Dr. Mohammad W. Ashraf, [email protected]
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2011-01-05 16:47

Honey, a product that is generally believed to be good for every age group, is an ideal foodstuff that can be used to sweeten anything edible — even the spoonful of medicine on doctor’s orders. It is an assimilable carbohydrate compound and has distinct germicidal properties. And, its frequent, if not daily, use could prove extremely beneficial.
The wonder product, a result of the honeybees’ industry, takes its own course before making its way into our homes in its golden syrupy form. And that’s what is most interesting: The environmental process. Fitted into the general scheme of things, it allows insight into the nature’s way of processing food.
There is an increasing interest in the verification of foodstuffs, particularly of a natural origin, like honey. Honey is one of the most complex foodstuffs produced by nature that is often consumed by humans without processing. Honey possesses valuable nourishing and healing properties, resulting from its chemical composition.
As honey is the result of a bio-accumulative process, it is also useful for collecting information of the environment within the bees forage area. Honeybees (Apis mellifera) accretions are related to air, water and soil. They travel from flower to flower, touch branches and leaves, and drink water from ponds, as aerosol particles scavenge on their hairy bodies. They are continuously exposed to contaminants present in the widespread area surrounding the apiary for the duration of their foraging activity. The area of foraging activity associated with an apiary extends over a surface of approximately 7 km2. Owing to this large area involved, honey has been proposed as a suitable bio-indicator of chemical pollution.
The composition of honey varies dependent on the feeding of the bees; it may be naturally composed from nectar of flower, or artificially — by feeding the bees with sugar or syrup. The color and flavor of honeys differ depending on the nectar source (the blossoms) visited by the honeybees. In fact, there are more than 300 unique varieties of honey available in the United States, each originating from a different floral source.
Honey colors range from nearly colorless to dark brown, and its flavor differs from delectably mild to distinctively bold, depending on where the honeybees buzzed. As a general rule, light-colored honey is milder in taste and dark-colored honey is stronger. When bees have access to large areas of one kind of flower, such as clover, basswood, goldenrod or buckwheat, they produce honey with a flavor and color typical of that particular plant. Bees blend honey naturally by combining the pollens from many different flowers in areas where no one flower predominates. Honey is also blended during packing to create a specific taste.
Bee honey can be a good source of both major and trace elements needed by the human body. The presence of trace elements in the human food is very important, but if they exceed safety levels, they can also be toxic. According to some Italian workers, honey may be viewed as an environmental marker, as they found large amounts of heavy metals in honeys. Honey is useful for assessing the presence of environmental contamination as contents of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and manganese have all been detected in Spanish and Turkish commercial honeys. However, storage and transportation may also add to heavy metal contamination.
In Saudi Arabia, honey is intrinsic to its culture. The Qur'an, Islam’s holy book, refers to honey’s medicinal and healing properties. Whether used for its medicinal value as a restorative agent, or simply for sweetening, a Saudi family consumes about one kilogram of honey per month on average. While honey is used daily, consumption is greater during traditional, religious and festive occasions, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan. During this season of daytime fasting, families prepare more desserts utilizing honey for the evening meals to quickly replenish their energy.
Saudi statistics show that Saudi Arabia produces almost 90 tons of honey a year. Floral honey is mostly produced in Saudi Arabia. These include alfalfa, citrus, potmarigold and buckthorn and . To meet the demand, honey is imported from Germany, USA, Australia, Turkey and New Zealand. Yemen supplies Saudi Arabia with the most desired, expensive, honey, considered by the Saudis to be the purest of all and they are ready to pay $200 per kilogram for it. SASO (Saudi Arabian Standard Organization) imposes strict quality standards on imported honey and dictates labeling requirements.
In order to characterize the honey quality, seven physicochemical parameters have been recommended by the International Honey Commission (IHC). Moisture content is related to climate, season and degree of honey maturity. During the extraction and storage of honey, pH value is of great importance because it influences the texture, stability and shelf life of honey. The electrical conductivity of honey is directly related to the concentration of inorganic salts, organic acids and proteins. This parameter shows great variability according to the floral origin, and is considered to be the best for differentiating between honeys of different floral origin. Free and lactonic acidities reflect the reserve acid, which is used when honey becomes alkaline.
As honey is considered to be an environmental marker, a limited study has been conducted to ascertain the quality of locally produced floral honey in terms of heavy metals levels and chemical characteristics. The results were similar to those for Spanish, Turkish, Australian, Polish and Italian varieties. None of the local samples exceeded the acidity limits established by EC regulations.
Here are some tips about storing honey in homes. Honey has a strong tendency to absorb smells, so should be kept in sealed bottles. When honey remains in sunlight for 12 hours, its antibacterial enzymes are destroyed. Honey should be protected from oxygen inflow, which accelerates crystallization in the honey. Optimum storage should be in dark and moisture-free place with a temperature between four to ten degrees Celsius. Never store honey in metal containers. With conventional preservation methods, honey should not be preserved longer than three years.

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