When I started harvesting honeycomb, I quickly realized people didn’t know what it was or if it was edible. This video and blog post will hopefully shed some light on this amazing substance.
What Is Honeycomb Made From?
Honeycomb is made from beeswax. Beeswax is a substance only made by bees. The worker bees secrete it out of a gland on the underside of their abdomen. The queen and drones do not have this gland.
How Bees Build Honeycomb
The worker bees that are about 1 week old are the best at secreting beeswax. However, bees of all ages can secrete wax if necessary. When the bee eats a lot of honey, instead of her body turning it into fat like our human bodies do, the bee secretes this sugar in the form of beeswax. That’s why bees never get fat!
Once the beeswax is secreted, the bee chews it up so it is malleable, and molds it into a cylinder shape. They use their body size as a unit for measurement and form a scaffolding across the hive with their bodies – also called festooning or a bee chain. This chain is what allows them to begin to build this honeycomb in what was an empty space.
HOW DO THEY MAKE HONEYCOMB INTO HEXAGON SHAPES
The bees build cylinders with beeswax. Then, they attach the cylinders with heat. When the wax begins to melt, the cylinders join together, forming a straight line. The bees do not intentionally build hexagon shaped cells! The cells automatically form hexagons when it is molded to the cell next to it.
Purpose of Honeycomb
BROOD IN HONEYCOMB
The queen will walk across the honeycomb and look for an empty cell. When she finds one, she will put the lower half of her body in the cell and lay an egg. This egg will be fed constantly until it hatches into a larvae and then spins a cocoon and pupates. This cell is essentially the crib for this baby bee. It will live and grow in this cell until it is a fully grown adult, ready to get to work.
FOOD IN HONEYCOMB
Honeycomb is also used as a way to store food which is honey and pollen. On average, honeybees gather about 7 times more food than what they need to eat in order save up for when there are not enough flowers in bloom to feed the hive.
HONEYCOMB FOR COMMUNICATION
Bees walk on the honeycomb and dance on the honeycomb. It is believed that the bees can feel the vibration on the comb and is another way they communicate with each other. Additionally, a bee will do a dance on the comb in order to tell the other worker bees how to find the flowers she was just visiting.
Humans and Honeycomb
Honeycomb is edible and has a chewy consistency. It contains the maximum beneficial properties from the hive including lots of pollen and propolis. You can either chew the honeycomb to extract the honey and spit out the wax or swallow the wax. Before electricity, most beekeepers harvested the entire comb. Now, with motorized extractors, honeycomb is not harvested as often and much harder to find, but no less delicious! You can learn how I harvest my honeycomb at this blog post.
Here are a few easy ways to eat honeycomb or introduce it to friends and family who may not be familiar with it.
Honeycomb as a Breakfast Topping
Cut a piece of honeycomb into small chunks and sprinkle over warm oatmeal, pancakes or waffles. Place it on while it’s hot to very warm so the honeycomb melts on top and can be stirred or spread on top.
Honeycomb in Salads
Cut a small piece of honeycomb into very tiny chucks and sprinkle over a salad. Top with a soft cheese, nuts and dried fruit or figs.
Sandwiches, Dinners and Desserts
Honeycomb is absolutely delicious when added to warm food that causes it to melt partially. Add a small piece of honeycomb to a hot ham and cheese sandwich, place in the center of a hot bowl of chili, or not top of a baked dessert or pastry fresh out of the oven.
My absolute favorite was to eat honeycomb is baked in a pastry with brie.
People have been keeping bees and eating honeycomb for thousands of years. The comb is completely safe to eat and my personal favorite way to eat honey.
Honeycomb is the only way to make sure your honey is completely raw. If the comb is in tact (and not melted), then the honey wasn’t heated too high. Honeycomb contains the maximum amounts of nutrients and health benefits of any kind of honey. This is because the honeycomb contains bits of pollen and propolis within the wax as well as the honey. Since honeycomb cannot be strained, all of these nutrients stay within the honey. There’s nothing like seeing honeycomb to be reminded how much work bees put into every teaspoon of honey we eat. Like liquid honey, it never spoils.
Honeycomb can be used in ways that liquid honey can’t. While drizzling honey over a salad seems odd, topping a salad with crumbled goat cheese and hunks of honeycomb is a heavenly way to eat your veggies. Honeycomb is a delicious carrier for honey, transforming it from something merely absorbed by the other ingredients to something that stands on its own.