Why doesn’t honey get spoilt?

Honey is not produced by honey bees as most of us commonly assume; instead it is processed by honey bees as their food. The raw material for honey is nectar, a sugary substance present in the flowers of plants.

This is an adaptation in several plants to attract the pollinators like honey bees to aid them in cross-pollination. The worker honey bees collect the nectar from the flowers and bring it to the bee hives.

The nectar has about 80 per cent water and some complex sugars, which are processed into honey. Honey bees have a ‘honey stomach’ in addition to their regular stomach. They ingest the nectar into their honey stomach, where the nectar reacts with the enzymes and then the bees regurgitate the processed nectars.

They repeat this process several times until the nectar gets partially digested and store them in the honey combs. Before sealing the honey combs, the bees fan their wings to evaporate the water present in the processed nectars and thus increasing the sugar concentration in the honey to prevent fermentation. So, honey is a mixture of sugars and few other compounds.

Glucose and fructose constitute about 70 per cent of the sugars in honey. Besides sugars, honey is also made up of small quantities of vitamins, minerals, amino-acids and antioxidants. Hence honey possesses medicinal properties, especially antimicrobial properties.

As the high concentration of sugars in honey causes osmotic effect, it does not support any microbial growth. In addition, hydrogen peroxide, a well known antimicrobial agent is also produced during the processing of nectar into honey by the bees.

The acidic nature (pH 3.2 – 4.5) of the honey is also not favourable for any microbial growth. Hence, osmotic effect due to high sugar concentration, hydrogen peroxide and acidic pH contribute to the antimicrobial properties of honey and thus prevent spoiling.

Source: The Hindu