Honey, one of nature’s natural delicacies, has been a part of our diet for centuries. The Food Heritage Foundation’s Zeinab Jeambey traces its early uses and explores the varieties that can be found in Lebanon today.
Mentioned in religious texts as a celestial food and praised for its health and medicinal properties, honey collection from natural beehives can be traced back to the late Stone Age.
In the ancient Middle Eastern region, honey was used as a sweetener for food and wine and in the Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations it was a main ingredient in medical prescriptions to treat ailments such as eye and skin diseases, coughs, ulcers and stomach diseases.
Egyptians also used it as a preservative agent in the process of mummifying the dead (“Honey and healing through the ages,” Richard Jones, International Bee Research Association.)
Honey is produced by honeybees mainly from the nectar of flowers and honeydew, a product of sap-sucking insects left on the plant for bees to collect, like the honeydew found on oak, cedar and juniper trees in Lebanon.
Honeybees extract these sugary substances and bring them back to the beehive where they process them by adding enzymes and extracting water in order to slowly transform the nectar, sap and honeydew into honey. Honey is then stored in wax cells, and sealed as storage food for the bees in times of nectar shortage. It comes in different colors, depending on the source of nectar or honeydew the bees collect.
Honey is considered a nutritious food, mainly constituted of sugars such as glucose, fructose and sucrose, water and small amounts of amino acids, minerals, aromas and enzymes.
Though only found in traces, the enzymes bees add to honey are of important nutritional value because they produce the antibacterial agent, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), that inhibits the growth of certain food-born bacteria such as E. coli.
These enzymes are heat sensitive. A temperature of 40 degrees and above destroys them, thus causing the loss of their health benefits.
Many consumers, and unfortunately, unknowledgeable beekeepers, believe and vehemently argue that honey crystallization is a sign of honey adulteration with sugar and corn syrup. This misbelief has become widespread in our society. In fact, honey adulteration can only be detected by laboratory tests. Honey crystallization on the other hand, is a natural process that occurs due to many factors such as the nectar source, the ratio of different sugars found in honey and the presence of sediments that might stay in honey after honey extraction which helps initiate the process.
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