NOVEMBER
1988

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

11-10-88

How Sweet It Is!

Honey has been called the food of gods and kings. Of course, folks of more earthly and less noble birth have also been known to partake of the “fruit of the hive.”

Bees have been depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back to 3500 B.C. Indeed, fro thousands of years, honey was the primary sweetener used by mankind.

Honey is wonderful. It does not spoil. Its acidity and sugar content keep harmful microorganisms from growing in it. It does not freeze. And, as people found out in times before the refrigeration, when used on salt-cured foods it covered up some of the taste of the salt.

Honey bees were unknown in North America until the immigration of Europeans. The introduction of the honey bee prompted the American Indians to dub these insects “white man's flies.”   Nonetheless, the American Indians quickly acquired a liking for honey.

Honey truly results, as an old proverb teaches, from the industry of the bee. It takes 2,000 to 3,000 bees working an entire day to collect enough nectar to make a pound of honey. During the day, each worker bee makes six to eight trips to the field to visit the flowers. She will sick the nectar from the flowers to store in her crop, a specialized portion of her digestive tract, for the trip to the hive.

Once in the hive, she regurgitates the nectar, which has I=undergone a chemical transformation while in her crop. The honey is then placed in the cell of the honeycomb, where it is fanned until the water content reaches a proper level for storage.

Honey varies widely in color and flavor, reflecting the type of flowers that provide the nectar. In general, clover plants provide a very sweet and light-colored honey. Honey from the roadside weed goldenrod is very dark in color and not as sweet. Some like goldenrod honey to sorghum.

Each honey, like a fine wine, has its own bouquet. From orange honey can be detected the odor of, well, orange blossoms. Not surprising because it's the nectar that gives the characteristics aroma to blossoms of all types.

Honey has also been used to make wine, called mead, which was a favorite drink of the Knights of Merry Olde England. In the days of the Middle Ages, it was always custom to provide a newly married couple with enough mead, or honey wine, to last for the first month of their married life. Since a month was roughly equivalent to the cycle of the moon, this time became known as the honeymoon.

So it is entirely appropriate that the most famous lines from the long-running TV show the “Honeymooners” should be Jackie Gleason's “How Sweet it is!”

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Carol McGrew