Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bottling Honey

Honey is truly a unique food. It is the only food that we eat that was produced by an insect. It is also the only food that remains unchanged from that which was gathered by our cave man ancestors thousands of years ago. Honey is concentrated flower nectar mixed with enzymes that the honey bees produce. Honey is the only food that will last indefinitely at room temperatures without spoiling. Bacteria cannot grow in the highly concentrated sugars that make up honey. The honey bees do all of the hard work of turning nectar from flowers into honey. The beekeeper’s task is to take the pure honey from the bee hive and place it into appropriate honey containers without damaging its color, aroma, and taste. It is important for the beekeeper to control the moisture content of the extracted honey. We measure the moisture using an instrument called a refractometer. Bees cap the honey when they have evaporated it to 18 percent moisture content. With excessive moisture, fermentation can occur. Honey readily takes on and gives off moisture from the air, so we carefully control the atmosphere of the honey house. In the humid Arkansas Delta, we often run a dehumidifier and fans when frames of honey are being handled.

After the frames of honey have been removed from the hives, cleared of bees, uncapped, and the honey extracted, the debris, mostly flecks of beeswax, is removed by straining through a fine mesh cloth. The honey is then placed in a bottling unit and allowed to settle for a day or more. Since honey is quite heavy, any residue remaining in the honey will rise to the surface. Pure honey is then be poured from the bottom of the bottling unit. Honey that is to be stored for bottling at a later time is sealed in containers and labeled with the date harvested, location, nectar source, honey color, moisture content, and weight. Rita bottles some light amber Delta wildflower honey.

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