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Direct sale of honey and honey advertising sign from a beekeeper

Honey ( Latin and pharmacist linguistically Mel ) is one of honeybees produced for own food provisions and occupied by human food from the nectar of flowers or the sugary excretions of various insects , called honeydew .


Sucking honey bee on the calyx of the goldenrod
Tree lice on the perennial wood of the spruce
Honeycomb with partially capped honey cells

The creation of honey consists of the honey preparation and the subsequent honey ripening. The most important raw material for making honey is nectar - a sugary juice that flowering plants separate from their nectaries . Honeydew is another essential source in some, mainly temperate climatic regions of the world , which is especially available in large quantities when there is one of the recurring mass reproductions of various aphids and scale insects . Forest honey, for example, is mainly produced from the excretions of tree lice . Extra-floral nectaries (outside of flowers) also play a role less often, for example the secretion of sap from the leaf axil in maize .

These raw materials for honey preparation are collected by certain worker bees, which ingest the sugar juices with their proboscis and store them temporarily in the honey bladder . As soon as it is consumed, enzymes from the fodder glands are added to the juice . The added enzymes are glucosidases and amylases . Amylases break down long-chain carbohydrates like the polysaccharide starch into short-chain carbohydrates. Short-chain carbohydrates are in turn broken down by glucosidases into monosaccharides such as grape sugar ( glucose ) and fruit sugar ( fructose ). The sugar industry uses a similar mechanism in the production of artificial honey .

In the honey bladder, which is also called the honey stomach, the added enzymes convert the sap into an early form of unripe honey, which differs from ripe honey in its higher content of water, sucrose and amylase, among other things .

When the foraging bees arrive back in the beehive , they pass the unfinished honey from their honey bladder on to hive bees, who transport it several times over time by absorbing it into their bodies and releasing it again. During transport to the beehive and when moving, acids, enzymes and other proteins from the bees get into the nectar and cause an inversion of sucrose, isomerization of glucose to fructose and the formation of higher saccharides . In addition, the nectar is thickened, and so-called inhibins are created , a general name for substances that inhibit the growth of yeast and bacteria.

The water content is reduced in two steps: First, a drop of nectar is let out several times through the trunk and sucked in again. Then, from a water content of 30 to 40%, the already processed and somewhat thickened nectar is spread over and also in the brood nest in empty honeycomb cells. The cells are only partially filled in order to create the largest possible evaporation surface. The further evaporation of the water is now accelerated by fanning with the wings. For example, at night the stick air is exchanged with cooler and drier ( absolute humidity ) outside air, which is heated to approximately the temperature of the brood nest. Ultimately, a water content of less than 20% is achieved, usually 18% or even a little less. This completes the drying process of the honey by the bees.

The now finished honey is carried around again and stored in storage cells above the brood nest, where it is covered with an air-impermeable layer of wax . Beekeepers refer to this process as capping. For them it is the sign that the honey is ripe and can be harvested. With some traditional plants (heather) and so-called mass costume ( rape), honey can arise that still has a water content above the desired value of 18% ( DIB regulation) or is even in the range of fermentability of over 20%. Therefore, it is safer for a honey harvest to check the water content beforehand with a refractometer .

Honey is generally only produced when a sufficient quantity per unit of time is brought home by the foraging bees into the beehive. This must be higher than the current self-consumption, which is necessary for feeding the bee colony and for rearing the brood. The beekeeper then speaks of a blossom or honey dew. So only surpluses are processed for storage and finally stored as honey.

In Australia, Asia and America not only the honey from the western honeybees , which is also native to us, is used. Also exotic bee species provide there quality honeys, which are rare specialties, but so far hardly get into international trade.


History of use and culture

Honey hunter on about 8000 year old cave paintings from the Cuevas de la Araña near Valencia (Spain)
Hortus sanitatis , Mainz 1491. Illustration to the chapter Mel - Honey

Already in the Stone Age people used honey as food, as 9000 year old Stone Age cave paintings with "honey hunters" show. At first it was the only sweetener . Honey taken from the wild bee colonies was also used as bait in bear hunting. Australian petroglyphs show that the Aborigines collected bush honey from stingless bees as early as prehistoric times.

The origin of house beekeeping with planned honey production is in the 7th millennium BC. In Anatolia . During excavations of pharaohs tombs in Egypt honey was found as a burial object. Around 3000 BC In ancient Egypt, honey was considered to be “the food of the gods” and a source of immortality: a pot of honey had a value comparable to that of a donkey. Around 400 BC In BC, Hippocrates taught that honey ointments reduced fevers and that honey water improved athletes' performance in the ancient Olympics .

According to Augustine , honey is an image of God's tenderness and goodness. The healing properties of honey are described in the Koran . In the 16th sura ( an-Nahl, in German: Die Biene), verses 68-69, it is reported that “the bee was commanded by inspiration to eat of all fruits and thereby make honey and that the honey for has a healing effect on people ”. In a cookbook from 1547 the author also speaks of the effects assumed at the time: "Rose honey strengthens and cleanses the stomach / from bad moisture / cleans and heals heavy / Feul and damage to the mouth / gums / throat and gurgling".

Before sugar was produced industrially from sugar beets , honey was an important, and often the only, sweetener. As a result of the development of processes for the production of household sugar (pure sucrose ) from sugar beet and sugar cane, honey has largely been supplanted in this regard. In the modern, processing food industry , it hardly plays a role anymore. Nevertheless, honey is still valued as a food, for example as a sweet spread or as an alternative to industrially produced household sugar.

Word origin

The German word honey comes from an old Indo-European term, which refers to the color as the "gold-colored". In Middle High German it was called honec and honey , in Old High German it was called honag and its variants. The Germanic languages all know the word, for example English honey, Dutch honing, Low German Honnig, Swedish honung, Danish honning, Swiss German Hung and Luxembourgish Hunneg . In other Indo-European languages ​​the correspondences of two other roots can be found. One can be found in Sanskrit मधु madhu for “honey, mead”, Lithuanian medus “honey” and Tocharian for “honey”; Many Slavic languages ​​also know the term “med” for honey. The German term Met for honey wine probably goes back to this. The Chinese 蜜 ( Middle Chinese mjit ) is probably derived from the Tocharian term “with” . In the Latin language, mel stands for honey, which is where the terms in modern Romance languages come from. The zoological name of the (western) honey bee is Apis mellifera .

Extraction and processing


Honey extractor with honeycombs in the centrifugal basket; Extracted honey runs through a sieve into the honey bucket

Honey is used for human consumption

  • obtained by beekeepers who care for the bee colonies.
  • Or you can get it through "robbery", that is, looking for wild beehives, as is customary among primitive peoples .
  • In Europe, honey was also harvested from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century by the Zeidler (commercial search for wild bees).

The honey is extracted from the honeycomb in a special centrifuge , a so-called " honey extractor ", at ambient temperature. One of the things that is more important for preserving the ingredients in honey is cool storage. If possible, honey should not be heated above 40 ° C so that the ingredients are retained.

A specialty is the extraction of heather honey because of its jelly-like consistency . Traditionally, in heather beekeeping , this is pressed. For this purpose, cut-out, unhoused honeycomb pieces are wrapped in tear-resistant cloths and pressed using a screw press at room temperature. In modern beekeeping , this honey is also thrown out. To do this, the honey is "dipped" and the room temperature is increased to 25 to 30 ° C by heating. The loosening of the honey by pinching is based on the fact that small metal pins are pressed several times into the individual honey cells and pulled out again, whereby the middle wall is not pierced. The metal pins can also be heated.

Processing grades

Removing the wax lid prior to spinning by means of deheader fork
Beekeeper decapping

There are different types of honey depending on how the honey is extracted.

Centrifugal honey
It is obtained by hurling the previously uncovered honeycomb in a honey extractor using centrifugal force . Centrifugal honey has been the most common type of honey since the beginning of the 20th century.
Sliced ​​honey
Disc honey consists of unincubated pieces of honeycomb that are purely natural, i.e. completely made by the bees themselves, without a honeycomb structure.
Honeycomb honey
This is similar to honeycomb, but the honeycomb construction may contain so-called middle walls, pressed wax sheets given by the beekeeper to the colony as a “building template”.

However, the German Honey Ordinance (HonigV) does not differentiate between honeycomb and honeycomb honey. Both terms are used synonymously here.

Seim, drip, pressed or mashed honey
These were widespread until the advent of the honey extractor, today they hardly exist anymore. The honey is extracted from the honeycomb by draining or squeezing it.
Cold-hurled honey
"Cold-hurled honey" is a misleading term for honey that has no heat damage. Honey is generally thrown above the temperature in the beehive without heating (the honeycomb). Originally, the addition meant that the honey had much better values ​​than the legal provisions in the earlier Honey Ordinance in terms of the quality features water content and ferment content (like a cold-pressed vegetable oil compared to hot-pressed vegetable oil ) . This additional designation is no longer permitted in Germany according to the Honey Ordinance, which has been in force since January 2004. With the introduction of the honey extractor, heating honey has not been necessary for more than 100 years.


Nutritional value per 100 g of blossom honey
Calorific value 1282 kJ (302 kcal)
water 16-23 g
protein 0.38 g
carbohydrates 77-84 g
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamin B 1 3.0 µg
Vitamin B 2 50.0 µg
Vitamin B 6 159.0 µg
vitamin C 2.4 mg
Calcium 6.0 mg
iron 1.3 mg
magnesium 1.6 mg
sodium 2.4 mg
phosphorus 4.9 mg
potassium 45 mg
zinc 350 µg
In honey occurring
sugars and their percentage
content in honey
Structural formula of α-D-fructofuranose
Structure of sucrose
up to 5%
Structure of maltose
up to 5%
Honeycomb honey

Honey is a thick to solid, partly crystallized substance, which mainly consists of the sugars fructose (fruit sugar, 27 to 44%) and glucose (grape sugar, 22 to 41%) as well as water (15 to 21%, heather honey up to 23%) . Fructose usually outweighs glucose: on average, it contains around 38% fructose and 30% glucose. With some types of honey, however, the composition differs significantly, for example the ratio of fructose to glucose in rapeseed honey is around 1.5: 1. Honey also contains small amounts of sucrose , maltose , melezitose and other di- and oligosaccharides , pollen , minerals , proteins , Enzymes , amino acids , vitamins , coloring and flavoring substances . The density of honey is around 1.4 kg / l, depending on the water content. The nutritional value of honey results primarily from its high sugar content, as well as from the minerals and enzymes it contains. Vitamins are usually not found in significant concentrations. Certain types of honey from mountain regions, which have a high vitamin C content of 116–240 mg per 100 g, are an exception. Such honey is made from the nectar of mint and thyme flowers and is extracted in Iran, for example. The relatively long shelf life of most honeys is based on their high sugar and low water content, which prevent bacteria and other microorganisms (e.g. yeast) from multiplying by osmotically inhibiting them. The color of a honey can vary from white to light yellow, yellow, beige, brown and greenish-black. Like the taste, it depends on the flowers visited or the honeydew collected . The consistency of honey ranges from thin to creamy to firm. It depends on the fructose-glucose ratio and how the honey is processed and stored. If stored for a long time, liquid honey can crystallize out and become solid; however, the fructose-glucose ratio is primarily responsible for the tendency to crystallize. If this is about 1: 1, crystallization takes place within a few days. With honeydew honeys, such as fir honey, the ratio is around 1.6: 1. This honey remains liquid for months or even years. Crystallized honey can be liquefied again by heating; However, longer storage at high temperatures leads to faster aging, and heating above 40 ° C destroys important nutritionally valuable ingredients. In addition, higher temperatures promote the formation of HMF , a breakdown product of many sugary foods with potentially harmful effects. Honey also contains 1–14% multiple sugars . In addition, saccharase (20–200 U / kg), glucose oxidase (10–300 U / kg), phosphatase (7–40 U / kg) and amylase are contained as enzymes .

Economical meaning

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization FAO, around 1.9 million tons of honey were harvested worldwide in 2017 .

Harvest quantities 2017 (in tons)
rank country amount
1 China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China People's Republic of China 543,000
2 TurkeyTurkey Turkey 114,471
3 ArgentinaArgentina Argentina 76,379
4th IranIran Iran 69,699
5 United StatesUnited States United States 66,968
19th GermanyGermany Germany 20,392
44 AustriaAustria Austria 5,800
63 SwitzerlandSwitzerland Switzerland 3,084
world 1,860,712


Turned honey spoon ("honey lifter")

As food

The per capita consumption in Germany is around 1 kg per year. In 2010, the honey harvest exceeded the 20,000 ton mark for the first time in three years.

The honey requirement in Germany is only covered to 20% with German honey. In 2010, minus exports, Germany imported around 69,000 tons of honey from around 35 countries inside and outside the European Union. The main supplier country is Argentina , followed by Mexico , Chile and Uruguay . The ten most important supplier countries have a total share of around 80%. With a total of 21,346 tons, the member states of the EU have a share of around 25% of honey imports in Germany. Argentina has been Germany's main supplier of honey for years. A good 25% of all deliveries come from this country in South America. The import volumes are declining, especially due to poor harvests, and amount to around 22,000 tons today (2012). Mexico kept its delivery volume for Germany stable despite a moderate harvest. With around 13,000 tons and a share of around 15% of total imports, Mexico is the second most important supplier of honey for Germany. Of the other Central and South American countries, Chile (8.3% import share), Uruguay (5.5%), Brazil (5.4%) and Cuba (3.7%) are particularly noteworthy.

Complete honeycombs, i.e. wax with honey and brood, serve as food in Africa and other indigenous peoples (about insects as food, see entomophagy in humans ).

Types of honey

Honeys of various botanical origins differ from one another not only in taste, smell and color. The spectrum of active ingredients is also typical for any nectar or honeydew producing plant.

Often the aroma of a honey is dominated by the nectar of a mass costume, whereby so-called "contributions" give the honey its special taste. Beekeepers can only influence where and what the bee colonies enter to a limited extent.

If the honey is provided with a botanical indication of origin, the honey must predominantly, i.e. more than 50%, come from the source described. This is determined, among other things, by taste, pollen content ( melissa palynology ) and electrical conductivity. In order to obtain such typical honeys, it is usually necessary to transport the bee colonies to appropriate locations, cf. Wandering (bees) .

"Primary Dusting"

The most common pollen is called "Leitpollen" and mostly it is used to declare the type of honey. The number of pollen is not always equivalent to the nectar input from this plant species or genus. Depending on how much pollen a plant produces, the structure and position of the flowers, more or less pollen gets into the nectar. In the chestnut, the nectaries at the base of the inflorescence collect a large amount of the already numerous small pollen, which means that chestnut pollen is overrepresented in chestnut honey. The acacia has a low pollen production, the hanging flowers of the linden cause less pollen to fall into the nectar, so that pollen from the acacia or linden is underrepresented in the honey.

"Secondary Dusting"

If pollen gets into the honey after the nectar has been introduced (for example if pollen has stuck to the bees' coat or has been wiped off from other bees), the pollen image is falsified by "secondary dusting".

"Tertiary Dusting"

If bee bread is scratched during honey harvest, centrifuging and often pressing (pressed honey), this is called "tertiary dusting".

Blossom honey

The honey from the flower nectar of plants is called blossom honey - in contrast to honey made from honeydew (see below). Most blossom honeys crystallize after one to six weeks. An exception is acacia honey, for example, which often remains liquid for twelve months. The condition of the honey can be influenced by intensive stirring during the crystallization phase. The forming sugar crystals mechanically crushed and there is a fine creamy, soft honey. One speaks here of a fine, stiff consistency.

Blossom honey - from various traditional plants
Blossom honey is the general name for a type of honey that does not primarily come from a traditional plant. In southern Germany, for example, honey from the costume of fruit blossom and the dandelion that occurs at the same time is often referred to as blossom honey. This blossom honey is light yellow in color and has a relatively mild taste.
Rapeseed honey
from rapeseed is a creamy or firm, white to ivory-colored honey with a characteristic mild aroma.
The common robinia provides the so-called "acacia honey"
Acacia honey
Harvested from Robinia forests in Germany (false acacia , false acacia , Robinia pseudoacacia L. ), has a very mild, lovely taste and is very suitable for sweetening tea and baked goods . Robinia honey remains liquid for an extremely long time and has a light (watery) to golden yellow color. Although, according to the German Honey Ordinance, great importance is attached to a correct variety denomination, due to the popularity of the word acacia honey, it was decided to allow this term as a variety denomination for locust honey .
dandelion honey
of flowering dandelion meadows in spring can only be harvested from locations where rape or fruit trees are not in bloom at the same time. It is a honey with a very strong, aromatic, quite sweet taste with a typical yellow color.
Phacelia honey
of the phacelia is due to the increase in set-aside land in agriculture, available for several years as a sort of honey. It has a mild but typical aroma and is light beige to white in color and is often glassy.
Sunflower honey
from sunflower fields has a characteristic, strong taste. It smells somewhat resinous and is typically light yellow to orange-yellow in color.
Heather honey
from heathland has a strong aroma. Typical of the heather honey is its jelly-like consistency, which comes from a high content of protein compounds.
Linden honey
von Lindentrees is an extremely sweet honey with a typically fruity, slightly minty taste. It has a greenish-white, sometimes yellowish color.
Clover honey
of white clover fields has a very thin consistency, a mild taste and a white to ivory-colored appearance.
Sweet chestnut honey
from chestnut forests is a very strong, bitter honey with a slightly bitter aftertaste. A typical location in Germany is the Palatinate Forest , which has large areas lined with sweet chestnuts . The nectar is only partly collected from the flowers, while the other part comes from the leaf axils (extra-floral nectaries ). The honey is red-brown in color and stays liquid for a few months.
Buckwheat honey
from real buckwheat has a very strong, beet syrup-like aroma. It is unusually dark for a blossom honey.

Imported variety honeys

Eucalyptus honey
for example from Italy is a spicy honey that is particularly popular for sweetening herbal teas for respiratory infections . The honey smells slightly of eucalyptus, but does not taste like it.
Jellybush honey
comes from the Jellybush ( Leptospermum polygalifolium ), which is native to Australia . Like New Zealand Manuka honey , it is said to have health benefits. Because of these similarities, one also speaks of the "Australian Manuka". The name Jellybush for the plant comes from the fact that the honey crystallizes like a jelly.
Lavender honey
vom Lavender is a honey produced in France ( Provence ) with a distinct lavender aroma, which comes from the lavender fields.
Manuka honey
from New Zealand is a type of honey that is obtained from the flower nectar of Manukas (lat. Leptospermum scoparium ). This honey is said to have a special healing effect. It has been proven that it has a multiple higher antibacterial and antifungal effect than other types of honey. The comparatively high antibacterial activity of Manuka honey is now attributed to its methylglyoxal (MGO) content . In the work of the Institute for Food Chemistry at the Technical University of Dresden , the MGO concentration in certain Manuka honeys could be measured and its antibacterial influence quantitatively demonstrated in vitro . Bactericidal properties were found against the pathogens Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli as well as against Porphyromonas gingivalis , the marker germ for severe and aggressive forms of periodontitis , which is responsible for the loss of teeth . The determined methylglyoxal content in Manuka honey was up to 100 times higher than in conventional types of honey.
Cloudberry honey
Hillasuonhunaja from Lapland is one of the rarest types of honey in the world. The European region north of the Arctic Circle is often underestimated as a honey supplier, but has been in business for 60 years. Up to three honey harvests are possible here per year. Every season has its own floral costumes.
Orange blossom honey
from the orange , for example from Spain
Tasmanian leather wood honey
In Australia , Tasmanian leatherwood honey is valued for its unique taste.
Thyme honey
from thyme , for example from Crete , Lipsi (island) . Many very aromatic honeys come from the Mediterranean region, sometimes from resinous and shrubby plants. One type of this type is the thyme honey from Crete.
Tupelo honey
from the Ogeche tupelo tree . Tupelo honey comes from Florida and combines sweetness with a heavy, spicy aroma. Its color is light gold with a greenish tinge. Pure honey has twice as much fructose ( 46%) as grape sugar (23%) and therefore does not crystallize. He is sung about by Van Morrison in his album Tupelo Honey .

Honey made from honeydew

Uncovering a honeycomb with reddish fir honey

Honeydew honey is produced by bees, which collect the sugary and fiber-rich excretions of plant lice , known as honeydew . This honey usually has a much darker color than honey made from flower nectar and remains liquid for a long time.

Forest honey
This is the general name for honey made from honeydew if the origin does not come predominantly from one type of plant. Sources are scale and bark lice on spruce , Douglas fir , pine and fir trees , and there is often a certain amount of nectar from flowering plants. But this must not predominate. It has a strong, slightly bitter taste and is light to dark brown in color.
Leaf honey is the honeydew honey from deciduous trees such as oak and maple . It is also strong, sometimes even caramel-like in taste.
Fir honey
This generally refers to the honeydew honey from the white fir ( Abies alba ), of which there are larger stocks in the Black Forest , but also in the Swabian and Bavarian Forests . The typical fir honey has a strong, spicy taste and has a greenish-black color in the glass against the light. Deviating from this, for example, in 2003 there was a fir honey with a reddish hue (see picture). Silver fir honey stays liquid for several months, sometimes even years.

In common parlance, there is often no distinction between forest and honeycomb - both terms refer to any honey that has arisen from honeydew.

Filtered honey

A special filter process (mesh size smaller pollen size) removes the protein-containing pollen from the honey. It retains its vitamins, minerals and enzymes if it is not heated. This honey is controversial, because the withdrawal of pollen no longer complies with the German honey ordinance . However, according to EU guidelines, distribution as honey is permitted. A territorial proof of origin, which is created by means of pollen analysis , is therefore no longer possible. Furthermore, manipulation (stretching the honey with sugar) is currently not detectable. The advantages of filtration are better compatibility with honey for people with pollen allergies and a finer creamy consistency of the honey.

Honey drinks

Various honey drinks (from left to right): honey-wine , mead and bear catch ; front u. a. a jar of bee pollen

Due to its characteristic taste and its high sugar content, honey is a universal raw material for preparing drinks. The sugars dissolved in honey are used on the one hand as raw material for alcoholic fermentation , on the other hand honey is used as a sweetener and seasoning component in alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Fermented honey-based drinks are

  • Honey beer , brewed with the addition of mead
  • Medovina and Gvirc , wine-like specialties from Croatia
  • Medowucha , a Russian berry wine sweetened with honey
  • Met , the classic honey wine
  • Tej , an Ethiopian honey wine

Drinks with unfermented honey as a condiment or sweetener:

  • Bear catch , a honey liqueur
  • Krupnik , a sweet honey vodka liqueur from Poland and Lithuania
  • Mulsum (drink) , an ancient Roman wine preparation
  • Ron miel , rum or aguardiente from the Canary Islands mixed with water and honey
  • Mamajuana , drink from the Dominican Republic consisting of rum, red wine, honey, as well as woods and herbs


In addition to other bee products, honey is also used as a remedy in naturopathy as part of apitherapy . According to current German law, the medicinal properties of food may not be advertised and honey may not be called a medicinal product .

The preserving and "cleansing" (anti-inflammatory) effect of honey was already known in antiquity and, accordingly, honey was also used therapeutically as a wound healing agent in the High Middle Ages.

Honey has a mild anti-inflammatory effect, so that swelling, increased temperature and local pain are reduced. It promotes the growth of fibroblasts , which allows the wound to heal more evenly and less scarring. It is used as a wound pad , for example , as it has a slightly antiseptic effect and also breaks down dead tissue in wounds. The antiseptic effect is produced, among other things, by hydrogen peroxide , but the substance only plays a subordinate role in the overall mixture due to its small proportion. There are first experimental results to be confirmed that the anti-inflammatory effect of honey is due to the effects of polyphenols or flavones ( chrysin , quercetin , myricetin , kaempferol , ellagic acid , gallic acid and caffeic acid ) contained in it. In addition, further ingredients ( inhibins ) with positive effects have recently been researched, which among other things kill methicillin - resistant staphylococci and vancomycin- resistant enterococci . Special types of honey are therefore increasingly used in wound treatment.

In August 2005, a ready-to-use preparation for the treatment of wounds was approved throughout Europe as a medical product under the name Medihoney . Medihoney is obtained from the flower nectar of various types of Leptospermum (→ Manuka honey ) and contains, as a further component, flower honey with a high proportion of the enzyme glucose oxidase . The mixture is made sterile by irradiation. Several German clinics use Medihoney for wound care.

Larger published studies show no clinical evidence of honey products for healing chronic wounds. For use on non-chronic wounds, such as those that occur as a result of an injury, surgical intervention or after radiation therapy , there have so far only been a few animal or clinical studies .

Natural honey or honey “from the jar” is not suitable for treating wounds. Although many germs cannot multiply in honey, it cannot be ruled out that they are present as impurities in honey. In addition, honey does not prevent mold from growing. The honey used for medical purposes is therefore sterilized with the help of gamma rays before use . In contrast to thermal sterilization , the enzymes that play a key role in the healing effect are not destroyed.

Honey is traditionally used for coughs caused by colds. In fact, a meta-study published by Cochrane certifies a moderately effective cough relief.

In the 16th century, a work of traditional Chinese medicine , the Bencao Gangmu (本草綱目), mentioned a “ mummy in honey ” as a means of treating broken bones.

Storage and treatment

Empty honey jars before bottling
Filled honey jars

The Institute for Apiculture in Celle des LAVES has examined the storage of honey at different temperatures. The parameters invertase activity, diastase activity, HMF content, consistency, fermentation and fermentation parameters associated with fermentation such as yeast, ethanol and glycerol content were determined. In the course of the investigation it was found that "storage at 4 ° C [...] over a very long period of time does not lead to any change in the honey" and that even at 15 ° C the storage time is "well over 3.5 years" lies. However, they also note: “As soon as honey is stored above 18 ° C, changes occur after a relatively short period of time.” The HMF limit value of the honey ordinance is exceeded in the investigation at this temperature after 1.5 to 3 years. They also found out that "if stored above 18 ° C [...] the beginning of segregation [must] be expected, which in turn can have a positive effect on fermentation."

Honey should be stored as cool and dark as possible and in a dry, odorless environment so that the enzymes and flavorings are preserved as far as possible. Important ingredients (enzymes) are lost when heated to over 40 ° C. In the microwave, the enzyme content drops to zero after just a few seconds. Therefore one should not boil the honey or add it while cooking. The brief warming when sweetening hot or warm drinks is justifiable, as the drink cools down and is absorbed relatively quickly in the body.

Crystallized honey can be gently warmed up in a water bath and (temporarily) liquefied again.

If the honey is stored for a longer period of time, however, changes take place. These are particularly modifications of the sugar portions, thus transforming existing in honey sucrose with the enzyme sucrase addition fructose and glucose formed. Over time, the enzymes are inactivated and the color can intensify due to a Maillard reaction (reaction of glucose with amino acids , e.g. L- proline ). This Maillard reaction already takes place during honey ripening and is responsible for the yellow to brown color. In the course of time, a further crystallization can take place, whereby a fructose-containing liquid layer forms over a glucose-containing crystalline sediment. However, these changes are of little significance for the use, since the nutritional-physiological importance of honey is basically only based on the sugar . However, it should be noted that the proportion of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), which is a by-product of the Maillard reaction, can increase with longer storage .

Food law

Honey is considered a food in Germany . According to Directive 2001/110 / EC on honey and the German Honey Ordinance , nothing may be added to or withdrawn from honey. This means that the honey is 100% natural. The so-called filtered honey is an exception . The naturally present pollen content (around 0.5%) is removed from this by microfiltration so that the honey does not crystallize out so easily and thus remains liquid longer. This allows it to be marketed in a squeeze bottle, similar to mustard or ketchup. Another processed product is honey powder, which is made by freeze-drying , with a water content of only 5%.

According to the Honey Ordinance of January 16, 2004, a best-before date (BBD) must be stated on the honey packaging. The beekeeper or bottler is responsible for determining the best before date. Usually a minimum shelf life of two years from the time of bottling is specified. In principle, honey can be kept much longer if stored in a cool and dry place, additionally protected from light if possible.


The definition of honey according to the EU standard reads: Honey is the natural sweetener that is produced by honey bees from flower nectar or secretions from living plant parts or excretions from plant-sucking insects on living plant parts, which the honey bees collect, change or deposit by mixing them with their own specific substances , thicken, store and let ripen in honeycombs.

  1. Blossom honey is honey that comes from the nectar of flowers.
  2. Honeydew honey is mainly derived from excretions of plant-sucking insects ( Hemiptera ) from living parts of plants or from secretions of living plants.

Analytical methods for determining the ingredients

For the reliable qualitative and quantitative determination of the constituents of the various honeys, chromatographic methods are mostly used today. The gas chromatography and HPLC are common in the coupling with the mass spectrometry methods, with which both the main ingredients such as glucose and fructose as monosaccharides , as well as di- and trisaccharides , as well as the more or less volatile aroma components and a wide variety of pollutants are determined. The most common pollutants include in particular those substances that are used in beekeeping to combat the varroa mite or to kill wax moths .

HMF in honey

No or only a small amount of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) in honey is an indicator of its freshness and naturalness. On the other hand, a high HMF value indicates heat damage or prolonged storage. When honey is heated, fructose turns into HMF. The HMF content in freshly extracted honey is very low and increases by approx. 2-3 mg / kg per year when stored correctly, depending on the pH value and storage temperature. Storage at room temperature (21 ° C) can increase the HMF content to 20 mg / kg in one year. The EU has set a maximum HMF limit value of 40 mg / kg for honey produced under European conditions. Some national beekeeping associations demand even lower values, for example the German Beekeeping Association allows a maximum of 15 mg / kg for its “Real German Honey” seal of approval.

HMF in honey is mostly detected with HPLC - or photometrically according to White. A rapid test for determining HMF has been available from Merck KGaA since 2009 . In the test called "Reflectoquant HMF", a small amount of honey is diluted in a ratio of 1: 4 with distilled water , a test strip is dipped into the sample and then measured in an RQflex reflectometer .

Honey with traces of genetically modified maize

In 2005, DNA from genetically modified maize MON810 from the manufacturer Monsanto and genetically modified proteins in maize pollen in beehives as well as DNA from MON810 in the honey from Kaisheim beekeeper Karl-Heinz Bablok were detected. Bablok no longer considered the honey to be marketable or consumable. He sued the Free State of Bavaria, which built MON810 for research purposes at a distance of about 500 meters from Bablok's property, for damages in accordance with Section 36a of the Genetic Engineering Act and Section 906 of the German Civil Code . The Bavarian Administrative Court stayed the proceedings and requested a preliminary ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for food law relevance of traces of genetically modified crops no longer reproduction viable organisms in beekeeping products.

In September 2011, the ECJ ruled that products such as honey and food supplements with pollen content from genetically modified plants are considered foodstuffs in the sense of Regulation 1829/2003 that contain ingredients made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). According to the ECJ, ingredients from GMOs are only marketable if they are approved as food under 1829/2003. The ECJ also pointed out that the authorization requirement applies regardless of the proportion of genetically modified material in honey, there is no tolerance threshold. The approval of MON810, originally under Regulation 258/97 and since 2004 under Regulation 1829/2003 as an "existing product", does not include pollen as the original application was restricted to certain products. As a result of the new ruling, the honey ingredient pollen must be labeled as "genetically modified" if the proportion of pollen from GM plants approved for this purpose is more than 0.9% of the total pollen content. This judgment could also have an impact on imported honey, as the cultivation of GM plants is widespread in North and South America, for example, and some of the GM plant lines grown there are not permitted as feed and food in the EU. Before the judgment of the ECJ, pollen was not viewed as an ingredient but as a natural component of honey, which is why the question of GMO traces in pollen was legally irrelevant. According to the ECJ ruling, around five percent of honeys are no longer allowed to be sold in Germany. That was the answer of the honey association, which represents the German-speaking importers and bottlers, to a request from the taz .

In March 2012, the Bavarian Administrative Court decided that beekeepers in Bavaria cannot derive any entitlement to measures to protect their products from the Genetic Engineering Act in conjunction with the Genetic Engineering Plant Production Ordinance. In addition, the Administrative Court also denied the finding requested by the beekeepers that the cultivation of MON810 maize by the Free State of Bavaria for research purposes had been illegal from 2005 at the latest.

In September 2012, the EU Commission proposed treating pollen as a natural component of honey and not as an ingredient. The proposal was approved by the European Parliament on January 15, 2014. This means that honey that contains pollen from genetically modified plants does not have to be labeled, as the labeling requirement applies from a content of 0.9% and pollen usually only contains 0.5% in honey.


Usually, adulterations can be discovered using various methods and detected, for example, using a pollen analysis .

Bees collect nectar and honeydew. In the beehive, water is removed from this mixture and enzymes are added. According to several reports, this step is being imitated and carried out in industrial production facilities in China, and the honey is "stretched with large quantities of rice syrup". Such “adulterated” honey can be recognized by its low price (on the world market (2018) around 1.20 US dollars per kilogram, unadulterated honey 2.50).

Health Risks of Consuming Honey


Bee pollen is a typical component (approx. 0.5%) of honey, albeit in small quantities. After consuming honey, pollen allergy sufferers can experience hypersensitivity reactions . A pilot study published in 2010 found that preseasonal consumption of honey fortified with birch pollen can also improve drug-related symptom control in birch pollen allergy sufferers during the pollen season.

Toxins in honey and poisonous types of honey

Some types of honey may contain high levels of active ingredients from poisonous plants . These are brought into the honey by the bees with the nectar or pollen. The toxins usually have no significant effect on the bees, but can have harmful effects on humans.

Honeys can also contain carcinogenic and very toxic plant substances in alarming concentrations. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids were found in nine percent of around 1300 samples examined since 2009 , as the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) writes in a study. Raw honeys from South and Central America are particularly affected. According to an estimate by the taz based on industry figures, most of the honey for German consumption comes from such regions. To date, there are no regulations regarding maximum levels for pyrrolizidine alkaloids, nor controls.

A risk evaluation study by the European Food Agency EFSA from 2016 found relevant amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in all honey samples.

In a series survey carried out by the Öko-Test magazine in 2009 , almost half of the imported honeys contained pollen from genetically modified plants. Honey from German beekeepers as well as products from Southeast Europe and fair trade were unaffected. However, pesticides were found almost exclusively in German products, mostly the insecticide thiacloprid in rapeseed honey or blossom honey with a high proportion of rapeseed. Since bees can fly around freely, organic honey can also be contaminated with pesticides.

The Pontic honey from the Black Sea region , which has been known since ancient times, can cause symptoms of poisoning such as nausea, vomiting or hallucinations in humans due to its high proportion of grayanotoxin from the Pontic azalea ( Rhododendron luteum ) and other toxins from plants of the heather and soap tree families . Cases of reversible cardiac arrest have also been reported.

An increased level of grayanotoxin was also found in Germany in 2011 in a sample of chestnut honey from the Turkish Black Sea coast. The rhododendron species containing grayanotoxin are also found in North America and Asia.

More poisonous honeys are

Bacterial contamination

Some bacteria spores can survive in honey. The pathogen Clostridium botulinum , which releases botulinum toxin , which can lead to symptoms of paralysis ( botulism ) , is particularly dangerous . This pathogen was also detected in small amounts in individual honeys. Presumably because the intestinal flora is not yet fully developed, infants are more at risk from bacterial infections than adults. In addition, babies only have gastric acid levels at the end of their second year of life like adults. Despite intensive care medicine, infants who become infected with this bacterium can usually expect permanent damage. For this reason, the Baden-Württemberg Medical Association and the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) recommend not giving honey to babies under twelve months of age. However, infant botulism caused by the consumption of honey is very rare. In older children and adults there is no longer any danger (except for people with reduced gastric acid secretion or after taking antacids , sucralfate , H 2 -receptor blockers or proton pump inhibitors , which cause increased pH values ​​in the stomach).

In a honey examination in Japan, Clostridium botulinum was found in 8.5% (23 of 270) of the samples. In a honey test in Brazil, the pathogen was found in 7.06% (6 of 85) of the samples.


In studies from 2013 and 2014, foreign particles such as microplastics were found in honey . However, the results could not be confirmed in a more recent study. The non-validated methods used in previous studies were classified as unsuitable. The findings were attributed as artifacts to laboratory contamination by microplastics in the air.

Importance to the bees

Honey is used by the bee colony as a food and source of energy in order to be able to survive for a longer period of time without external food. In winter, for example, a temperature of approx. 27 ° C has to be maintained inside the so-called winter cluster; on the surface of the winter cluster, the temperature must not drop below 8 ° C, otherwise the bees would die. The strategy of other statebuilding insects ( wasps , hornets , bumblebees ), on the other hand, consists in the fact that the entire colony dies in winter and only young queens survive in a rigor . Honey bees, on the other hand, have the ability to shape their immediate living environment, which enables them to maintain the required nest temperature. To do this, they store honey in order to always have enough "fuel" available. They have a different metabolism, a changed composition of the hemolymph (see also Western honeybees ).

Even at outside temperatures well below −20 ° C, the bees can take in the honey heated inside the winter grape and thus maintain the necessary body temperatures if there is sufficient food supply and an individual number of more than approx. 5000. The advantage of the survival strategy of building up honey stocks and surviving the winter as a whole colony is that next spring a large number of worker bees can immediately use the abundant food supply at this time of year and process the sugary substances into honey. Beekeeping measures also create surpluses that enable honey to be harvested.

Between 10 and 20 kilograms of honey are sufficient for the survival of the bee colony, depending on colony strength and winter hardiness. Since a colony of bees can produce up to 50 kilograms, it is possible to take honey, which leaves an adequate winter supply for the bees, without requiring additional feeding. If more honey is removed, it is necessary for the beekeeper to provide the colony with a sufficient amount of substitute in the form of sugar products after the honey has been removed in late summer or autumn.

Related topics


  • R. Fleming et al. a .: Investigations of honey for Cl. botulinum spores . In: Archive for Food Hygiene , Volume 31, 1980, pp. 179-180, ISSN  0003-925X .
  • Helmut Horn, Cord Lüllmann: The great honey book: creation, extraction, health and marketing . 3. Edition. Franckh-Kosmos, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 978-3-440-10838-3 .
  • Elisabeth de Lestrieux, Anne Six, Jacques Six, Arjen Neve: honey for gourmets - with 183 recipes. Dumont, Ostfildern 1995, ISBN 3-7701-3493-1 .
  • Josef Lipp, Enoch Zander , Albert Koch: The honey. Ulmer, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-8001-7417-0 ( Apiculture Handbook , Volume 3).
  • Detlef Mix: The healing power of honey. 2nd Edition. Herbig, Munich 2006, ISBN 978-3-7766-2498-4 .
  • Werner von der Ohe : Honey - origin, extraction, utilization. Kosmos Verlag, ISBN 978-3-440-13811-3 .
  • M. Robischon: Fragrant gold . In: Der Feinschmecker . Issue 1, January 1, 2007, pp. 76-77 (about Tupelo honey ).
  • Jamila Smanalieva: Determination of functional and material science parameters of selected types of honey. Dissertation , TU Berlin 2007. ( full text - about honey from a material science perspective).

Web links

Wiktionary: Honey  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Honey  album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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