Honeybees are one of nature’s most experienced Chemists; they follow a” hard wired” protocol when making honey; they visit flowers within their flying vicinity which is about, a two to three mile radius, beginning in the spring of every year. Forager bees leave the hive in search of a good nectar supply; upon finding a good source she returns to the hive with nectar sample where she performs the “waggle dance or the round dance” for her sisters as she shares a taste of her find along with precise description and direction to the nectar source. Her sisters who witnessed the dance and tasted the sample are then ready to go out and find the nectar source so they could ferry home the goodies. Nectar is sucked up from flowers visited by the worker and stored in the organ called the honey crop or honey stomach for transport back to the hive. An enzyme produced in the bee’s salivary gland, called Invertase is added by the bee to the nectar in her honey stomach during transport and that addition begins the transformation or hydrolysis of nectar into what becomes honey within the hive.
Nectar when collected from flowers is a highly diluted complex sugar solution which typically is eighty percent water; the Invertase addition by the worker begins the chemical breakdown of the sugars in nectar to Glucose an (aldo sugar), and Fructose a (keto sugar), which are two of the simplest forms of natural sugars. The forager bees pass their load off to one of the receiver bees at the hive and returns for another load. The receiver bee also adds more Invertase to the received solution furthering the chemical transformation (hydrolysis). Hydrolysis is the use of a water molecule to cause the splitting of the complex sugars found in nectar into two simple sugars, namely glucose and fructose in the case of honey production; this continued splitting of complex sugars by the honeybees account for the depletion of a lot of the excess water comprised in nectar. By the time the bees have broken-down all the complex sugars in nectar it has about twenty percent water left.
Glucose and Fructose are both single sugars with the same number of Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen atoms (6:12:6), but they have a different atomic structure; Glucose forms a six carbon ring, whereas Fructose forms a five carbon ring. The difference in atomic structure of these two monosaccharide sugars accounts for the difference in sweetness intensity; Glucose is less sweet than Fructose. The human body uses Glucose in its metabolism process; and when we eat other more complex sugars they are broken down by the liver and pancreas working together, into glucose for use in our bodies. The worker bees pass the “in process honey” solution back and forth with each adding acids, other enzymes such as Sucrase, Sucrose Hydrolase, Saccharase, Amylose, Glucose Oxidase, and Catalas farther propelling the hydrolysis of nectar into honey. Hydrolysis continues in the hive until the water content is reduced to about twenty percent, at which time the honey is placed in the honey comb where farther evaporation of water is accomplished by the bees fanning their wings thus creating an evaporating draft, when a water content of between seventeen and eighteen percent is reached the honey filled combs are finally capped with beeswax.
So, why make honey? Honeybees need food to raise offspring as well as to feed themselves; during the spring and early summer is the time of year when most plants bloom; then in the fall there is also a short period of bloom by some plants. Since Honeybees depend on flowers for the collection of their food they need to make and store honey along with pollen for periods when there are no flowers around to feed from. We humans love honey as do other creatures; beekeeping is the method we humans have evolved so as to have access to larger quantities of honey in a more managed way. Today’s beekeepers do a relatively successful job of rearing, and managing their honeybee colonies to allow us the luxury of sweet honey on demand. Today some Australians beekeepers literally have their honey on demand with their new hive design.