Honey: the secrets of "the nectar of the gods"

A food rich in nutritional properties important for our health.

Honey is a food made by bees (Apis mellifera) starting from the nectar (secretions of flowers) and from honeydew (excretions of some insects).

In Greek mythology, honey is the favourite food of the gods, but it has older origins:  50 millions years ago the first swarms of bees already flew and 10 thousand years ago spanish rock depictions tell us about the first interactions between man and bees.

Pictorial evidence dating back to 2400 B.C. demonstrate the existence of a real breeding in Egypt, for the exclusive use of the elite of nobles and royalty. Honey was used in medicine, for its healing properties, and also had a ritual value.
Romans, instead, used it in the kitchen for the preparation of sweets, beer and mead.
In the Middle Ages, honey production had been encouraged by Carlo Magno with the enactment of the Capitulare de Villis, in a period between the year 770 and 800. The ordinance provided that anyone who had a farm should also keep bees and prepare honey and mead.

But let's find out more about this food...

Honey is an easily digestible food and a natural sweetener very rich in energy: about 300 kcal per 100 g. 80% of honey is in fact composed of soluble sugars, especially fructose and glucose. From an early age, when we have a sore throat, we are told to take some honey. But why?

This food contains many vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, vitamin C) and minerals (potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron). Honey is also rich in antioxidant compounds (chrysin, pinobanksin, pinocembrina, catalase), useful for prolonging their conservation. These molecules are also very important for our body because they reduce oxidative stress, a dangerous condition for our health.

Through two studies the healing properties of honey have been recognized: "Inhibitory Effect of Honeybee-Collected Pollen on Mast Cell Degranulation In Vivo and In Vitro" of 2006, regarding the ability to relieve allergic reactions; "Honey 'beats cough medicine" from 2010 speaks of a calming effect on cough and sore throat. The nutritional properties of honey are at their maximum expression when production respects the importance of each stage. For example, it is necessary to give bees plenty of time to carry out the trophylaxis: the exchange of nectar from one bee to another. This step is essential to increase yeasts and enzymes, before letting the nectar rest in the wax cells, for a couple of weeks, because they mature at best.

There are many types of honey, which differ in color (from shades of bright white to amber with darker reflections) and fluidity (very fluid, such as acacia honey, or solid because they crystallize easily). The types of flower from which the nectar originates determine the variability of the aroma, different for the single flower and wildflower honeys. 

Let's analyze some types of honeys and their properties:

  • Manuka honey: we can call it the "superstar" of honey. It comes from the nectar of the flowers of a wild and spontaneous New Zealand shrub, the Leptospermum scoparium. Already in the time of the Maori, it was used as a food and medicine for wounds, ulcers and burns. In addition to the compounds we have already talked about, this type of honey is rich in methylglyoxal (antimicrobial MGO), a substance that gives it antibacterial properties. Manuka honey can be used as a soothing wound healing on the skin or for acne, as a fungicide against candida, and to relieve some gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Eucalyptus honey: from Eucalyptus, an evergreen plant native to Oceania. It has an amber color and, when it crystallizes, tends to gray. It is a honey very rich in flavonoids: compounds useful against free radicals, responsible for cellular aging. It is famous for its antiseptic, antiviral and antibacterial properties and is an excellent natural ally against winter ailments, urinary tract disorders and intestinal disorders.
  • Acacia honey: it is a unifloral honey with a light color and a very fluid consistency, which derives from acacia, an officinal plant of the Mimosaceae family. It is one of the most digestible honeys and can also be consumed by those with a mild form of diabetes since it mainly contains fructose, easily metabolized without insulin. Acacia honey is an excellent aid against sore throat, cough, pharyngitis and other inflammations because, thanks to its viscosity, it moisturizes the oral cavity giving much relief.
  • Chestnut honey: it is typical of the Mediterranean regions. It is very liquid, has a very dark color and the taste is less sweet than other types of honey. It is rich in mineral salts such as potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, sodium and manganese. Among its most important properties: anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant. It is an important antimicrobial against bacteria such as Staffilococco aureo, Escherichia coli, Helicobacter pylori, Candida albicans.
  • Sulla honey: from Hedysarum coronarium, a perennial herb plant. It has a straw yellow color and a delicate flavor. It is rich in potassium, which promotes diuresis by counteracting water retention and hypertension. It is a cough suppressant and a natural ally against sore throat. It is also widely used in cosmetics, in cleaning the face, thanks to its action to prevent the formation of sebum and disinfectant capacity.

In conclusion, we can say that honey, thanks to its sweetening capacity, can replace table sugar. It is a food rich in nutritional properties and beneficial effects. Being very caloric, it is good not to abuse it: the ideal daily consumption is about 30 g, that is to say 3 teaspoons.

By Serena Sanetti

Translated by Arianna Giannino

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Sections Health & Wellness


Nutrition health MIND - Nutrition Deal foodhealth Food nutritional properties honey

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