Information From the National Honey Board

From the September 1, 2000 print edition

Latest medical buzz: Honey-cured wounds

Cathy Proctor Business Journal Staff Reporter

The next time you suffer a minor cut or burn, you might want to reach for the honey jar instead of the antibacterial ointment.

Honey has been used for thousands of years to protect wounds, so long that its medical use has fallen into folklore.

A New Zealand biochemistry researcher aims to change that, and the National Honey Board, representing U.S. beekeepers, hopes his research can help diversify the American honey industry.

"It's our future," said Marcia Cardetti, director of scientific affairs for the honey board. "Our demand is still increasing, but any industry needs new avenues to grow. This is a natural for us, because honey is natural."

Americans eat about 1.1 pounds of honey a year. It's used primarily in the food industry, both retail and as an ingredient in processed foods like breakfast cereals. Honey also is used in some cosmetics.

Average annual production in the U.S. is about 200 million pounds of honey a year, valued at $125 million in 1999. Colorado honey production in 1999 totaled 2 million pounds, with a value of $1.4 million, according to state agricultural statistics.

Peter Molan, a biochemistry professor and director of the Honey Research Unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, has spent 18 years researching the medicinal properties of honey.

"I was looking at other antibacterials and a friend who was a fanatical amateur beekeeper got me interested," Molan said.

All honey is hostile to bacteria because it has a low pH and high sugar content, Cardetti said.

Honey may be a strong candidate in the medical field because an increasing number of bacteria has shown resistance to antibiotics.

"All honey will work, but some will work better than others," Molan said. "It stops any bacteria from growing and it never fails to clear an infection."

Honey varies in flavor, color -- and medicinal properties -- based on the kind of flowers the bees visit, he said.

"You go back 2,000 years and the Greek physicians knew a few kinds of honey worked very well, based on color and season. That knowledge has been lost today. Most current research about honey is using honey from the supermarket jar," Molan said.

Molan found that while all honey produced in New Zealand and Australia killed bacteria when put on a wound, some honey types were stronger-acting antibacterial.


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Honey sometimes takes on a semi-solid state known as crystallized or granulated honey. This natural phenomenon happens when glucose, one of three main sugars in honey, spontaneously precipitates out of the supersaturated honey solution. The glucose loses water (becoming glucose monohydrate) and takes the form of a crystal (a solid body with a precise and orderly structure) .

Honey crystallizes because it is a supersaturated solution. This supersaturated  State occurs because there is so much sugar in honey (more than 70%) relative to the water content (often less than 20%). Glucose tends to precipitate out of solution and the solution changes to the more stable saturated state.

Honey is sensitive to moisture in the surrounding atmosphere. During storage, low-density polyethylene containers can allow moisture to escape, which may contribute to the crystallization process .

Many factors influence the crystallization of honey. Some batches of honey never crystallize, while others do so within a few days of extraction. Honey removed from the comb and processed with extractors and pumps is likely to crystallize faster than if it was left in the comb.1 Most liquid honey crystallizes within a few weeks of extraction. The tendency of honey to crystallize depends primarily on its glucose content and moisture level. The overall composition of honey, which includes sugars other than glucose and more than 180 identified   substances such as minerals, acids and ...


In the past, people with diabetes were advised to avoid “simple sugars” including honey. It was thought that consuming simple sugars would cause a sharp and rapid elevation in blood glucose levels and an overwhelming insulin demand. Some even speculated that eating simple sugars could cause diabetes, a notion that has not been supported by scientific research. In fact, research has shown that some complex carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels more significantly than certain simple sugars (see Glycemic Index). Both honey and sucrose have been shown to produce a lower glucose response than starchy foods such as white bread. Moreover, it has been shown that the total amount of carbohydrate consumed is probably more important than the type of carbohydrate when it comes to blood sugar levels. Thus, experts agree that diabetics may include moderate amounts of “simple sugars” in a balanced diet.

Diabetics must control their total intake of carbohydrates, not the type. Therefore, honey may be included in a diabetic diet. They must, however, comply with the medical regime and diet instructions prescribed by their individual healthcare providers to keep blood sugar levels under control.

Nutrient Average amount per Average amount



Total Carbohydrates




1 Tbsp. serving (21 g)

3.6 g

17.3 g  

8.1 g  

6.5 g 

1.5 g    

per 100 g  

17.1 g  

82.4 g  

38.5 g  

31.0 g  

7.2 g  

Information for nutritional labeling*

Total Calories (kilocalories)

Total Calories (kilocalories) (from fat)

Total Fat

Saturated Fat 



Total Carbohydrates


Dietary Fiber








0.6 mg 

17 g

16 g


0.15 mg 







2.85 mg  

81 g  

  76 g


0.7 mg



Ribofl avin



Pantothenic Acid 

Vitamin B-12  

Vitamin C

Vitamin A

Vitamin D

Vitamin E 

< 0.002 mg

<0.06 mg

<0.06 mg


<0.05 mg 


0.1 mg  




< 0.01 mg  

< 0.3 mg  

< 0.3 mg  


< 0.25 mg  


0.5 mg  
















1.0 mg

0.05 mg

0.03 mg

11.0 mg 

1.0 mg

0.4 mg

0.002 mg  

0.01 mg

0.005 mg

0.03 mg

0.04 g

4.8 mg

0.25 mg

0.15 mg

50.0 mg

5.0 mg

 2.0 mg

0.01 mg

0.05 mg

0.02 mg

0.15 mg

0.2 g

*Contains less than 2% of the Daily Value for vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and calcium .

Antioxidants Generally, darker honeys and those with higher water content have stronger antioxidant potential. The antioxidants identified thus far in honey are pinocembrin, pinobanksin, chrysin and galagin. Pinocembrin is unique to honey and found in the highest amount relative to the others. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C), catalase and selenium are also present.

Energy Honey contains 64 calories per tablespoon.

ENZYMES:  The major enzymes present in honey are invertase (that converts sucrose into glucose and fructose), amylase (diastase) and glucose oxidase (that produces gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide from glucose in diluted honey). Others, including catalase and acid phosphatase, may also be present.

Enzymes The Major Enzymes Present In Honey




Converts sucrose to glucose and fructose

Amylase (also known as diastase)

Hydrolyzes starch to dextrins and/or sugars

Glucose oxidase

Converts glucose to gluconolactone, which in turn yields gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide


Converts peroxide to water and oxygen

Acid phosphatase 

Removes inorganic phosphate from organic phosphates

Chemical Characteristics

pH and Acids pH 3.9 Range: 3.4-6.1
Acids 0.57% Range: 0.17-1.17% (primarily gluconic acid)

Proteins, Amino Acids, Isoelectric Point Protein 0.266%; Nitrogen 0.043% Amino acids 0.05-0.1%
Isoelectric point 4.3

Analysis: Honey is chemically compatible with a wide variety of products. Its pH and isoelectric point are in a range common to many food systems.

Antimicrobial Properties The factors that may contribute to the antimicrobial properties of honey are:

  • High osmotic pressure, low water activity (Aw)
  • Low pH - acidic environment
  • Glucose oxidase system - forms hydrogen peroxide
  • Low protein content
  • High carbon to nitrogen ratio
  • Low redox potential (Eh), due to high content of reducing sugars
  • Viscosity opposes convection currents and limits dissolved oxygen
  • Chemical agents
  • Pinocembrin
  • Lysozyme
  • Acids (phenolic)
  • Terpenes
  • Benzyl alcohol
  • Volatile substances (possibly phytochemicals influenced by bee enzymes)

Antioxidants Generally, darker honeys and those with higher water content have stronger antioxidant potential. The antioxidants identified thus far in honey are pinocembrin, pinobanksin, chrysin and galagin. Pinocembrin is unique to honey and found in the highest amount relative to the others. Ascorbic acid (vitamin C), catalase and selenium are also present.


Optimum storage temperature is below 52 °F (11 °C) or in the 70 to 80 °F range (21 °C to 27 °C ), in air tight containers.

Sweetness Value The sweetness value of honey is approximately equal to that of invert sugar

Microbiology Honey has inherent antimicrobial properties that discourage the growth or persistence of many microorganisms. The microbes that may be found in honey are primarily yeasts and spore-forming bacteria. No vegetative forms of disease-causing bacterial spores have been found in honey. Because bacteria do not replicate in honey, if high numbers of vegetative bacteria were to be detected, it may indicate contamination from a secondary source.

Infant Botulism Infant botulism is a rare but serious paralytic disease caused by the microorganism Clostridium botulinum. After ingestion, C. botulinum spores can germinate, grow and produce toxin in the lower bowel of some infants under one year of age. Infants are susceptible to infant botulism until their intestinal microflora develop

Color The colors of honey form a continuous range from water white to dark amber. The color of honey is related to its mineral content and is characteristic of its floral source. Light colored honey typically has a mild flavor, while dark colored honey is usually stronger in flavor.