned with their wings to remove moisture and thicken it, thus making honey. Once the honey is dry, or “cured”, the bees cap it with wax. In the winter, when food resources are scares, they will break into the honey and use it for food.

5.) Organic or not? | It is virtually impossible for honey produced by bees in the San Luis Obispo County area, or any other area in the USA, to have true organic certification because it would require the entire surrounding area of a hive be certified as organic and not contain any pesticides or chemicals. Bees will travel as far as they can to find suitable foraging areas and can travel up to 5 miles(!) from their hive to find food. That said, if your honey is raw, unheated and unfiltered, then you can be sure it contains all the natural enzymes and beneficial properties that honey is known for. And that’s what’s important.

6.) Oh... those Allergies | As King Solomon said in the Old Testament: "My son, eat thou honey, for it is good." For thousands of years, honey has been used to treat a variety of ailments from gastrointestinal disease to helping burns and skin wounds heal due to its acidic pH (prevents bacteria growth) and serious antioxidant properties. It’s also true that some people find allergy relief with honey, but you’ll need to ensure it is local (from the county) and eat at least a tablespoon of honey each day. If you stick to this routine, you will notice an improvement within a couple of months.

7.) Spoiler Alert | Raw Honey will never spoil because of its low moisture content, a high PH and a form of naturally occurring hydrogen peroxide. In fact, all of the things bees produce within the hot and humid environment of the beehive (honey, beeswax, propolis, etc) are by nature, naturally anti-bacterial, which is also why you can use raw honey as a topical wound dressing!

8.) My honey is all dried up | Raw, unheated, unfiltered honey will always naturally crystalize. There is nothing wrong with your honey and it actually makes it easier to measure for cooking or for scooping into your coffee or tea. When it does this, the honey is not pourable and it will have a sweet granulated texture. But please don’t microwave your honey… ever, as that will essentially pasteurize the honey and kill all the natural goodness. Just set a pan of water to boil, turn the heat off, place the jar in the water, stir occasionally and let it warm up till it's the desired consistency. The honey will crystalize again, so just do this as often as needed.

9.) Honey and Wine Pairing | Honey and wine are a natural pairing—in fact, the ancient Greeks made a form of wine from honey called mead, where it was believed to be the drink of the gods (Isn’t that still how we classify wine?) Typically honey is not going to be the primary flavor of the foods your enjoying with your wine, be it cheese or meats or a salad, so we always tell people to enjoy the wine you happen to be drinking and make sure it pairs with the primary dish(es) you are serving.

10.) Flavored Honey | Like wine, there are specific varietals of honey that take on colors ranging from almost clear with a mild flavor (Alfalfa) to a dark amber color with a rich buttery taste (Avocado). Here on the central coast you will find a lot Avocado, Eucalyptus, Clover and Sage varietals. At TheraBee, we have created our own special culinary honey flavors which combine pure, raw, unheated, unfiltered honey and culinary herbs, spices and florals to create amazing flavor sensations that add a bit of “wow” to your recipes - such as Cinnamon Vanilla, Ginger Hibiscus and Smoked Tomato and Thai Chile.

To learn more about bees, here are some educational and entertaining films available on Netflix:


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