Honey: Synthesis and some applications
Honey is amber colored, sweet tasting and uniquely flavored semiliquid substance. Chemically, honey is a complex carbohydrate, principally containing saturated mixture of two simple sugars, namely glucose and fructose. In addition to this, honey also contains essential minerals and vitamins. To name some, vitamins like B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 and C; minerals such as Fe, Ca, P, K, Mg and Zn are naturally present in the honey. All these contribute to upgrade the nutritional status of honey unlike refined sugar which is widely used but empty caloric food ingredient. Honey also has various interesting applications which have been described in this article.
Natural synthesis of honey:
Honey is natural product of animal origin. It is made by insects of the genus Apis, commonly known as honey bees. Bee hive is the site of synthesis of the honey. Honey is the wholesome food source for honey bees during adverse conditions like winter season. The worker bees not only collect the nectar from different flowers but also transform it into the honey. Two types of worker bees are involved in honey synthesis. Field worker bees collect nectar from flowers with the help of proboscis, special nectar sucking mouth part. The nectar is temporarily stored in their stomach or can be called as honey stomach. With filled stomach, field bees return to the hive; where resident bees receive nectar from stomach by sucking and simultaneously followed by regurgitation. Here starts the process of enzymatic transformation of nectar into the honey. Nectar is nothing but sucrose and about 80% of water. Enzyme invertase secreted by resident bees converts sucrose into glucose and fructose, the two being important constituents of honey. Some of the glucose is oxidized into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide by enzyme glucose oxidase. The product of this enzymatic conversion is known as raw honey. Raw honey is stored in honeycombs for further ripening. Low pH (3-4.5) created by gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide protects honey from microbial attack during the process of ripening. Ripening process involves reduction of water content to near about 20% by evaporation. Excess water is carried outside cell of honeycomb by bee's mouth and then each droplet is evaporated by continuous fanning of their wings. Ripened honey so obtained is stored and wax sealed in the each cell of honeycomb for future use by the bees. Ripened honey has increased sugar concentration, high osmotic pressure and low water activity which prevents microbial growth and hence its fermentation.
Artificial synthesis of honey:
It has been possible to synthesize honey in the laboratory and commercialize its production for various purposes. Laboratory synthesis of honey is based on following chemical reaction: Sucrose (table sugar) is degraded by citric acid or lemon juice into glucose and fructose. Artificial honey is thus the byproduct of sucrose degradation and it is devoid of enzymes, minerals, vitamins and other simple sugars. Honeybees have also been domesticated to yield honey of specific flavor and other characteristics. It's the job of beekeepers and apiculturists to obtain monofloral or multifloral honeys as per the market requirements.
Some important applications:
Pharmaceutical- Honey is used in plenty of medical treatments. It can be consumed as pure liquid or crystalline form, as syrup, in diluted form or with other medicines like Ayurvedic formulations and antibiotics or it can be used topically. Honey as a medicine has broad range of applications: to purify blood, for treating sore throat, coughs, digestive problems, seasonal allergies, cold and fevers, headaches, healing of wounds, bruises, diabetic ulcers and burns. Medicinal properties of honey are due to its antioxidant, antimicrobial, Honey also has versatile cosmetic uses. It is a basic ingredient of face packs, facials, moisturizers, waxing solutions, conditioners, lipsticks and body lotions.
Honey as a food- Honey is a food for many wild animals such as possums, bears, civets, Raccoon and Badger. Researchers have found that honey eating animals not only eat honey but also bee larvae as a protein supplement. Since most of the honey eaters are hibernating animals; sugar consumption in the form of honey helps them to thrive during harsh time of winter and this long sleep. Humans consume honey for its nutritional goody contents like sugars, proteins, vitamins and minerals; it also has beneficial healthier glycemic index. Honey has been in constant use by mankind for cooking, baking, making confectionaries, beverages, salads and sweets etc.
Ecological- Honeybees are important pollinating agents. Pollen grains are eventually transferred from flower to flower by bees during nectar collection. In this regard, natural production of honey is more beneficial to agriculture economy than artificial synthesis. It not only increases rate of pollination but also promotes cross pollination of crop plants, local plant varieties and exotic plant species. The honey derived from collected nectar of different flowers bears specific composition, color and flavor. Such honey with its peculiar properties is marketed for specific applications.
Microbiology - Natural honey is not sterile. Actually the composition of honey is microbistatic but still it harbors microorganisms like bacteria, yeasts and fungi; most probably in their dormant inactive form (spores). Bacteria of genus Bacillus, Clostridium, Enterobacter, Streptococcus, Escherichia, Klebsiella, Pseudomonas; Fungi like Aspergillus, Penicillium and yeasts Schizosaccharomyces, Saccharomyces spp. are major microorganisms present in the honey. The presence of microbes in the honey indicates that these microbes can withstand antimicrobial properties of honey like acidity and high sugar concentration. Wind currents, flowers, fecal matter of bee population from beehive and polluted air are some of the principle sources of microorganisms present in the honey. Taking into consideration, the possibility of presence of opportunistic microbes, the great care should be taken while using honey for pharmaceutical and nutritional purposes.
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