What is Honey? Complete and Up-to-date Guide

In this blog we’ll show you the characteristics of honey, its main types, its properties, its history, the main exporters and importers, how it is obtained, and some products made from this food. Don’t miss it!  

What is honey and what are its characteristics?     

Scientific nameApis mellífera
Common nameMiel
Place of originSpain and Egypt (see history of honey for more information)
HabitatWarm temperatures. Trees or places with corners or hollows such as walls outside. 
DistributionAsia, Europe, South America, and Central America (see section on top honey exporters in the world for more information).

Characteristics of honey


This product is the result of the nectar that bees obtain from certain flowers and that they deposit in their homes called honeycombs or hives (when a group of hives is formed).

The honeycomb is a type of structure consisting of a group of small hexagonal (6 edges) cells measuring approximately 5.4 mm wide and 5 cm deep. It is made of wax that bees elaborate themselves through their glands. These cells can hold their weight up to 25 times.

Honeycombs are usually bright yellow or pale yellow and can have a rectangular or conical shape depending on the number of bees in them.


Once this nectar thickens, it can be said to have become honey. This is a viscous, transparent, thick fluid with a sweet taste and a color that can be described as a mixture of yellow and orange.

This fluid is used today as a garnish for many dishes such as waffles or as a flavoring in foods such as cookies or candies.

On the other hand, it can be consumed as a home remedy for coughs or colds, especially when mixed with lemon or as propolis which is a product similar to honey and is made by the bees themselves to build their hives.

Propolis can be consumed for these diseases because it has been shown to fight viruses in the body. This substance is also found in processed presentations such as medicines that are found in pharmacies and can be for both humans and dogs when suffering from respiratory diseases.

Types of honey 

In general, there are 17 types or varieties of honey, which are:

  1. Bee honey
  2. Wasp honey
  3. Chestnut honey
  4. Rosemary honey
  5. Ulmo honey
  6. Honey of thyme
  7. Heather honey
  8. Orange blossom honey
  9. Linden honey
  10. Acacia honey
  11. Eucalyptus honey
  12. Lavender honey
  13. Blackberry honey
  14. Alfalfa honey
  15. Mountain or highland and desert honey
  16. Mesquite
  17. Gatun
  18. Eltata
  19. Varadulce
  20. Honeydew or syrup honey
  21. Honey from honeydew ants.

Today we’ll focus on the first 7 types as they are the main ones.

Bee honey 

This honey is generally made from nectar, a sweet liquid produced by flowers to attract bees to spread their pollen. A worker bee sucks the nectar through a long, thin tube called a proboscis and stores it in a special honey stomach, known as a crop, which can contain up to 80 percent of a bee’s weight in nectar. Inside, the bee’s enzymes, particularly one called invertase, begin to break down complex sugars into simpler sugars that are less likely to crystallize.

Once the worker bee returns to the hive, forager bees pass the nectar from mouth to mouth. Worker bees that are younger than foragers pack the nectar into hexagon-shaped cells made of beeswax in the comb. They then fan the nectar with their wings to stimulate its evaporation.

While the nectar is 70 to 80 percent water, this process reduces its water content to about 18 percent. This reduction in water turns the nectar into honey.

Wasp honey 

Honey from wasps is produced and collected for human consumption from a reduced group of wasps such as Brachygastra lecheguana, Brachygastra mellifica, and only a small part of Polybia occidentalis. In some cases, it results in toxic honey since it is made from flowers such as Datura.

Chestnut honey 

This honey is collected by bees in places with abundant chestnut blossoms. Chestnut honey is amber or dark red in color. This honey has a strong, penetrating fragrance that resembles that of wood. It has a sweet flavor that is combined with mild salty and bitter hints.

Rosemary honey 

Rosemary honey is distinguished by having a floral or fruity fragrance at times. Its flavor is generally sweet, although sometimes it may contain some acid, although in small quantities. In terms of color we can say that, if it is harvested following all the instructions to the letter, it can be presented in an almost completely transparent color.

Ulmo honey 

Ulmo honey is produced when bees collect the nectar from the flowers of the ulmo tree, also called muermo. This honey is produced in the forests of southern Chile in the areas called Los Lagos and Los Rios. It has a strong aroma, a creamy texture, and a light color similar to white.

Thyme honey 

Thyme honey can be of a red Vinotinto or amber color with a floral and intense fragrance. This honey comes from the Mediterranean and is one of the most demanded in the market, either for its sweet taste or for its wide variety of health benefits such as digestion care, improved blood pressure, and prevention of throat infections.

Heather honey 

It comes from virgin or almost untouched hands in the high mountains. This type of honey is very common in the northern areas of Spain and has a semi-sweet taste with a bitter touch for which it is characterized. As with many dark kinds of honey, this one has a great variety of minerals and, it is a dark honey because, like thyme honey, it is of a dark amber color. It has a strong vegetal or floral fragrance.

Properties and benefits of honey 

Nutritional profile of honey  

Take a look at the nutritional table of honey per 100g, taken from Vegaffinity.

CompositionQuantity (gr)CDR(%)
MineralsQuantity (mg)CDR(%)
VitaminsQuantity (mg)CDR(%)
Vitamin A00%
Vitamin B100%
Vitamin B20.053.8%
Vitamin B30.280%
Vitamin B1200%
Vitamin C2.42.7%

5 properties of honey that you should take advantage of 

A good source of antioxidants 

Raw honey contains various plant chemicals that act as antioxidants. Some types of honey have as many antioxidants as fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help protect your body from cell damage caused by free radicals.

Free radicals contribute to the aging process and may also contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Studies show that antioxidant compounds in raw honey called polyphenols have anti-inflammatory effects that may be beneficial in fighting a number of conditions associated with oxidative stress.

Antibacterial and antifungal properties

The “Investigate” database has shown that propolis in raw honey has antifungal and antibacterial properties, thanks to this the potential for internal and topical treatments with raw honey is significant. The efficacy of honey as an antibacterial or antifungal agent varies from honey to honey, but some varieties are being studied for specific therapeutic uses, such as combating infections associated with the Candida fungus.

Wound healing 

A review of studies in 2018 found that honey has antimicrobial properties. On the other hand, another review of studies in 2017 also suggested that honey, propolis, and royal jelly may have potential health benefits in decreasing microbes and healing wounds.

Keep in mind that honey used in research settings is from medicine, which means this honey is inspected and sterilized. It is not a good idea to treat wounds with honey you buy in a store. Always talk to your doctor before using honey for medical purposes.

Help for digestive problems 

Honey is sometimes used to treat digestive problems such as diarrhea, although research shows that its role is limited. However, it may have potential as a treatment for Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria, which is a common cause of stomach ulcers.

It also contains beneficial prebiotics, meaning it nourishes the good bacteria that live in the intestines and are crucial not only for digestion but also for overall health.

Soothes sore throats and coughs 

Honey is an ancient sore throat remedy that soothes throat pain and can help with coughs. Add it to hot tea with lemon when you have a cold.

Although still more research is needed, a 2021 study review suggested that honey may be better than other remedies in treating upper respiratory tract infections.

A 2016 study also suggested that honey’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties are effective in relieving sore throats.

History and origin of honey 

It is difficult to tell exactly how long has honey been around because it has existed for as long as we can record. Spanish cave paintings from 7000 B.C. show the earliest records of apiculture, yet fossils of honey bees date back some 150 million years! Its “magical” properties and versatility have given honey an important role in history:

Honey and humans share a history that goes back earlier than domestic animals, baked products, or farms. Humans who first encountered honey more than 10,000 years ago would have found it inside a wild bee nest and, for some reason, decided to try the sweet bounty.

At a time when fruit was the sweetest thing ever tasted, honey had seemed like a revelation from the gods. In the early centuries, almost every culture had a myth explaining the immortal sweetness of honey.

It wasn’t until the mid-19th century when a clergyman and beekeeper named Lorenzo Langstroth devised the “collateral hive” that honey harvesting became a simple tax on bees. This revolutionized domestic apiculture by enabling the raising of individual combs; honey could finally be obtained without replacing the entire bee hive.

Global honey industry 

Learn about the main exporters and importers of honey in the world.   

Top honey exporters in the world in 2020 

In the following chart, you can see the 10 countries that exported the most honey in 2020 according to FAO.

On the other hand, FAO also provides information on which countries have the highest monetary volume in exports, specifically in U.S. dollars in 2020. Let’s see what they are:

Top honey importers in the world in 2020 

In 2020, $2.29 billion worth of honey was imported around the world. You can see in the following chart the top importers of honey according to the FAO for this year.

How is honey made?   

There are a series of steps and elements to follow when making this foodstuff. Let us show you what they are:   

The honey is nectar that has been converted into honey through enzymes and evaporation, a process that occurs mainly within the bee’s digestive system, before being deposited in a honeycomb.


Honey bees live in eusocial colonies. This concept implies that there is a queen that reproduces, while her offspring, most of which are her daughters, are worker bees that maintain the hive, and raise their sisters and brothers, but do not reproduce. A single colony can have between 50,000 and 70,000 bees.

Worker bees do all the work in the colony: caring for the brood, building, maintaining and protecting the hive, and foraging for food. They forage for flowers from which they can extract pollen and nectar; bees absolutely love both things. They suck nectar from the flower through tubes in their mouths while the pouches on their backmost pair of legs, called pollen sacs, are used to store pollen, as the name suggests.

These two give the plant nectar which leads to honey as a result. Each worker bee collects about a teaspoon of nectar, and about half a kilogram of honey requires about 1.8 kilograms of nectar!

From nectar to honey 

Once the forager bee (the foraging worker bee) returns to the hive with a fresh supply of nectar and pollen, she passes these supplies on to the recipient bee (a worker bee that has not foraged). This recipient bee is not yet old enough to forage for food, since worker bees begin foraging after they are 20 days old. The entire life span of a worker bee can be as long as 50 days, shortened significantly by undertaking the dangerous adventure of foraging.

The worker bee stores nectar in a special organ called the bee bladder. The forager will open its mouth and produce the nectar it collected that will now be ingested by the recipient. This ingestion is important because the nectar is not digested while it is inside the bee. Instead, the bees will secrete enzymes from their glands (the hypopharyngeal gland), which will begin to change the chemical composition of the nectar.

A worker bee produces many enzymes which break down larger sugar molecules into glucose and fructose, as well as enzymes that help destroy bacteria, such as catalase. These numerous enzymes are the reason why the nectar becomes honey.  Each time a worker passes the nectar mixture to another worker (this can happen several times), the new worker adds more enzymes from her own glands until, finally, the last worker deposits this pre-honey into one of the cells of the hive. Here the honey will mature further.

Another key characteristic of honey is its extremely low water content. Most of the water is removed as the bees process the honey in their guts (about 40 %), while the rest (about 20 %) evaporates in the hive cells. Between 20-70% of the water is lost in this process.

The final honey product is composed of 17-20% water, 76-80% glucose, fructose, pollen, wax and other mineral salts. The composition, consistency and color of honey depends on the type of flower from which the nectar is obtained. For example, alfalfa and clover produce white honey, heather produces a reddish-brown color and lavender produces an amber tone.

Manufacturing process 

This honey can be utilized by the bee itself, as food, or to produce beeswax, with which it builds and strengthens its hive, or another animal, e.g. humans, can extract the honey for its own needs.

Once a comb is full of honey, it is the beekeeper’s responsibility to remove it. Beekeepers should wear proper protection in the form of a helmet with a veil and protective gloves.

Removing the comb 

The removal of honeycombs that are intended for human use can be accomplished through various methods. The beekeeper can simply remove the bees from the comb by throwing them back into the hive. The second way the beekeeper can do this process is by pouring smoke over the combs to bring the bees back to the hive. This works because, when the bees sense the smoke, they mistake it for fire and when they see it, they try to run away with as much honey as possible. By being full of honey, they are reassured and are less likely to attack. If this was not enough, the third method is to remove the queen bee from where the worker bees are. This is done with the aid of a separator plate. When the bees realize that the queen is not at home, they leave through a slot that prevents them from re-entering the comb.


On average, a hive produces about 55 pounds of leftover honey each year. Beekeepers harvest it by collecting the comb frames and scraping off the wax cap that the bees make to seal the honey in each cell. Once the caps are removed, the frames are placed in an extractor, a centrifuge that spins the frames, forcing the honey out of the comb.

Filtration, bottling and labeling 

After straining, it’s time to bottle, label, and bring it in. Whether the container is glass or plastic or the honey is purchased at the grocery store or farmers’ market, is irrelevant. If the ingredient label says “pure honey,” then nothing was added from the bees into the hive and into the bottle.

Uses and products based on honey 

Honey is usually used to accompany some meals that we’ll describe herein. It is also consumed processed; some products made from honey have also been introduced in the market, such as the ones we’ll show you below.

Table honey 

This type of honey is very efficient and is used to replace sugar in some typical beverages such as coffee or tea; however, it can also be used on its own to make glazes or toppings in baked desserts such as cakes. It is most often found in table honey varieties such as clover blossom honey.

Organic honey 

Honey in its pure state, with no processing, is tastier than conventional honey. There are many varieties of this honey that are given according to the flowers that the bees have pollinated such as orange blossom, clover, wildflower, red mangrove or blueberry blossom. Organic honey is produced without the presence of any pesticides. Additionally, it has medicinal uses because it still preserves live bacteria that are positive for the organism. In general, it is consumed one spoonful at a time to improve health or simply as a garnish in some meals.


This is an alcoholic beverage made with fermented honey. It is made with water, a large amount of honey and yeast. Known as “the drink of the gods”, it has been popular in the readings of the ancient Romans, Greeks, Vikings and royalty in general. It is often referred to as “honey wine”, although there is a honey wine that is a different product and has 20% less honey. Sometimes some flavorings or spices are added to the mead to give it a more interesting flavor.

Hot Toddy 

This is a hot punch long used as a traditional medicine to relieve sore throats, flu, colds and in general to have a quicker recovery from many illnesses. It is usually prepared with hot water, lemon, honey and whiskey, but you can also add orange peel or cinnamon to replace the whiskey.

Honey butter 

This product consists of a combination of honey and butter that was designed so that, when preparing certain dishes, you no longer have to combine honey and butter as one. Instead, this product is a way to save time in the kitchen by skipping this step, because you have butter and honey in a single presentation that is ready to be added either in cakes or biscuits.


Honey is delicious food that you can use to make delicious preparations that are healthy at the same time. For this reason, and because it is a great substitute for the traditional sugar that causes health problems, honey is one of the most important products in the world. So, you should feel grateful if you have honey at home, and if it is not the case, we invite you to consume it daily so you can enjoy all its benefits.