How is honey made and what is raw honey anyways?

This is post #2 in a series I am doing on honey! In my last post, I discussed the History of Beekeeping, which you can find HERE. In this post, I am discussing how honey is made, what exactly  makes it so preservative, and the difference between a couple of different types of honey, including raw honey.  I hope you enjoy! 

The honey itself is made from nectar collected from flowers. In order to make honey, the worker bee, who will make 1/12 teaspoon of honey in her life, emits enzymes from the hypopharyngeal glands located in her head. One breaks down the sucrose into fructose and glucose, and a second breaks the glucose further down into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. The acidity makes for an environment that is inhospitable to bacteria and mold, and the hydrogen peroxide lends its bacteria-destroying qualities to the honey (Stewart, Tabori, and Chang 269). The stable nature of honey makes it a great preservative. It has been used for hundreds of years before canning in order to preserve fruit and vegetables and even meat. Unlike pickling or fermentation, it improves the taste of fruit and does not alter the taste of meat. Mead is another historically important item made with honey because it was probably the first fermented drink. It saved many from having to drink contaminated water, as the bacteria could not survive as readily in the alcoholic, honey laden liquid. Some mead is made simply with honey, water, and yeast but many others include different types of fruit, flowers, spices, or bark (Stewart, Tabori, & Chang 279). 

Although it is less common and less desirable, honey can also be produced from honeydew, which is excreted on leaves by Hemipterous insects, such as aphids. Most honeydew is made directly from the sap of the plant instead of the nectar and has many different qualities from bee-made honey, such as its unsuitability to overwinter. The bees collect this sweet substance during times when minimal nectar is available (Dadant 525). Bees produce honey simply as a food source to live off of while trying to keep the hive alive all winter. For this reason, apiculturists must be careful not to extract too much, or else the hive will perish in the cold. It can be easy to do this, especially if the bees produced a particularly valuable or delicious specialty honey. 

Although there is no honey that is produced purely from one plant, honey is sometimes labeled with the plant from which the bees mainly foraged. Some migratory beekeepers bring their hives to specific places during a time of blossom for certain plants in order to gain a higher price for their product. This can include agricultural crops, such as oranges, or wild forests, such as the delicious, dark tupelo honey that comes from the southeastern United States. Remember that bees can and will travel for many miles in a day and that any flowering plant in that range is fair game. 

Honey coloration depends on the nectar it is made from and can range from almost clear to a dark, nearly black, shade of brown and all shades of gold in between. Generally, dark honeys tend to be much stronger in flavor and popular with honey enthusiasts, similar to maple syrup. Light, mild honeys like clover honey are much more popular in the United States and are what a consumer can usually find at a regular grocery store. Honey also comes in many different forms, such as cut comb honey, which is simply capped comb that is taken directly from the hive or formed by the bees in containers.  This is a very inefficient way to harvest honey because it removes the wax comb. It can take up to one pound of honey for the bees to create one ounce of wax. Removing the comb means that the bees have a lower chance of surviving the winter and that the beekeeper gets less honey. This is why cut comb honey is more of a novelty item and is much more expensive. Probably the most popular type is liquid honey, which may be filtered, but is otherwise unchanged and has no crystallization. Liquid honey will eventually become granulated honey if left alone and can be restored back to liquid simply by heating. To do this, simply heat some water on the stove and set your closed jar of honey in it until it is melted. This process makes it similar to creamed honey but in a less controlled way. Creamed honey is warmed liquid honey that is rapidly cooled and a specific crystal seed is added to make it crystallize a certain way. 

This is a typical filtration set up for a small, local producer of honey and the one that we use. The honey goes through two filters. The metal one you see on the top bucket, which collects large pieces of wax and insects. The second filter fits into the top of the bottom bucket (the bucket isn't full to the brim, the honey is just slowly seeping through the filter). This filter is made of fabric mesh and is much finer, collecting smaller insect and wax bits. 

The large majority of honey, especially if it is local, is raw, meaning that it has not been heated and has only been filtered enough to remove dead insects and larvae. Despite marketing claims, “raw” honey is not healthier than any other type and since there is no legal definition, any honey can be labeled as being raw. The only thing to look out for is exceptionally industrialized honey or honey from China which may contain fillers like corn syrup. If in doubt, always go for the most local honey you can. Local honey will contain local pollen, meaning that its contents are something your body is already used to. If you have seasonal allergies from plant pollen, you can try taking a tablespoon of the most local honey you can find every day. Your body may slowly get used to the pollen in the honey and your reaction to pollen in the air may be reduced. 

Looking for some more resources on honeybees? Here are some of my favorites:


Atkins, E. L. (1975). The Hive and the honeybee. Hamilton, IL: Dadant.

First lessons in beekeeping. (2007). Hamilton, IL: Dadant & Sons.

Lorence, C. (2014, April 15). Honey interview [Telephone interview].

Martin, K. (2011). Indicator indicator. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from

Ngan, V. (2013, December 29). DermNet NZ. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from

Root, A. I. (1945). The ABC and XYZ of bee culture (3rd ed.). Medina: A.I. Root.

Stewart, Tabori, & Chang. (2011). The beekeeper's bible: Bees, honey, recipes & other home uses. New York, NY: Abrams.

Visser, N., & Newey, A. (2014, March 11). A raw look inside the life of a Nepalese honey hunter (PHOTOS). Retrieved April 15, 2014, from

Williams, D. G., Dr. (2003, July 17). The many benefits of hydrogen peroxide. Family Health News. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from

Disclaimer: This blog is just my own opinion, nothing more. While I try my hardest, everything may not be completely accurate or complete. Sorry, I'm only human, so do not hold me accountable for anything you do to harm yourself or the world around you. I do make money from this blog (seriously not very much at all guys). If you click on any of the links in my blog I may make money from it. I'm not sponsored by any of these people I just honestly love these products and want to give you the resources to find them. I am not a medical practitioner; consult a health professional before using any herbal remedies. I am not claiming to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any ailment. 

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