Bee Bread

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We normally associate bees with honey production. But, there is another nutritious substance they make as well – bee bread. A mixture of fresh pollen, honey and bee secretions, bee bread is a protein power house with long term storage qualities. Fresh pollen would spoil when stored in the hive for months but our bees solve this problem by converting it into a stable substance.

Bee bread stored in comb by adult honey bees for use later image.

Not only is bee bread nutritious and stable – it is also easily digestible for colony members. This is an important part of the honey bee diet and necessary for colony survival.

What is Bee Bread?

Bee bread is made from plant pollen-but it is so much more. In fact, bee bread is about 75% pollen mixed with nectar, and bee secretions or saliva. 

Each plant has a slightly different pollen – so naturally the chemical make up of bee bread varies. This variety is a good thing as it provides a diverse nutritional blend for the colony.

It contains many macro and microelements such as: iron, selenium, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and others.

When all of these sources are mixed together back in the hive, the colony has a more complete protein diet.

How Pollen Becomes Bee Bread

Plants that rely on insect pollination often produce a heavier, sticky pollen compared to wind pollinated plants.

Not all plant pollen is equally nutritious. The chemical composition varies a great deal in quality and exact minerals and vitamins. Fortunately, bees use pollen from many different types of plants.

Honey bee on yellow flower with yellow pollen pellets on corbicula.

Pollen Collection

Pollen is collected by foraging workers from thousands of blooming flowers. The bee collecting pollen lands on a flower.

Some of the pollen grains are attracted by static electricity to the hair covering the her body. She also will use her mouthparts and legs to gather pollen from the flower.

She mixes a bit of nectar and/or saliva with the grains to form small pellets. The pellets are then pushed onto the stiff hairs of the corbicula. 

The corbicula is found on the hind legs of bees. This structure is a part of the bee body called a “pollen basket”.

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The average pollen load of a forager may be up to 35% of her body weight- averaging about 15mg. 

The number of grains needed to make a load varies greatly. There is much diversity in the size of pollen grains produced by different flowers.


Bee saliva of enzymes. As it is mixed with pollen grains the probiotic bacteria and yeasts break down pollen a digestible form.

This process changes raw pollen that is not very digestible into a protein powerhouse that stores well and can be used as a food source.

Enzyme rich saliva is a powerful tool for our honey bees. Salvia ends up in honey too and thus the myth that honey is bee vomit! Not true.

Fermented bee pollen of different colors in honeycomb cells.


Arriving back at the hive, the worker with full pollen baskets seeks out a wax cell. Usually, a cell near the brood nest is chosen-though other sections of the hive can be used for storage. 

In a while, house bees (adults – not yet working as foragers) come along to inspect the cell. They use their head to tightly pack the contents of the cell. This removes any trapped air pockets.

A little more nectar and saliva containing enzymes is added to the pollen in the cell. The fermentation process that begin in the field continues.

Other foragers return and add more pollen to the cell until it is full-or they run out of pollen to gather.

As a final step, a light covering of honey is spread over the surface of fermented pollen. This is why stored pollen often has a shiny surface. An individual cell may contain many different colors of pollen from a variety of plants.

Role of Bee Bread in Brood Rearing

The growth and well-being of the colony is dependent on a healthy strong new generation. Middle aged house workers that have not begun to forage are responsible for rearing bee brood.   

These nurse bees consume bee bread in order to produce special food. Glands located in their head and mouth secrete the nutritious food that developing young require.

This includes royal jelly but there are other secretions produced as well. Older bee larvae may even be fed small bits of bee bread.

Without this rich protein source, the colony would not be able to rear healthy strong young to take over hive duties.

Pellets of bee bread made by honey bees image.

Why Honey Bees Can Not Eat Fresh Pollen

As our forager bees fly through the air with colorful baskets of flower pollen, she must become tired and hungry. You might think she would stop for a snack. 

However, field workers do not eat pollen. Sadly, they could not digest this raw pollen even if they wanted to.

The grains have a very tough outer coating – this makes getting to the nutritious part too difficult.  Also, older adult bees cannot eat the raw grains. Unlike young nurses, they lack the proteolytic enzymes needed for digestion.

Glass jar of bee pollen and spoon image.

Human Uses

Is Bee Bread Good for You? We know bee bread is essential for the health and well-being of the colony. But, what about human health? Can we eat bee bread?

Some studies say yes. It is reported to have high nutritional value with a mixture of proteins, essential amino acids, omega fatty acids and simple sugars.

Bee bread has been called “Ambrosia” (food of the Gods). Therefore, some people consume pollen and bee bread as part of their diet. They believe it is a natural product that promotes good health.

Are the bees on to something? Perhaps. This is another reason that people enjoy eating honeycomb. It often contains fermented pollen.

Workers in hive with honey and bee bread.


What does bee bread taste like?

Bee bread has a slightly sweet flavor with a bit of a nutty aftertaste. However, it will vary according to the pollen source used to make it.

Is bee bread the same as honeycomb?

No, bee bread is made with fermented pollen. Honeycomb is made from wax produced by worker bees.

How do humans use bee bread?

People consume bee bread in several different forms. It can be added as a topping to salads or mixed in smoothies.

How is bee bread different than pollen?

Enzymes in bee saliva causes fresh pollen to undergo lactic acid fermentation. Bee bread is fermented pollen.

In Conclusion

Because, honey bees can convert raw pollen into bee bread (a stable long term storage protein source) – they are able to survive during the cold months. This stored protein will be used to start the next generation of young in late Winter.


  1. Mary Harris-Kasuba says:

    Hello Charlotte.
    My son in law and I are on a mission to understand about Beebread!
    It is something that has recently come across his path.. and he knows I love bees, I have not yet, started keeping bees 🐝. We have a question about b-bread. Why is it not something that is known about as much as: i. e. Bee pollen, queen bee propolis, and other things. Is it because bee keepers don’t know about it? And how is it gathered if it’s a known thing. i’d appreciate it if you could share with me thank you. I live in California.

  2. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Hi Mary, I think in part it is a cultural thing as other parts of the world are more likely to consume bee bread. As a beekeeper, it would be too difficult to harvest than most beekeepers would care to try. Even among we beekeepers, I always say – look at that pollen in the comb – though technically by that point I am actually looking at bee bread.

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