Honey is a sweet food made by certain insects using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees (the genus Apis) is the one most commonly referred to and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans. Honey produced by other bees and insects has distinctly different properties.
Honey bees form nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation and store it as a food source in wax honeycombs inside the beehive. Beekeeping practices encourage overproduction of honey so that the excess can be taken without endangering the bee colony.
Honey gets its sweetness from the monosaccharides fructose and glucose and has approximately the same relative sweetness as that of granulated sugar (74% of the sweetness of sucrose, a disaccharide). It has attractive chemical properties for baking, and a distinctive flavor which leads some people to prefer it over sugar and other sweeteners. Most micro-organisms do not grow in honey because of its low water activity of 0.6. However, honey sometimes contains dormant endospores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can be dangerous to infants as the endospores can transform into toxin-producing bacteria in the infant's immature intestinal tract, leading to illness and even death (see Potential health hazards below).
Honey has a long history as a comestible and is used in various foods and beverages as a sweetener and flavoring. It also has a role in religion and symbolism. Flavors of honey vary based on the nectar source, and various types and grades of honey are available. It is also used in various medicinal traditions to treat ailments. The study of pollens and spores in raw honey (melissopalynology) can determine floral sources of honey. Because bees carry an electrostatic charge, and can attract other particles, the same techniques of melissopalynology can be used in area environmental studies of radioactive particles, dust, or particulate pollution.//
Honey is created by bees as a food source. In cold weather or when food sources are scarce, bees use their stored honey as their source of energy. By contriving for bee swarms to nest in artificial hives, people have been able to semi-domesticate the insects, and harvest excess honey. In the hive there are three types of bee: a single female queen bee, a seasonally variable number of male drone bees to fertilize new queens, and some 20,000 to 40,000 female worker bees. The worker bees raise larvae and collect the nectar that will become honey in the hive. Leaving the hive, they collect sugar-rich flower nectar and return. In the process, they release Nasonov pheromones. These pheromones lead other bees to rich nectar sites by ``smell``. Honeybees also release Nasonov pheromones at the entrance to the hive, which enables returning bees to return to the proper hive.
In the hive the bees use their ``honey stomachs`` to ingest and regurgitate the nectar a number of times until it is partially digested. The bees work together as a group with the regurgitation and digestion until the product reaches a desired quality. It is then stored in honeycomb cells. After the final regurgitation, the honeycomb is left unsealed. However, the nectar is still high in both water content and natural yeasts which, unchecked, would cause the sugars in the nectar to ferment. The process continues as bees inside the hive fan their wings, creating a strong draft across the honeycomb which enhances evaporation of much of the water from the nectar. This reduction in water content raises the sugar concentration and prevents fermentation. Ripe honey, as removed from the hive by a beekeeper, has a long shelf life and will not ferment if properly sealed.
Honey use and production has a long and varied history. In many cultures, honey has associations that go beyond its use as a food. Honey is frequently a talisman and symbol of sweetness.
Honey collection is an ancient activity. Eva Crane's The Archaeology of Beekeeping states that humans began hunting for honey at least 10,000 years ago. She evidences this with a cave painting in Valencia, Spain. The painting is a Mesolithic rock painting, showing two female honey-hunters collecting honey and honeycomb from a wild bee hive. The two women are depicted in the nude, carrying baskets, and using a long wobbly ladder in order to reach the wild nest.
In Ancient Egypt, honey was used to sweeten cakes and biscuits, and was used in many other dishes. Ancient Egyptian and Middle-Eastern peoples also used honey for embalming the dead. In the Roman Empire, honey was possibly used instead of gold to pay taxes. Pliny the Elder devotes considerable space in his book Naturalis Historia to the bee and honey, and its many uses. The fertility god of Egypt, Min, was offered honey.
In some parts of post-classical Greece, like Rhodes, it was formerly the custom for a bride to dip her fingers in honey and make the sign of the cross before entering her new home.
Honey was also cultivated in ancient Mesoamerica. The Maya used honey from the stingless bee for culinary purposes, and continue to do so today. The Maya also regard the bee as sacred.
Some cultures believed honey had many practical health uses. It was used as an ointment for rashes and burns, and used to help soothe sore throats when no other medicinal practices were available.
In Islam, there is an entire Surah in the