It’s impossible to say exactly how long honey has been around; in fact, there’s a record of it in prehistoric cave drawings, as well as in the Bible. Throughout history, honey has become an incredibly popular substance for sweeteners, beauty products, or medicinal purposes. This delicious substance is now much more readily available than ever before, and it continues to grow in popularity. Whether you love honey or have never tried it, take a look at what the current supply chain means for honey production.
COVID-19 and the Supply Chain
It’s no secret that COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the entire world, but you may not know how it affected bees, beekeepers, and honey production as a result. Because of all the travel and production restrictions, many beekeepers weren’t able to get the bees they needed to start their colonies or keep their existing ones alive. Although a decrease in honey wasn’t the main shortage the United States experienced during the pandemic, diminished bee populations may have been a potential cause of some of the other food shortages.
The pandemic resulted in a slow, unconventional supply chain for almost everything. Now that we’re on the upswing from the worst of the worst, we can expect to see steady increases in the bee population and honey production. Although the bee population recovered from these circumstances, it may not bounce back the next time an unexpected disaster plagues the world.
The Honey Production Process
Now that you know how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the bees and their honey production, you should understand the honey production process itself. Whether you’re a bee expert or just curious about these remarkable insects, you should read on to learn more about honeybee operations within the hive.
Believe it or not, honeybees are the most vital players in the honey supply chain, and they start it all. They work by collecting pollen and nectar from nectar-rich plants and trees and storing it in their sac, which is basically a honey stomach. As they store the nectar in their sac, their little bodies mix it with special enzymes that change the pH and chemical composition to help preserve the nectar.
Next, the worker bees return to their hive to start the regurgitation process. This sound worse than it is; in fact, this is the process that transforms nectar into honey. The regurgitation process is when the bee passes the nectar from its honey stomach to other bees, until they transform the substance into simple sugars.
The bees pass the nectar around to one another until they decrease the water content from about 80% down to approximately 20%. From there, they deposit the sweet substance into the honeycomb cells. Because the nectar still contains too much water, they fan the substance with their wings until more of the water evaporates, bringing the water content down to around 15%. Once they fully transform nectar into honey, they use beeswax to cap the honeycomb cells and save their freshly-made honey for later.
Believe it or not, killing the bees used to be the best way to remove the honey from the hive. Thankfully, a beekeeper invented a better and safer method back in the 1850s: removable bee nuc frames. Beekeepers still use this method today, and they remove the honey frames from the hive and gently shake the bees from the frame back into the hive.
However, there is another method to separate the bees from the honey: the separator board method. The beekeeper puts a separation board between the honey and brood frames. Once the bees realize they’re apart from their queen, they’ll escape to the brood frame. However, they won’t be able to get to the honey frames any longer. After a few hours, the honey will be ready for extraction.
The beekeeper can remove the beeswax caps manually with a capping fork or heated blade. On the other hand, they can also use an uncapping machine—this is only common for mass honey production. Beekeepers can extract the honey using either the crush-and-strain method or an extractor machine. Interestingly, extractor machines use centrifugal force to remove honey from the honeycomb by spinning it until all the honey sinks to the bottom of the holding drum.
Most of the honey you see on grocery store shelves goes through extensive processing. Honey processors first heat the sweet substance to 120 degrees, and then up to 165 degrees. After heating it, they must allow the honey to cool before bottling.
Unfortunately, processing diminishes many of honey’s healthy properties, making it less valuable for many people. Luckily, many companies and private beekeepers sell raw wholesale honey, meaning it hasn’t undergone processing.
Honey Fraudulent Activity
Believe it or not, the honey supply chain is especially susceptible to fraudulent activity. Honey is one of the most faked foods in the world because it requires such a unique process to produce. This activity includes selling multifloral honey as single source honey at a steep price, adding artificial syrups to increase sweetness, and using synthetic honey evaporation methods.
Lack of Supply Chain Transparency
Because honey fraud is very popular in China and other parts of the world, it’s extremely difficult to pinpoint fraudulent activity and recognize fake honey. Suppose the United States imports honey from China; we can expect potential issues with its authenticity. However, if a European country imports honey from China, it can rebrand it as European honey. As a result, the United States could accidentally import fraudulent Chinese honey because they imported it from Europe.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to guarantee you’re getting authentic honey besides buying it directly from local beekeepers and farmers. This debacle wouldn’t be an issue if there wasn’t a massive glitch in the honey supply chain transparency.
After learning what the current supply chain means for honey production, you can see why it’s best to buy raw honey from local beekeepers or certified honey resellers. Honey is a precious gift from bees, and we shouldn’t take it for granted. Buying and consuming authentic honey is the only way to ensure you get the best nutrients and health benefits from the sweet nectar.