Depictions of humans collecting honey from wild bees date to 10,000 years ago. Beekeeping in pottery vessels began about 9,000 years ago in North Africa. Domestication is shown in Egyptian art from around 4,500 years ago.Simplest hives and smoke were used and honey was stored in jars, some of which were found in the tombs of pharaohs such as Tutankhamun. It wasn’t until the 18th century that European understanding of the colonies and biology of bees allowed the construction of the moveable comb hive so that honey could be harvested without destroying the entire colony.
Honey is a sweet, viscous food substance produced by bees and some related insects. Bees produce honey from the sugary secretions of plants (floral nectar) or other insects (aphid honeydew) through regurgitation, enzymatic activity, and water evaporation, and store it in wax structures called honeycombs. The variety of honey produced by honey bees (the genus Apis) is the best-known, due to its worldwide commercial production and human consumption. Honey is collected from wild bee colonies, or from hives of domesticated bees, a practice known as beekeeping.
Honey gets its sweetness from the monosaccharides fructose and glucose, and has about the same relative sweetness as granulated sugar. It has attractive chemical properties for baking and a distinctive flavor when used as a sweetener. Most microorganisms do not grow in honey, so sealed honey does not spoil, even after thousands of years.
Providing 64 calories in a typical serving of one tablespoon (15 ml) equivalent to 1272 kj per 100 g, honey has no significant nutritional value. Honey is generally safe, but may have various, potentially adverse effects or interactions upon excessive consumption, existing disease conditions, or use of prescription drugs.
Honey use and production have a long and varied history as an ancient activity, depicted in Valencia, Spain by a cave painting of humans foraging for honey at least 8,000 years ago.
Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants, known for their role in pollination and, in the case of the best-known bee species, the European honey bee, for producing honey and beeswax. Bees are a monophyleticlineage within the superfamily Apoidea and are presently considered a clade, called Anthophila. There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees in seven recognized biological families. They are found on every continent except Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants.
Bees range in size from tiny stingless bee species whose workers are less than 2 millimetres (0.08 in) long, to Megachile pluto, the largest species of leafcutter bee, whose females can attain a length of 39 millimetres (1.54 in). The most common bees in the Northern Hemisphere are the Halictidae, or sweat bees, but they are small and often mistaken for wasps or flies. Vertebrate predators of bees include birds such as bee-eaters; insect predators include beewolves and dragonflies.
Human beekeeping or apiculture has been practised for millennia, since at least the times of Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. Apart from honey and pollination, honey bees produce beeswax, royal jelly and propolis. Bees have appeared in mythology and folklore, again since ancient times, and they feature in works of literature as varied as Virgil’s Georgics, Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse, and W. B. Yeats’s poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Bee larvae are included in the Javanese dish botok tawon, where they are eaten steamed with shredded coconut.