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Honey, the work of worker bees

Honey, an unmissable superfood, contains substances with endless beneficial properties that stimulate our bodily functions.

To produce honey, bees collect flower nectar, convert it with their own body substances and they store it in honeycombs where they let it ripen. Basically, once foraged, nectar is stored in the honeystomach of the bee, where it is mixed with the enzymes secreted by its salivary glands, and then it is taken to the hive. Here, the bee backs up the nectar in the mouth of another bee that backs it up in the mouth of another bee and so on. Through this process bees add more enzymes to the nectar. When raw honey is ready, it is stored in the cells of the honeycomb, which are sealed with wax to preserve it. Beekeepers begin to harvest honey when the comb is full. At this point, honey is extracted from honeycombs, filtered and put into a ripener until the wax and propolis surface and the honey can be extracted from the bottom.

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If compared to sugar, honey wins in many respects: while the former just consists of sucrose, the latter contains fructose, glucose, maltose, organic acids, vitamins, trace elements, enzymes, aromatic substances. Thanks to its composition it is considered an energising superfood because it is easily absorbed but, mainly, a food rich in precious substances. Honey was employed as a remedy for internal and external use since ancient times and it is praised by researchers for its endless therapeutic properties: it is an anti-anemic, antimicrobial, it disinfects the intestines, regulates body functions, it is an anti-infective, it prevents heartburn, it is an antibiotic and digestive tonic. It prevents the development of dangerous germs like streptococcus and staphylococcus. It is a febrifuge, sedative, it regulates psychic tone and the functioning of female sexual organs, it soothes the cough, and it is relaxing. It helps the liver to absorb alcohol, chemical additives and nicotine. And if it’s good it can even prevent tooth decay.

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But which is the better variety? We’ve asked Livio Colombari, beekeeper of the farming company Chelidonia in Montevecchia (Northern Italy). “In the label of honey pots the quality of the product is not specified. Actually, it is possible to choose a good pot of honey following few simple suggestions: firstly, you should control where it has been produced because there are countries that allow beekeepers to use antibiotics and chemicals to treat honey. Secondly, you should remember that honey crystallisation is exclusively a natural process and, so, you shouldn’t choose honey that has undertaken thermal treatments to be preserved.

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 Honey rich in fructose (acacia, chestnut, honeydrew) tend to stay liquid longer, while those rich in glucose (dandelion, linden, rhododendron, arbutus, thistle) tend to crystallise faster. But all types of honey crystallise if they have not been pasteurised. The pasteurisation process, which changes the organoleptic and nutritional properties of honey, is made using appropriate plants in which honey is processed at quite high temperatures (about 75°C). Unlike what happens at the majority of pasteurised food products for human consumption, honey isn’t pasteurised for hygienic, health or preservation reasons. Rather, it undertakes this process for commercial needs, such as, for example, to maintain a liquid texture longer, to standardise its flavour, and so on. Crystallised honey, in addition, is more easily extracted because it doesn’t drip and it is more pleasant because it is less sweet and fresher; it can be restored to a liquid store by heating it in a bain-marie at a lower temperature than 40°C. From the nutritional point of view, the best honey is honeydrew, obtained from the liquid secreted by scale insects as they feed on plants. It is an already elaborated sap rich in mineral salts and poor in sodium”.

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The taste and colour of honey change depending on the flowers foraged by bees. And so do its health benefits: the healing properties of the plants from which it is derived are added to the natural properties of honey.

Acacia

It regulates the intestines. It tackles throat irritation. It has a subtle and flowery scent and a delicate flavour. To be paired with blue cheese.

Chestnut

It fosters the blood flow. Its scent is intense, flowery and balmy. Its taste is strong with a bitter aftertaste. To be paired with flavoury cheese.

Orange

Nerve sedative. It is useful in case of insomnia and palpitations. Scent: typical of orange flower, fresh and piercing. Its taste is delicate and slightly sour. It can accompany half-aged cheese.

Eucalyptus

Antiseptic of the respiratory and urinary tract. Pungent aroma. Malt, aromatic and persistent taste.

Lime

Antispasmodic, nerve sedative, tranquillizing. Intense scent. Balmy and very persistent taste.

Lavander

General antiseptic and anti-inflammatory. Intense, aromatic and fresh smell. Delicate and slightly vegetable taste.

Thyme

General antiseptic, it is a remedy for infective and respiratory, digestive and urinary tract diseases. Strong, slightly mentholated scent.

Rosemary

Suitable for liver and bile failure. Delicate aroma, typical of rosemary flowers. Delicate and slightly aromatic flavour.

Heather

General antiseptic of the urinary tract and diuretic. Antianemic and reinvigorating. Intense flowery scent and taste.

Dandelion

Diuretic, detoxifying. It protects the liver. Strong flowery smell. To be paired with half-ripened sheep’s milk cheese.

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