Valentine's Day: V Day is Bee Day
Feb. 11, 2011
A UC Davis honey bee sips honey from a comb. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
DAVIS--Valentine cards proclaiming “Honey, Bee My Valentine” or “Honey, Bee Mine” have the right idea, say honey bee experts at the University of California, Davis.
“Honey is nature’s best and sweetest sweet,” said bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, who does research at both UC Davis and Washington State University. “It tastes sweeter than sugar, so you use less when you’re cooking with it.”
“Also it comes in as many flavors as there are bee flowers,” she said. “It’s a high-energy simple, natural sweet. Athletes use it for a quick pickup.” Each tablespoon of honey provides 17 grams of carbohydrates or 64 calories.
Honey, she said, is one to 1.5 times sweeter than sugar—and that’s especially “sweet” on Valentine’s Day when folks partake of such dishes as honey-baked ham, honey-mustard chicken, whole wheat honey bread and assorted honey desserts. And then there’s mead, or honey wine.
“Honey lovers stick together,” said Cobey, quoting a bumper sticker in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis.
The average worker bee produces about 1/12th teaspoon of honey in her lifetime; on one collection trip, she visits 50 to 100 flowers. The workers in a beehive may collectively travel 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers “just to gather enough nectar to make a pound of honey,” Cobey said.
Depending on the location, the average healthy hive can yield from 50 to 500 pounds of honey a year. “In Canada they get crops of 300 to 500 pounds—surplus harvest,” Cobey said. “It’s about 50 pounds here. This is their winter feed.”Extension apiculturist Eric Mussenof the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty says the bees’ floral source determines the color and flavor of honey.
Honey bees foraging in almonds at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. Click to enlarge. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The standard colors are water white, extra white, white, extra light amber, light amber, amber and dark amber, he said. The lighter colors tend to be mild and the darker colors, more robust.
"The milder flavors are good for drizzling over pancakes and oatmeal or for vegetable dishes," Mussen said. "The darker, more robust colors, are excellent recipe ingredients, providing substantial honey flavor and resistance of the final product to 'drying out.'"
"For great lemonade," he said, "try mixing one cup of freshly squeezed lemon with one cup of liquid honey, and add water to fill a quart."
Not everyone should eat honey. The general rule of thumb is not to give raw honey to infants under a year old because of their underdeveloped immune systems and the possibility of their ingesting microorganisms.
“This is uncommon but can be an issue when the honey is diluted, as with foods or liquids,” Cobey said. “Modern health standards regulate sanitation conditions of extracting and bottling honey--so this is a bit archaic, but still on the books.”
“In the concentrated state, honey is too dense for microorganisms to grow,” she said. “Honey has been found, naturally well preserved, in the Egyptian tombs and was used as a natural preservative in embalming.”
Honey is comprised of sugars, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids. Honey is not only a treasured sweetener, but is valued for its protective antioxidant levels; as a cold and sore-throat home remedy; and as a beauty aid (cleansing scrub, skin moisturizer, hair conditioner and antibacterial mouthwash).
“I eat honey because it’s tasty,” said honey enthusiast Leslie Sandberg, program manager/research administrator for entomology professors James R. Carey and Thomas W. Scott. “I use it on oatmeal; for cooking, such as for poached salmon; and it’s a great substitute for recipes calling for sugar.”
“It keeps the skin healthy and prevents early aging since it is loaded with antioxidants.” She also likes it because “It’s nature’s energy booster and an excellent remedy for ailments—colds, sore throats and sleeplessness.”
New Zealand produces the highly prized manuka honey, praised for its medicinal or antibacterial properties. It's made from the manuka or tea tree (Leptospermum scoparium).
Mussen, who writes “from the UC Apiaries,” a newsletter published bimonthly and available free online on the Department of Entomology website, says that all honey marketed for sale in California must meet certain specifications, according to the California Food and Ag Section 29611. Every container must include the name and address of the producer or distributor of the extracted honey; the net weight of the honey in the container; and one of the U.S. grades established for honey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And if the container is opaque, it must include the color of the honey.
So when folks celebrate Valentine’s Day, they shouldn't just think about hearts and flowers, the UC Davis bee specialists agreed. “Think bees, flowers and honey,” Cobey said.
And it wouldn’t hurt, either, she added, to send “Bee Mine” valentines to acknowledge the work of the honey bee and consider the plight of the honey bee.
--Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis Department of Entomology