22 October 2016
A beekeeper lifts a frame of honeycomb which can yield around 2 kilograms of the viscous liquid. Photo: HKEJ
A beekeeper lifts a frame of honeycomb which can yield around 2 kilograms of the viscous liquid. Photo: HKEJ

Honey, the magical food

Honey is one of the most important food items in human history. Before cane sugar cultivation took off in a significant way in some tropical colonies in the 16th century, Europeans relied on honey to fine-tune the taste in their dishes.

Flowering plants provide honeybees their food source through nectar, while the tiny insects help the pollination process in flowers. The mutual cooperation has thrived for millions of years. Meanwhile, human beings have benefited from the labor of both parties.

Techniques in beekeeping and honey harvesting have largely stayed unchanged over the course of history. Beekeepers regularly visit hive boxes in caves or woods and collect the frames of honeycombs from the hive boxes.

By placing the frames in a honey centrifuge, the product is collected without destroying the wax combs.

Worker bees suck up nectar from flower to flower. When they carry it back to the hive, it would be mixed with enzymes in their stomach and leads to creation of honey in wax cells of the hive. The hive is fanned and airflow directed into or out of it.

As for the question of how many times a year should the honey be harvested, it all depends on the production by the honeybees, which in turn depends on the ecology in the area.

Hong Kong has three major blossoms each year. Longan and lychee blossom takes place during March and April. In May there is Chinese tallow blossom and between July and October is the blossom of ivy tree and devilwood.

The spring harvested honey tastes milder while the winter one is strong.

Beekeeping family

Beekeeper Yip Ki-hok and his family have run Wing Wo Bee Farm at Pai Tau Village in Sha Tin for over 30 years, managing around two hundred hive boxes.

According to the owner, their honeybees actively fly around in a radius of 5 kilometers of the farm, covering locations such as Hung Mui Kuk, Kam Shan, Grassy Hill, Shing Mun Valley and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Each hive box is a colony consisting of three kinds of adult bees: a queen, several hundred drones and 20,000 workers.

Honey is also food for honeybees. Their lives depend on it during rainy or cold days. Only one out of nine liters of honey can be extracted in one box. Higher extraction disturbs the normal functioning of bees and could put their lives at risk.

Honey is an amazing food and also the only one that does not consume natural resources, attaining zero carbon production.

A hive of honeybees will tap about two million flowers and fly 50,000 miles (80,000 km) to make one pound (454 g) of honey.

The diligent insect not only brings us the nutritious honey, it also plays an important role in nature.

Given this, news that the bee population is in decline should be a cause for concern for all of us.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 26.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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