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The "Magic" of Honey

When archaeologists opened pyramids and Egyptian tombs that were over 3 thousand years old, they discovered ceramic jars filled with honey that, to their surprise, was still edible.

Sure, it was candied and crystallized, but otherwise it had not spoiled, a marvelous mystery that borderlined the mystic, justifying why honey had long been known as "the food of the gods".

How could that be, they wondered?

In reality, there was, as it turns out, a perfectly good scientific explanation behind this phenomenon.

It all begins when worker bees gather nectar (mostly a sucrose solution), and transport it into their crop back to the hive, where house bees further process it.

Indeed, during transport and processing, an enzyme present in their stomach is added to the nectar, that triggers a chemical reaction: the inversion of the sucrose into glucose and fructose, two sugars.

Therefore, once most of the water has been evaporated by the bees fanning their wings, honey in effect becomes a super saturated solution of sugars, which is very hygroscopic.

What does that mean? Well, think of a negative water content environment, which strives to absorb all moisture around them to go back to neutral, and you will be close.

This, by nature, makes honey a highly inhospitable environment for bacteria and fungi, which need water to survive. So right there, honey has some amazing antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.

But the magic does not stop there!

Indeed, during the nectar to honey curing process, the bees add yet another stomach enzyme to this super saturated solution, called glucose oxidase, which further breaks down glucose into gluconic acid, a mild organic acid, and hydrogene peroxide, a substance that destroys microbes through lipid peroxidation and acts as a natural preservative and antimicrobial agent.

That also means that honey is acidic, with a pH of around 3-4.5, which further makes it lethal to bacteria.

Because of these amazing antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties, our ancestors used honey medicinally to treat skin and eye conditions, or on burns and cuts. They understood that it provided a bio-active barrier that prevented infection by drawing moisture out and actively killing bacterial and fungal growth.

I don't know about you, but we sure think they were on to something!

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