13 Ways of Looking at Honey



I live in a city sorrow built

It’s in my honey, it’s in my milk.

The National, ‘Sorrow’

Some countries are perceived to be ‘a land of milk and honey’ to foreign migrants. Safe, fertile lands where opportunities are plenty. It’s a term taken from the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Scriptures, though in Tel Aviv it’s the name of a whisky distillery.


Companies often set up a decoy computer system, known as a honeypot, to draw potential hackers into an isolated network where they can then be monitored and blocked from actually accessing any sensitive data.


A 2005 French-German study estimated that, if we were to put it in financial terms, global agriculture would owe wild bees about €153 billion every year for the job they do in pollinating plants. Human pesticides, however, are getting pretty close to putting these bees out of a job.


Fructose more readily forms fat in our bodies than glucose. Too much fructose also throws off our glucose metabolism, making it a culprit for higher rates of insulin resistance and diabetes.

Natural honey is made up of about 40% fructose, with a small bundle of useful things like minerals, proteins, amino acids, and vitamins. Agave syrup, a trendy alternative to honey, is more like 75% fructose and 25% glucose.


They may disagree on other points, but many religions seem able to agree on the significance of honey.

The Hebrew Bible describes the Promised Land as a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’.

Theravada Buddhists commemorate the Buddha receiving honey from a monkey during Madhu Purnima.

John the Baptist subsisted in the wilderness on a diet of locusts and wild honey.

Hindus touch honey to a newborn baby’s lips to wish it a long and healthy life.

The Qur’an dedicates an entire chapter to bees.


During construction of an oil pipeline in Georgia in 2003, pots containing residue of honey were unearthed in a tomb believed to be 5,500 years old. Judging by a cave painting in Spain depicting people foraging for honey, it’s safe to say we’ve been enjoying honey for at least 8,000 years. Though it’s almost certainly longer than that.


float like a butterfly

eat it but don’t heat it, honey

you can call me Queen B


Oslo has developed a network of rooftop gardens, beehives, and plantings of nectar-heavy flowers to allow wild bees to navigate safely through the city. Set up by individuals, businesses and government entities since 2015, you can find these lunch-friendly green spaces along the ‘Bee Highway’ on an online map.


In 401 BC, warrior-philosopher Xenophon recorded how Athenian soldiers “who ate of the honey all went off their heads, and suffered from vomiting and diarrhea.”

Plants from the Ericaceae family, like Rhododendron, contain grayanotoxins. Eating honey from bees who feed from these leaves can cause ‘Mad Honey Disease’ symptoms.

Another form of toxic honey is produced from tutu bushes in some areas of New Zealand, whose manuka honey is among the most sought-after in the world.


Honey wine was probably the first alcoholic beverage made by humans. Still, mead remained very uncool for hundreds of years until Game of Thrones premiered in the USA in 2011. According to the American Mead Makers Association, the number of mead sales in the country more than doubled in the year from 2012-2013. In the five years since then, the number of meaderies in the USA has grown from under 200 to well over 300.


When homo sapiens tamed fire, it heralded massive advances in human evolution. It also introduced us to burns. It seems honey has always been a popular method for treating burns, featuring in the Edwin Smith medical papyrus from Egypt around 1500 BC, the 1st-century Roman De Medicina, and in Indian Ayurvedic medicine texts dating back over 6000 years.

Today, some scientists dismiss the idea that honey helps heal wounds as an old wives’ tale, while others are discovering modern medical uses for honey all the time, like treating radiation-induced mucositis in cancer patients.


Birds from the Indicatoridae family are among the few bird species capable of digesting beeswax. In some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, these birds will attract the attention of humans, lead them to a wild beehive, wait patiently for them to smoke out the bees and take some honey, then the Honeyguides will help themselves to whatever is left.


To make honey, foraging bees regurgitate and swallow nectar to hydrolyse its sucrose into glucose and fructose until it reaches a moisture content around 20%, at which point it is deposited into honeycomb cells. Hive bees then flutter their wings over the honeycomb constantly to circulate air and evaporate water from the honey until the moisture content is lowered to around 18%. The bees then seal the honeycomb cells with wax to preserve it. Think about this next time you make jam.

This series is inspired by Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of looking at a Blackbird. David McKenzie looks every month at the most normal food you can imagine and offers a fresh view on it. In thirteen different ways.


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