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Honey

Kenyan honey has a huge importance as the primary product of beekeeping both from a quantitative and an economic point of view, due to its worldwide commercial production and human consumption. It is the natural sweet substance produced by honeybees. Bees produce honey from the sugary secretions of plants. collected from mainly nectar and honeydew for use as sugars consumed to support metabolism of muscle activity during foraging or to be stored as a long-term food supply in honeycombs

Honeycomb cells in which honey bees store honey

In cold weather or when other food sources are scarce, adult and larval bees use stored honey as food.

The history of the use of honey in Kenya is parallel to the history of Kenyans. Different tribes in Kenya since pre-colonial times have been using Kenyan honey for a variety of purposes, in virtually every culture evidence can be found of its use as a food source and as a symbol employed in religious, magic and therapeutic ceremonies. Until very recently, it was as the only concentrated form of sugar available

Honey Characteristics

Sugars account for 95to 99% of honey dry matter. The majority of these are the simple sugars fructose and glucose which represent 85-95% of total sugars. Honey gets its sweetness from the monosaccharides fructose and glucose, and has about the same relative sweetness as sucrose

Freshly extracted honey is a viscous liquid. Its viscosity depends on a large variety of substances and therefore varies with its composition and particularly with its water content. Viscosity is an important technical parameter during honey processing, because it reduces honey flow during extraction, pumping, settling, filtration, mixing and bottling. Raising the temperature of honey lowers its viscosity

Water is an important component of honey. Its content is critical, since it affects the storage of honey. Only honeys with less than 18% water can be stored with little to no risk of fermentation. The final water content depends on a number of environmental factors during production such as weather and humidity inside the hive, but also on nectar conditions and treatment of honey during extraction and storage

Honey density, is greater than water density, but it also depends on the water content of the honey

Colour varies with botanical origin, age and storage conditions, but transparency or clarity depends on the amount of suspended particles such as pollen. In some parts of with Kenyan honey which are almost white, in their liquid state.

Different coloured honeys (courtesy of F. Intoppa)

Honey crystallization is naturally occurring. Read more about it here

How bees make Honey

Leaving the hive, a honey bee collects flower nectar, sucking it through its proboscis and placing it in its honey stomach. In Apis mellifera, the honey stomach holds about 40 mg of nectar, or roughly 50% of the bee’s unloaded weight, which can require over a thousand flowers and more than an hour to fill. The nectar generally begins with a water content of 70 to 80%. Salivary enzymes and proteins from the bee’s hypopharyngeal gland are added to the nectar to begin breaking down the sugars, raising the water content slightly.

The forager bees then return to the hive, where they regurgitate and transfer nectar to the hive bees. The hive bees then use their honey stomachs to ingest and regurgitate the nectar, forming bubbles between their mandibles repeatedly until it is partially digested. The bubbles create a large surface area per volume and a portion of the water is removed through evaporation. The bee’s digestive enzymes hydrolyze converts sucrose to a mixture of glucose and fructose, and break down other starches and proteins, increasing the acidity.

The bees work together as a group with the regurgitation and digestion for as long as 20 minutes, passing the nectar from one bee to the next, until the product reaches the honeycombs in storage quality. The hive bees flutter their wings constantly to circulate air and evaporate water from the honey to a content around 18%, raising the sugar concentration beyond the saturation point and preventing fermentation. The bees then cap the cells with wax to seal them which can be removed by using a decapping fork

Adulteration of Kenyan Honey

Honey is sometimes adulterated by the addition of other sugars, syrups, or compounds to change its flavor or viscosity, reduce cost, or increase the fructose content to stave off crystallization.

Adulteration of honey has been practiced since ancient times, when honey was sometimes blended with plant syrups and sold to customers as pure honey. In Kenya Honey the most common adulterant comes from the addition of Molasses; the adulterated mixture can be very difficult to distinguish from pure honey.

Uses of Honey

1. Nutritional benefits

Honey is said to facilitate better physical performance and resistance to fatigue, particularly for repeated effort. Honey provides immediately available calories, from which it derives its energy value for healthy and sick people: quick access to energy without requiring lengthy or complicated digestive action.

2. Medical use and research

Honey is used in moisturizing and nourishing cosmetic creams, but also in pharmaceutical preparations applied directly on open wounds, sores, bed sores, ulcers, varicose ulcers and burns

Honey is said to normalize kidney function, reduce fevers and help insomnia. It is also supposed to help recovery from alcohol intoxication and protect the liver; effects also ascribed to fructose syrups. Heart, circulation and liver ailments 

For chronic and acute coughs, a homemade remedy containing honey and lemon is likely to provide relief. The World Health Organization recommends honey as a treatment for coughs and sore throats, including for children, stating that no reason exists to believe it is less effective than a commercial remedy

Organization, World Health (2001). “Cough and cold remedies for the treatment of acute respiratory infections in young children”World Health Organization (WHO). hdl:10665/66856. WHO/FCH/CAH/01.02. Archived from the original on 25 August 2013

Honey may be useful for controlling side effects of radiation therapy or chemotherapy used to treat cancer.

3. Fermentation of Kenyan honey for traditional Kenyan alcohol

Alcoholic product made by adding yeast to honey-water must and fermenting it for weeks or months

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