What’s The Difference Between Nectar And Honey?

Although both nectar and honey are famously sweet, they are not the same.  Here, we’ll look at the differences between nectar and honey.

5 Key Differences Between Nectar And Honey

Nectar and honey each have a number of specific characteristics and features that serve to differentiate one from the other. 

In short, nectar is a primary ingredient of honey, which is then turned into honey by honey bees.

1. Nectar Is Made By Flowers, Honey Is Made By Bees

Nectar is a sweet substance made by plants in glands called nectaries. 

Nectar is secreted from inside flowers but also sometimes from nectaries located in leaves on certain plants. 

Whilst most nectar is gathered by bees from within flowers, they will sometimes take it from extra-floral nectaries found on leaves.

Honey, on the other hand, is a sweet product made by bees, and not by flowers or plants.  Flowers do not secrete ready-made honey!

Nectar must pass through processes instigated by the bee in order for it to be transformed into honey, including:

  • Addition of the bee’s own enzyme
    This enzyme plays an important role in transforming nectar into honey, ultimately turning honey into an acidic food that will store well and is resistant to bacteria; and
  • Evaporation of the nectar water content
    This serves to concentrate the sugar and other ingredients in the nectar.
honey and nuts

2. Difference Between The Composition of Nectar And Honey

Nectar is mostly made up of water and different sugars, but it also contains traces of proteins, salts, acids, and floral oils

Not all flower nectars are the same, they do in fact vary between flower species and have different aromatic qualities. 

For example, the nectar inside flowers of the rosemary bush is different from that made by a crocus flower. 

Each flower’s nectar is unique to the flower type.

Honey, despite being made from nectar, also contains ingredients other than nectar, most notably as mentioned previously, the bee’s own enzyme, added by the bee. 

Natural, raw honey in the comb will also contain traces of other plant products, such as flower pollen, as well bee products, such as traces of wax and debris.  These are generally filtered out unless raw honey is purchased. 

Since honey often comprises nectar from multiple flower sources (multi-floral honey), it therefore contains all the combined ingredients offered by the various unique nectars. 

Alternatively, mono-floral honeys consist of nectar mainly from one particular plant type.  One example is Manuka honey, a plant which produces a nectar that when turned into honey by bees, offers a number of therapeutic benefits. 

3. Difference In Natural Function Of Nectar And Honey

Nectar secretion serves a variety of functions in different plants, including:

  • Attracting pollinators
    Nectar serves as a food reward to encourage insect visits from bees and other pollinators, thus facilitating insect pollination.
  • Defence: attracting a predator of key plant pests  
    Some plants are known to secrete nectar from extra-floral nectaries on plant leaves in order to attract insects that in turn, will help to protect the plant. 
    For example, Acacia trees attract ants in this way, which in turn deter other insects that might damage or eat the plant.
  • Attracting insects for food  
    Carnivorous plants entice insects via this method, in order to trap and consume them.

Whilst nectar mostly serves to attract pollinators such as bees to flowers, other nectars can actually be harmful to some insects, including bees, whilst other flower nectars serve as a deterrent.

From the perspective of bees, where plants offer nectar as a pollinator reward, they may also offer different benefits, such as anti-bacterial properties as found in nectar of some herbs, such as Thyme

Flower nectar therefore helps to provide not only energy (in the form of sugar) to bees, but also provides other ingredients beneficial to bee health.

Honey is a food made by bees as a means to store food for the winter, thus sustaining the bee colony when they are unable to forage for food.  See Why do bees make honey?

4. Commercial Availability

Jars of raw nectar are not available to purchase in supermarkets, unless you include within your definition, products made from sweet sap of plants and trees.

Such products would include agave nectar (sometimes referred to as cactus honey, made from the sap of the Agave plant) and maple syrup (harvested from beneath the bark of maple trees). 

Arguably, these products are technically not quite the same as nectar, since nectar is the phloem sap that is modified by nectary cells.  

Honey is harvested by beekeepers and is of course available commercially in a variety of formats and colors.

Also see: What is honey?

5. Texture

Nectar is primarily composed of water.

Honey has a high water content, but during the transformation of nectar into honey, honey bees fan their wings to evaporate some of that water content. 

Honey is therefore thicker than nectar, and more viscous.

Can bees make honey from substances other than nectar?

Honey bee feeding on aphid secretions on the underside of a leaf.Honey bee feeding on aphid secretions.

Bees can make honey from aphid secretions.  Read about honeydew honey.


- See links within the article to further information on this website.

Vassilyev AE. On the mechanisms of nectar secretion: revisited. Ann Bot. 2010 Mar;105(3):349-54. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcp302. Epub 2010 Jan 5. PMID: 20053630; PMCID: PMC2826252.

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leafcutter bee on sweet pea plant sweet peas for bees