What Is Honey?

A variety of definitions exist for the term 'honey', but all cite the role of honey bees in its production.

Legal Definitions Of Honey

According to US regulations, 7 USC § 4602(7)1:

"The term “honey” means the nectar and saccharine exudations of plants which are gathered, modified, and stored in the comb by honey bees."

In the UK, the Honey (England) Regulations 2015 adopt the EU regulatory definition2:

“honey” means the natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera bees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants or excretions of plant-sucking insects on the living parts of plants which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in honeycombs to ripen and mature.

Interestingly, the UK/EU definition appears to reflect the origin of most commercially available honey (from Apis mellifera specifically), whereas the US definition is more flexible, and (whether intentionally or not) allows for the fact that honey may be produced by different honey bee (Apis) species, not only Apis mellifera.

However, the UK/EU definition allows for honey made from aphid secretions (see honeydew honey) whereas this is omitted from the US definition.

Alternative answer to the question 'What Is Honey?'

An alternative answer to the question of what honey is, could briefly mention the process, and include what it contains, and may be given as follow:

Honey is a sweet product made from flower nectar, plant secretions, or excretions of plant-sucking insects, and combined with an enzyme secreted by honey bees, then concentrated by reducing moisture in the honeycomb cells.

A basic scientific formula is as follows:

Sucrose (nectar)
invertase (bee enzyme)
fructose + glucose (honey).

Find out how bees make honey.

Beekeepers take the honey made by bees from hives once they can see the honeycomb cells have been capped (sealed) by the bees.  Some beekeepers then treat it through heating and filtering before it is stored in jars.

The honey harvested and consumed by humans is made by the honey bee.  However, a small number of wasps found in South America also make honey, but not in commercially exploitable quantities.  Read more on my page: Do Wasps Make Honey?

Honey Presentations

Honey is a available in a number of presentations.

Raw Honey
Raw honey is simply honey that has not yet been treated by the beekeeper through heating and filtering.

Liquid Honey
This is the honey format most of us are familiar with: that is, the liquid ‘runny honey’ you get in jars.

Honey varies in shade from light amber (and even almost clear) to very dark - read more on my page about honey colour.

3 jars of liquid honey varying in shade from light to dark amber

Comb Honey
Did you know, even the beeswax comb can be eaten! This is honey, still in the comb.

Packaged honeycomb ready for sale in a tray with a cardboard outer wrappingPackaged honeycomb ready for sale.

Honeycomb can be enjoyed with goats cheese or in yoghurt - see Can You Eat Honeycomb.

Cut Comb 
This is a combination of the two above!  That is, liquid honey, with pieces of honeycomb remaining.

jar of honey with a chunk of comb honey inside it

Read about: Types Of Honey.

What Is Crystallized Honey?

This is where some of the glucose component within the honey has crystallized.  

What Is Cactus Honey?

Despite its name, Cactus Honey is not honey at all - this is simply another name for Agave Nectar - which is sap from the Agave plant. 

No honey bees are involved in its creation.   

What Are Powdered And Granulated Honey?

Powdered and granulated honey tend to contain a large number of ingredients other than honey - the key is to check the label of the item you are thinking of purchasing to see what it contains, because they can be quite different.  

Ever wondered......
Do bumble bees make honey?

bumble bee foraging on hemp agrimony links to page called Do bumble bees make honey?


1. 7 USC § 4602(7) 

2. The Honey (England) Regulations 2015 (legislation.gov.uk)



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