Table of content A-Z






According to the German Honey Ordinance (HVO), honey is a “liquid, viscous, or crystalline food that is produced by bees; they collect blossom nectar, other secretions from living plant parts, or secretions from other insects that are found on living plants, enrich and change them with their own secretions, store them in honeycombs and allow them to mature there.”

Thus, important criteria for honey are naturalness, authenticity, the processing of secretions from living plants or animals by bees, and storage and maturation in honeycombs. It is also clear, however, that there are no restrictions regarding what plant it is from: honey can be made from all plants visited by the bees.
As it is obtained by bees – in some cases via a detour by other insects – from plants, honey can be classified as a plant-based food.

Varieties of honey

Depending on whether the bees produce the honey from nectar or from other plant secretions, the result is either mixed flower honey or honeydew honey. Mixtures of the two can also result when both possible sources are available.

* Mixed flower honey is one that, according to the HVO, stems predominantly from flower nectar. Most light-coloured honeys are this type. To obtain monofloral honey the bees must have at their disposal at a given time only one large area of the desired blossom (for example, rapeseed). Then the beekeeper must harvest and centrifuge his honeycombs at precisely the right moment. The result is then, for example, rapeseed honey, linden or lime-blossom honey, or heather honey. If the beekeeper does not catch the exact moment for the harvest, or if he mixes several flower honey products with one another for any reason, he produces blended varieties which are then termed only mixed flower honey.

* Honeydew honey is made primarily from other secretions (than nectar) of living plants or from secretions of insects that are found on living plants. The colours range from light brown to greenish-brown to almost black. Some examples of honeydew honey are maple honey, linden honey, pine or fir honey, and forest honey.
Forest honeys stem from the forest, or more precisely from the secretions of insects that live there, all of which belong to the order of the hemipterans, such as scale insects, plant lice and cicadas. These animals suck the sugar-containing juice from the plant tissue but do not digest it completely. They excrete most of the excess sugar, which now also contains enzymes from the salivary glands and the intestines of the plant suckers as well as amino acids, nitrogen and amides. This is one type of honeydew that the bees then collect from the leaves and process like nectar.

However, the plants produce honeydew themselves and secrete it in various ways. A third way in which honeydew forms is through infestation by fungus or bacteria. Bees collect all types and process them into honey.

In some regions and at certain times of the year mixtures of flower and honeydew honey are unavoidable. However, since bees prefer flower nectar as their source of nourishment, this usually predominates, so that the mixtures are for the most part labelled as mixed flower honey.

In addition, honey is divided into two categories according to the type of use:
* Table honey is of high quality and intended for immediate consumption
* Bakers' or industrial honey is edible but not top quality. It is intended for use in the food industry.

Origin, extraction and storage

After the bees have collected the nectar or the honeydew, this is diluted with saliva in the honey vesicle of the bee on the way to the hive. This reduces the sugar content, and various enzymes are added. In the hive the bee delivers the content of its honey vesicle to the bees that are working there, whereby secretions are once more added. The honey is passed on several times to other bees before it is mature and stored in the combs. The honeycomb cell remains open for a while and the content is transferred to other cells in order that water can evaporate and the honey can be aerated homogeneously. Once the honey is finally mature, i.e. has a maximum water content of 20%, the bees seal the honeycomb cells airtight with wax.

The beekeeper must time the harvest, i.e. the removal of the combs from the hive, exactly, taking his cue from the honey flow and the time of day. Honey flow indicates the period when the bees bring more honey into their hive than they use for themselves.

To get to the honey, the wax caps must first be removed. Then the honey is removed from the combs, usually by spinning or centrifugation (producing so-called extraction honey), but sometimes also by dripping (producing so-called drained honey) or by pressing (producing so-called pressed honey). True comb honey is only that which is still in the capped, broodless cells of the whole combs or sections of combs built by the bees themselves (HVO). Cold-spun honey is of higher quality than warm-spun honey, because it preserves the ingredients.

Then filtration is done to purify the honey of any comb residues, etc. In order to achieve a homogeneous crystallization and uniform consistency, the honey is stirred repeatedly following clarification.

Once the honey has been filled in jars and sealed airtight it can be stored for years without spoiling. However, care should be taken that temperatures are evenly cool and that the container is watertight when closed, as honey is hygroscopic. Protection from light is also recommended to preserve the quality.

Honey that is partly or entirely crystallized after being stored for a long time is not spoiled. Warming will return it to its liquid state. A temperature of 30°–40°C should not be exceeded, because the valuable enzymes will otherwise be damaged. Putting it in the microwave oven is also not a good idea.

Colour, smell and taste

Depending on the type, honey is available in different gradations of colour, from nearly colourless or almost white to golden yellow to dark brown. In general, a dark colour indicates that it is honeydew honey, but there are also dark flower honeys. Moreover, the colour may change during storage or heating. Regarding the consistency, honey may be liquid, viscous or crystalline. Taste, smell and consistency must be typical of the variety; this means that smell and taste must correspond to the botanical origin of the honey. Common to all varieties is a typical honey taste. Apart from this, the descriptions range from smooth and sweet to strong and spicy. The smell should be most intensive when the jar is opened. With long storage honey develops a syrupy flavor reminiscent of sugar beet syrup. If honey begins to ferment, its aroma first becomes fruity; later the smell and taste become beer-like. These honeys are nevertheless still suitable for baking.

With excessive heating a caramel flavor develops.


Nutritionally important is above all the high energy content, a result of the content of easily absorbable carbohydrates (80 g per 100 g). Honey is thus suitable as a quick source of energy in stress situations, prior to or following sports, or to get going in the morning. Honey contains only a few vitamins, making it nutritionally unimportant in this respect. Honeydew honeys are generally richer in minerals than flower honeys. Depending on the country and region of origin and on the type of honey, the mineral amounts vary considerably. Potassium is the most available element. In addition there are the enzymes that the bees impart to the honey. They have a partially preservative effect and give the honey a long shelf life, but they are of no importance for the human diet, as enzymes consumed orally are for the most part inactivated by the digestive tract.

100 g of flower honey contain on average:

Energy (kcal)


Water (g)


Protein (g)


Fat (g)


Carbohydrates (g)


Vitamin C (mg)


Potassium (mg)


Sodium (mg)


Calcium (mg)


Magnesium (mg)


Iron (mg)


The important thing, according to the law, is that no ingredients are withdrawn from or added to the natural product, honey. The only exceptions are that no pollen is found in filtered honey and that inorganic substances that are foreign to honey must be removed as far as possible. Additives to improve the colour, smell, taste, shelf life, consistency, etc. are forbidden!

Honey as a foodstuff

Honey is used most frequently as a food. It is very popular spread on bread, as a flavouring and sweetener in tea, and for sweetening cold and warm dishes and drinks. In addition, it is used to enhance the taste of salad dressings, chilled soups, and desserts and to make cakes and sweets. It is the most important ingredient of some products such as honey cake and mead.

Honey as medicine

* traditional and home-made

Honey can enhance the subjective sense of well-being, can make energy available for a short time, and can thus increase concentration and productivity and improve endurance capacity.

It contains appetizing ingredients, natural aromas, and organic acids that promote salivation, digestion and a favorable acid environment in the intestine. Moreover, honey contains numerous ingredients that stimulate the blood circulation in the intestinal mucosa and activate the immune system in the intestine. It is easily digestible, even when digestive capacity is restricted as a result of diseases. It can be used as nourishment in cases of appetite loss and underweight.

The digestion-stimulating effect is greater with some varieties, particularly with flower honeys, than with others and is therefore of a laxative nature. These varieties can be used for constipation.

Being a product of plant origin, honey contains a small amount of antioxidants. These act as free-radical scavengers and can thus protect the body cells from harmful changes. At the same time antioxidants prevent arteriosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases. To achieve a greater effect of the radical scavengers, honey should be combined with other foods that also contain these substances, such as apples, walnuts and green tea.

Since the antibacterial effect of honey has been proven, it can be safely said that it can achieve improvement with colds and other respiratory tract infections; some bacteria are killed and others are inhibited in their growth. If honey is dissolved in a beverage or a food, hydrogen peroxide forms, which also kills the micro-organisms. Even viruses can be combatted with honey or its ingredients. The old recipe 'hot milk with honey' which is often used for infections of the upper airways is not ideal, however: milk promotes the formation of mucus and can even aggravate the symptoms. Herbal teas with honey and many types of fruits and vegetables and cider vinegar are all better. The effect depends, among other things, on the combination and the method of preparation of the various foods.

The antibacterial effect of honey is a success factor as well in the treatment of wounds. Along with directly inhibiting the micro-organisms, honey extracts sugar, dirt and bacteria from the treated area. In addition, it removes water from the wound and the surrounding area and thus the basis of existence for the bacteria. The low pH value of honey does the rest to inhibit the growth of pathogens. People have always used honey to treat burns, suppurating and open wounds and abscesses. Even a medicinal honey has now been developed (see below) that is used for treating wound and burns.

Many other effects are attributed to honey in folk medicine, although they have not been scientifically proven nor are even comprehensible in every case. Nevertheless, an overview of the positive effects of honey on health and its alleged healing powers is given here:
* Alleviation or elimination of headaches
* Alleviation of muscle cramps
* Improvement of allergy symptoms, if these are not caused by honey
* Help for nervousness and sleep disorders
* Help for rheumatism
* Prevention of stomach ulcers and help for stomach troubles
* Help for fungal infections of the intestine

* medicinal honey

Medicinal honey consists of two different varieties of honey that are subjected to special processing and control procedures. They are sterilized by irradiation with gamma rays, without the ingredients being destroyed by heating. It acts as a bactericide and can be used for treating wounds and possibly minor burns.

Moreover, there are positive reports from the clinical sector: wounds of children with cancer heal faster with honey, wounds have a less unpleasant odour, and changing dressings is less painful because the compresses are easier to remove.

Honey in cosmetics

Even in past centuries, honey was valued as a bath additive or a cosmetic. A bath with 3 pounds of honey, 5 liters of milk and a pound of salt could be had only by the very rich, however.

Towards the end of the 19th century it then became a popular ingredient in serially produced cosmetics and thus available to the masses. In the production of cosmetic products today as well, honey, royal jelly or propolis – all substances produced by bees – are popular care substances.

Harmful substances / dangers

In Germany and many other EU countries there are warnings against giving children honey in the first year of life. Honey is a purely natural product, and the content of healthy ingredients as well as that of possibly harmful foreign substances fluctuates. Occasionally it may contain traces of the pathogen Clostridium botulinum. In adults or older children, a healthy intestinal flora kills these germs easily. The intestinal flora of infants and small children, however, is still in the developmental stage and not capable of fighting off the pathogens. C. botulinum produces a neurotoxin that causes muscular paralysis, which can grow into a life-threatening respiratory paralysis.

Sweetening children's food with honey or coating pacifiers / dummies or nipples with honey to help them overcome suckling inhibition is therefore not recommended. It is quite all right for pregnant and nursing women to consume honey, however; their intestinal flora prevents the pathogen from attacking the (unborn) child.

A further reason for not giving honey to children is that it contains proteins that can cause allergies. For the same reason it is not advisable for persons who already have hay fever to eat honey: the protein can intensify the pollen allergy.

Honey is more osmotic than sugar and can therefore cause diarrhea. However, this problem is seen more in small children than in healthy adults.

Apart from the above, analyses have found only very few undesirable substances such as heavy metals and residues of pesticides or pharmaceutical products in honey.

Owing to the large amount of sugar it contains, it is frequently claimed that honey promotes caries. However, experts are of the opinion that exactly the opposite is the case: antibacterial substances contained in honey inhibit the growth of plaque bacteria and caries pathogens. This is due to the hydrogen peroxide in honey, which attacks the metabolism of the bacteria and prevents them from attaching themselves to the tooth surfaces. It also prevents the bacterial formation of acid. Nonetheless, honey is not a substitute for brushing one's teeth.

The claim that honey promotes gout is also unfounded. Neither does it cause the disease nor does it affect its course, as it contains no purines and no urea. These are the two substances that cause pain and discomfort in persons with gout.




  With the website the Fritz Terfloth Foundation of Münster offers consumers independent and competent information about plant foods and their health effects. All texts are subject to German copyright law. Information about the conditions for use of the texts by third parties can be found here.

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