Nectar — a sugary liquid — is extracted from flowers using a bee’s long, tube-shaped tongue and stored in its extra stomach, or “crop.” While sloshing around in the crop, the nectar mixes with enzymes that transform its chemical composition and pH, making it more suitable for long-term storage.
When a honeybee returns to the hive, it passes the nectar to another bee by regurgitating the liquid into the other bee’s mouth. This regurgitation process is repeated until the partially digested nectar is finally deposited into a honeycomb.
Once in the comb, nectar is still a viscous liquid — nothing like the thick honey you use at the breakfast table. To get all that extra water out of their honey, bees set to work fanning the honeycomb with their wings in an effort to speed up the process of evaporation.
When most of the water has evaporated from the honeycomb, the bee seals the comb with a secretion of liquid from its abdomen, which eventually hardens into beeswax. Away from air and water, honey can be stored indefinitely, providing bees with the perfect food source for cold winter months.
The color and flavor of honey varies from hive to hive based on the type of flower nectar collected by the bees. For example, honey made from Orange Blossom nectar might be light in color, whereas honey from Avocado or Wildflowers might have a dark amber color.
Beekeepers — large and small — harvest honey by collecting the honeycomb frames and scraping off the wax cap that bees make to seal off honey in each cell.
Once the caps are removed, the frames are placed in an extractor — a centrifuge that spins the frames, forcing honey out of the comb. The honey is spun to the sides of the extractor, where gravity pulls it to the bottom and it can be collected.
After the honey is extracted, it is strained to remove any remaining pieces of wax or other particles. Some beekeepers and bottlers might heat the honey to make it easier to strain, but this does nothing to alter the liquid’s natural composition. It only makes the straining process easier and more effective.
After straining, it’s time to bottle, label and distribute the honey to retail outlets. Whether the container is glass or plastic, or purchased at the grocery store or farmers market, if the ingredient label says pure honey, you can rest assured that nothing was added, from bee to hive to bottle.