Many people enjoy the sweet, delicious taste of honey, but very few are actually aware of how honeybees make it. This is probably best illustrated by three common beliefs – that honey is either bee poop, bee spit, or bee vomit. But is that really true?
No – honey is not bee poop, spit or vomit. Honey is made from nectar by reducing the moisture content after it is carried back to the hive.
While bees store the nectar inside their honey stomachs, the nectar is not vomited or pooped out before it is turned into honey – not technically, at least. You could argue that honey is ‘spat’ out by bees, but the principal ingredient used to make honey is nectar, not saliva.
Let’s examine these questions in greater detail to explain things more clearly.
How Honeybees Make Honey
Worker honey bees collect nectar from flowers using their tongue and store it inside a crop or sac known as a honey stomach. The honey stomach is expandable so it can hold nectar as the bee carries it back to the hive.
While the nectar is inside the honey stomach, it is mixed with special enzymes to start the honey-making process.
Upon returning to the hive, bees then regurgitate the nectar from their honey stomach and pass it mouth-to-mouth to other worker bees. While doing this, they fan it with their wings to reduce the moisture content to between 13-18%. Once it reaches this point, it is considered honey, and bees store it inside capped honeycomb cells.
Why Honey Is Technically Not Bee Vomit
Up until this point, many people draw the incorrect conclusion that honey is made from bee vomit because it is regurgitated from their honey stomachs. However, honey is not bee vomit. Here’s why:
While nectar is stored inside the honey stomach, unwanted particles are filtered out by a pulsating valve called the proventriculus. These particles are passed through (swallowed) into the bee’s midgut.
Once they reach the midgut, these particles are physically impossible to return to the honey stomach. In other words, any nectar that passes beyond this point in a bee’s digestive system cannot be returned to the honey stomach.
That means that honey CANNOT be vomit – because vomit, by definition, means to eject the contents of the stomach through the mouth.
Some may argue that, because the nectar is ejected from the honey ‘stomach,’ it is, in fact, bee vomit. However, as I pointed out earlier, the honey stomach is not really a stomach – not in the traditional sense.
The honey stomach is a crop, a thin-walled pouch located in the esophagus. That means the nectar is regurgitated, not vomited – because to regurgitate something means to eject something from the esophagus, whereas to vomit means to eject the contents of one’s stomach.
So Why Do People Think That Honey Is Honeybee Vomit?
Many people are confused because of the technical process by which bees make honey. They think that honey is made from vomit because bees store nectar in their honey ‘stomach’ before regurgitating it.
However, as I’ve pointed out, it’s technically a regurgitation process, not bees vomiting. Still, given how easily information becomes distorted after passing from one person to another, it’s not really a surprise that this sort of myth or confusion is widespread.
Having researched the topic before writing this article, I found many reputable sources happy to continue with this line of reasoning. After all, “Honey is bee vomit!” makes for a better headline than “Honey is not bee vomit”
Is honey bee spit or saliva?
Honey isn’t bee spit or saliva. However, honey bees do add two special enzymes from their salivary glands to nectar when making honey. So, in a way, you could say that honey contains a sort of bee ‘spit.’
You could also say that the action of regurgitation bees perform during the honey-making process is similar to spitting.
For example, if you have a dog that chews something they shouldn’t chew, you might tell them ‘spit it out.’ You’re not telling them to spit out saliva when you say this. You’re telling them to spit out the food inside their mouth.
So, if you follow this line of reasoning, you could say that bees ‘spit’ out honey after they mix it with salivary secretions even though the main ingredient used to make honey isn’t saliva. It’s nectar.
Bees don’t produce saliva or spit Like humans
As people, one of the reasons we produce saliva is to help with the digestion process. It makes food wet so it’s easier to swallow, and helps wash away crumbs and small remnants of food. Human saliva is mostly water.
On the other hand, the salivary glands of honey bees produce an oily secretion. It’s difficult to tell exactly what is in this secretion, but we do know it contains the enzymes diastase and glucose oxidase, which are used in the honey-making process.
As far as I can tell, bees don’t use these secretions to help kickstart the digestion process – which again means that digestion doesn’t start until food passes the crop. This reiterates the fact that honey is not something bees vomit, but rather something bees regurgitate.
Is Honey Made From Bee Poop?
Some people also think that honey is made from bee poop, but this is even less true than it is with vomit or spit.
Honeybees eat nectar and pollen to give them energy. Whatever their bodies don’t use, they poop out in a sticky, yellow substance. The poop looks like small droplets of mustard. If you’ve got a beehive on your property, you’ve probably seen this substance on your car, deck or outdoor furniture.
Bee poop is never used to make honey, though, nor is it honey itself. Honey is made from nectar that never passes beyond the honey stomach into a bee’s digestive system, so they cannot ‘poop’ it out.
So why do some people think that honey is made from bee poop?
My guess is that this myth started from a conversation about whether or not honey was bee vomit. As information was passed from one person to another, facts became crossed, and someone started believing that honey was made from bee poop.
Some Honey Is Made From The Poop Of Other Insects
Adding to the confusion is that some honey is made from the poop of other insects, such as aphids and scale insects.
These insects live underneath the bark and leaves of particular trees and plants. They bite into the leaves to eat the sap stored inside. However, they only need the 2% of the pure protein sap – the rest they excrete in the form of a sticky substance called honeydew.
This honeydew lands on leaves, branches, flowers and on the ground, where it is collected by other insects such as bees and turned into honey.
Bees prefer to make honey from nectar. However, when there isn’t enough nectar available, they’ll use other substances instead, such as honeydew or overripe fruit. Because honeydew is excreted waste, honey made from honeydew is technically made from insect poop.
To make honeydew honey, worker bees take honeydew back to the hive and treat it in the same way they would nectar. As such, it typically gets mixed in with nectar from other flowers before being stored inside capped honeycomb. So, depending on the availability of nectar in the area, honey will often contain both a mixture of honey made from nectar and honey made from honeydew.
Honey that is made solely from honeydew is, not surprisingly, called honeydew honey. It is also commonly referred to by other names, such as forest honey, bug honey, or tree honey. Sometimes it is also referred to by the name from which tree the honeydew is collected – for example, fir honey (from a fir tree) or pine honey (from pine trees).
Honeydew honey is typically a darker color than honey made from nectar and less sweet and often sells for a higher price. It is most common in parts of Europe (especially Germany) and New Zealand.
Honey made by honeybees is neither bee poop nor bee vomit. Many people think it is because honey is made from nectar that’s stored inside a bee’s honey ‘stomach’ It is then regurgitated (which is often confused with vomiting) and turned into honey.
This act of regurgitation could be seen as ‘spitting,’ which is why some people also believe that honey is bee spit. However, even though bees add salivary secretions to make honey, nectar is the main ingredient. So you couldn’t say that honey is bee spit any more than you could say it’s vomit or poop.
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