Honey Competence

From the honeycomb into the jar

The beehive functions perfectly because each individual harmonises well with others. Just like we do at the Breitsamer company.

Our honey competence is based on many individual components which, when taken together, present a wide range of knowledge.

Honey processing is and remains a hand crafting skill – no matter whether you own one bee colony or one hundred. It requires knowledge and experience to choose the best quality of high-value honey and put it into jars while retaining the same high quality.

Wonderful bees

“Busy as a bee”

…A well-known phrase. And it’s true: Honey and wild bees perform outstanding pollination activities.

In principle, we differentiate between honey and wild bee types. There are nine types of honeybees and around 30´000 types of wild bees worldwide. The western honeybee and around 560 types of wild bees live in Germany.

But it’s not just honey that we get out of bees, we gain much more!

Bees are viewed as the third most important livestock, only beaten by cattle and pigs.

80% of all crop plants in Germany are pollinated by bees!

Their value to the national economy benefit is more than 4 billion euros!

They are also useful due to other products that they make: Beeswax is used for candles, in cosmetics, and in the manufacture of foodstuffs (coating agent E901). Pollen and bee bread are used as a nutritional supplement and propolis and bee venom have been found to have medical properties.

A gift of nature

For millennia, honey has been given special attention – it seems to be one of the most valuable foodstuffs. The collaboration between plant and bee creates a product, which contains an unusually large variety of ingredients.

It doesn’t matter whether a beekeeper owns one colony or a hundred colonies – the artisanal work itself stays.

The history of honey

Mankind has been “hunting” honey for around 10000 years.

Honey was always considered very valuable. For a long time it was the only sweetener available to mankind. Honey was also a preferred gift for guests as bees were honoured. The valuable honey was even used as a means of payment. In addition, honey was regarded as a healing and beauty product in ancient times – the Egyptian queen Cleopatra bathed in goat’s milk with honey.

From 500 AD, the first approaches of beekeeping can be found, so-called “Zeidlerei”. Until the mid 19th century, forest beekeeping (in trees) or heath beekeeping (in beehives) was carried out. Beekeepers had a very important position among the craftsmen.

Gradually, however, cane sugar became more important as a sweetener and modern research and knowledge led to a demystification of the liquid gold.

What is honey?

Honey is the naturally sweet substance produced by honeybees, where the bees take up nectar from plants or secretions of living plant parts, or from the excretions of insects living on plant parts. Thereafter the nectar is transformed  by a combination of specific bee substances, embed, dehydrated and finally stored in the beehive honeycomb to mature.

Essentially, honey consists of various types of sugar, particularly fructose and glucose as well as organic acids, enzymes and solid particles taken in through the gathering of nectar. The colour of the honey can range from almost colourless to a dark brown. It can have a runny, thick or partially crystallised nature. The differences in taste and aroma are determined by their botanical origin. (Source: German Honey Regulation)

The science behind honey

Honey is made by honeybees out of blossom nectar or honeydew.

It consists of 75–80% glucose and fructose.

Other ingredients are blossom pollen, amino acids, vitamins, inhibins, mineral substances, trace elements, enzymes and water (< 20%). Honey contains up to 180 accompanying substances, which come from the plants AND the bees.

With the corresponding storage, honey can be kept for almost as long as you want.

The legal side of honey

The Honey Regulation is basically the “purity law” for honey. According to the European Honey Regulation: “Honey is the substance that bees compile. Nothing may be added or removed.”

The European Honey Regulation (HonigVO) ensures that only real, unmodified honey may have the name of “honey”.

The Honey Regulation applies to all honeys for sale in Germany and the EU, regardless of their origin.

What distingushies one honey from another?

The nature of small differences

How can you obtain a pure kind of honey when all kinds of plants occur in nature?

With honey, it’s a bit like wine. Find out what the honey sommelier is really good at…

Blossom honeys are mainly obtained from nectar, a sweet secretion from the nectaries of plants. Nectaries are usually found in the blossoms, but can also be found in other plant parts, e.g. in leaf axils.

Honeydew is the source product for leaf, forest and needle honey, the so-called honeydew honeys. The bees gather honeydew, on leaves, needles and branches.

The most harvested honeys are mixed blossom honeys, which is honey that has been obtained of a variety of different plants. Taste and appearance vary widely, depending on the location and type of plants or blossoms the bees fly to. If the blossom honey comes from a definable region, it is labelled a regional honey, which may carry a label stating its origin.

Honeys can only be labelled single sort honeys if their nectar or honeydew predominantly comes from one specific plant or blossom type. The first prerequisite for single sort honeys is achieved by the honeybees themselves: they are faithful to their blossoms. If they can, they always fly to the same blossoms. The second condition for harvesting a single sort honey is the predominance of a plant species in an area.

How do we determine the purity of variety?

Firstly: by pollen analysis.
The blossom pollen, which is recognisable under the microscope, gives information on the blossoms the bees have flown to. Single sort honeys or florescence honeys are defined by the amount of pollen of one kind. This percentage value varies between varieties, depending on the honey’s richness in pollen.

Secondly: by analysing the fructose-glucose ratio (FG ratio).

The ratio of the two types of sugar, fructose and glucose, gives information on the honey variety.  In this way, e.g. rapsflower honey has a fructose-glucose ratio of under one, meaning more glucose than fructose. On the other hand, acacia honey has considerably more fructose, which leads to an FG ratio of at least 1.5. As a general rule: The higher the amount of fructose, the slower a honey crystallises.

(Rapspollen)

Quality is top priority

And to be able to guarantee you this consistent quality, the honey is tested by us in a total of three control series.

 

  1. Directly after it arrives from the beekeepers
  2. Before jarring and
  3. once again after jarring.

Our honeys undergo very strict quality controls, which include – aside from the determination of the water content, the enzyme activity and the HMF value – a very complex microscopic pollen analysis, sensory tests and comprehensive residue analysis. All these values provide information on whether the honey has been produced and handled properly, and which botanical or geographical origin it should be allocated to.

In further individual tests, we inspect our honey for possible residues – not an easy task. Because, although honey is one of the few completely natural foodstuffs in our industrial society, yet the plants and bees – the “honey producers” – must also live in an environment that mankind treats more or less carefully. Aside from the controls, trust in our beekeepers also plays a crucial role.

It’s important to us to visit and inspect our contract beekeepers on a regular basis. Only in doing so, we can ultimately ensure that you can enjoy our honey as a really “clean” natural product.

 

Origin information on the honey

The origin information is regulated in the Honey Regulations.

According to the Honey Regulations, the honey must have its country of origin (e.g. German bee honey) listed on it. For honey mixtures from more than one country of origin, the following information must be given instead: “Mixture of honey from EU countries” | “Mixture of honey from non-EU countries” | “Mixture of honey from EU and non-EU countries”. A more specific description of origin is not mandatory.

At Breitsamer, we have the voluntary commitment to maximum transparency with a precise description of origin. We also limit this so that our honey has to have a maximum of two countries of origin (e.g. Germany, Denmark).

Our honeys come exclusively from Europe, with the exception of the Tasmanian rarities and the fairtrade honeys. These come from fairtrade-certified cooperations from South and Central America.

Sensory tests

Our most pleasant and at the same time most difficult inspection. At this point, it isn’t about chemical or physical measured data, but just about a good nose and the fine sense of taste of our “tasters”. They have to decide whether the honey has a pleasant aroma and, above all, one that is typical for the variety. Only when this test has been passed as well, does it reach the shop shelves.

How is honey made?

Honey is made from blossom nectar or honeydew. Honey bees transport the blossom nectar in their honey stomach. They collect between 25mg nectar and 35mg honeydew on average. The nectar is then sucked up through their proboscis. The bees must visit 200 blossoms in order to fill their honey stomach. Their maximum travel distance is around 3 kilometres, which explains why they are loyal to the same blossoms and locations. Meaning that the bees will fly back to the same place as long as they can still find nectar there.

The bees pollinate through pollen that stick to their many little hairs during the gathering activities.

On their way back to the hive, the bee’s natural fluids act upon the nectar and the transformation into honey begins. Once they have arrived in the hive, the collecting bee gives the nectar fluid to its sister, the hive bee. The nectar passes from one bee to another via proboscis. Then, the so-called food production chain takes place in the hive. The purpose of the food production chain is to change the nectar into honey in order to make it last longer.

Before the honey can be stored in the honeycomb, the very high water content needs to evaporate. The bees beat the honey droplets back and forth, let them go and then suck them back up. This method makes sure the watery sweet juice thickens and is enriched with enzymes. These enzymes come from the head glands of the bees and split the contained sucrose into fructose and glucose.

If the honey is “right”, as far as the bees are concerned, then it is “mature” and the honeycombs are closed up. It is also referred to as capping.

Only now can the honey be harvested by the beekeeper.

Honey consistency

Each honey is clear and viscous when the beekeeper shakes it out of the honeycomb. However, most honeys eventually form crystals that turn them milky and solid. Sometimes right after the centrifugation of the honey. The timing of the crystallisation process depends on the honey type.

Why does honey crystallise?

The sugars contained within the honey tend to form crystals. This is a natural process, which does not have an effect on the quality of the honey. It is also sign of natural purity.

When does honey crystallise?

Almost every honey crystallises at some point.

If the honey predominantly contains glucose, the honey crystallises very quickly (e.g. rapsflower honey, sunflower honey). If it predominantly contains fructose, then the honey will either stay liquid  for longer or crystallise at a later stage (e.g. acacia honey, forest honey, fruit blossom honey).

What is organic honey?

The organic apiary follows the motto of an ecological agriculture: “Sustainable management in harmony with nature”. This means: The bees are glad to be in an environment without intensive agricultural farming and enjoy a home made of natural materials.

The most important beekeeping guidelines of the EU organic regulation:

  • Bee houses may only consist of natural materials (wood, clay or straw).
  • The bee houses may only be painted on the outside and with non-toxic paint.
  • For winter feeding, plenty of honey and pollen stocks must be left or substituted with organic sugar.
  • Synthetic chemicals may not be used for the honey harvest, to treat illnesses or for disinfection.
  • Only beeswax from your own or other recognised organic apiaries may be used.
  • The queen bee’s wings may not be cut.
  • The location must be chosen so that a sufficient minimum distance from intensive agricultural intensive farming is maintained.

What is the best way to store honey?

You should store honey away from direct sunlight and heat, ideally in the dark at room temperature.  This makes sure the typical flavour as well as the precious contents are preserved even after months.

Honey as an all-round talent

Honey is much more than just something to spread on bread, it is an alternative to granulated sugar:

  • For cooking and baking (especially for gingerbread or cakes with a juicy filling – thanks to its ability to attract water, baked goods with honey stay fresh for a long time)
  • For drinks (tea, milk, coffee, cocktails)
  • As a spontaneous source of energy during sport

The original New Zealand Manuka honey, for example, has diverse uses in clinics and hospitals as a remedy.

Products with honey components are often also used in the wellness area (saunas, cosmetics, etc.).