The worker bees use their long, tube-like tongues to suck nectar out of flowers and plants, which they then collect in their 'honey stomachs'. Bees are perfectly equipped to carry out this job, as in addition to the regular stomach, they have a stomach, which is meant especially to store the nectar they collect.
It has the capacity to store almost 70 mg of nectar and when full, almost equals the weight of the bee. On an average, bees visit between 100 and 1500 flowers, in order to fill their honey stomachs.
Once the bees return to the hive with the nectar, it is passed on to the other worker bees, who suck the nectar from the bee's stomach using their mouths. They then 'chew' the nectar for a while, and this is when the bees' digestive enzymes break down the complex sugars into simple sugars.
This ensures that the honey stored within the hive is easily digestible for the bees, and less likely to be attacked by bacteria. It is then stored in cells throughout the comb. At this point, the nectar still has a fairly high water content, which causes the natural yeasts to ferment the sugars.
Thus, the next stage has all the bees fanning the nectar with their wings, which creates a draft and helps the excess water to evaporate. The nectar thus becomes thicker, and the high sugar concentration prevents fermentation.
The honey at this stage is called ripe honey, and if removed from the hive and properly sealed, can have a long shelf life. The bees then seal off the cells with wax and the honey is stored until needed.
While we are most accustomed to see this product available as bottles of golden syrup, it is also available in some other forms. In one of the forms, called comb honey, entire pieces of honey heavy combs are sold, as well as in jars with a few chunks of the comb included.
Organic honey, often considered the purest form, is made according to strict regulations. Other forms are crystallized, pasteurized, raw, strained, ultrafiltered, whipped, and dried honey.
Bees create honey as a food for lean times. In seasons when food is scarce, they use this stored stuff to sustain themselves. A colony of bees eat between 120 to 200 pounds of honey annually. Commercial beekeepers house bees in hives, boxes, or other receptacles.
They encourage overproduction of honey within the hive, and harvest the excess without putting the bees in danger. Beekeeping is catching on as a hobby as well, with an increasing number of people, who have an active interest in ecology and natural science, owning a few hives.
If beekeeping piques your interest, and you are wondering how to start beekeeping, there are plenty of books available, as well as information on the Internet. Armed with the information on beekeeping techniques, and the right equipment, you can make your own honey.
The health benefits of honey are abundant, as is its nutritional value. It is also an important ingredient in foods and beverages such as tea. Some of our favorite meals, such as pancakes and waffles, would certainly be incomplete without it.