The golden glow of fresh wax from the hive is a beauty to behold. However, the natural wax from honey bees can come in many different shades. Why do beeswax colors vary so much? The science behind these natural variations is interesting to consider.
The Color of Pure Beeswax
In the early years of beekeeping, it is amazing to see the different colors of beeswax that will appear. After cleaning your wax, you have blocks or cakes of every imaginable shade.
Can you tell whether or not wax is pure by color alone? No. Natural wax can many different shades of white, shades of gold, bright yellow or even brown!
Why is Beeswax Different Colors?
In it’s natural state, there are two factors that affect the color of wax comb. Beyond these things, the way in which the wax is cleaned or “rendered” can influence its appearance.
- time in the hive
- nectar source
Comb Darkens Over Time in the Hive
When worker honey bees produce wax in the hive, it is snow white. This honeycomb forms the internal structure of the hive.
In the thousands of wax cells, young bees or “brood” are raised. Some sections of comb are used to store food for the colony and excess honey that a beekeeper may harvest.
As thousands of tiny feet walk across the comb, pigment stains are absorbed. Honey and pollen stored in honeycomb also causes it to darken. The longer the wax comb stays in the hive, the darker it becomes.
Any comb that has been used for raising young will be the darkest as it also contains pupal cocoon left behind by developing bees. This old wax is often rotated out of the beehive by the beekeeper.
Honey bees gather plant nectar to make honey. Bees that are producing wax require a lot of food. We have found that the nectar source does affect beeswax color.
There will be color variations between regions of the country or even from one country to another. This is because of different blooming plants growing in these locations.
However, if you are a beekeeper, you may eventually see the evidence of nectar source affecting honeycomb color in your own hives.
One year, my wax harvest was an incredible bright yellow – it was beautiful. Why? My thought is that weather conditions: temperature, rain, frost – affected the available nectar that season.
Is White or Yellow Beeswax Better?
In terms of value, it makes no difference whether your wax is white or yellow. Though for cosmetic applications, white wax is often preferred. This is why you can purchase wax in different colors.
Beyond nectar source or time in the hive, filtering can also affect the finished color of your beeswax. Cleaning and filtering is important to remove propolis and excess honey.
Commercial companies are able to use intense filtration and chemical processing to clean and bleach way. This is not available to the hobbyist – nor is it necessary.
Why is some beeswax more yellow than others? Beyond nectar source, this is because it still retains some of the honey etc from the hive.
Making candles with natural wax is a traditional skill dating back through the ages. They are beautiful in all of the natural shades of beeswax. However, you can color them if you wish.
The main advantage of using beeswax candles is that they are clean burning. Some other types of candles contain paraffin and contaminates that are released into the air when burned.
Pure beeswax contains none of these and produces a bright, warm light. They also drip much less than other types of wax. Properly cleaned, this natural wax produces beautiful long lasting candles. You can even make candles using sheets of beeswax.
What to do with Dark Beeswax
While it is true that beeswax color does not signify its value, dark beeswax is not a favorite. This color is often obtained from the melting down of old brood comb.
In commercial applications, this dark beeswax would likely be cleaned and bleached to a lighter shade. For regular beekeepers, any dark wax can be used for other applications such as waterproofing your old work boots.
Also, darker wax can add character to traditional items such as DIY beeswax Christmas ornaments. Some people actually prefer it.
Did you know that you can even eat beeswax? Yes, it is consumable. However, the human digestive system is not capable of digesting it. It will pass through the body.
If you have never had the chance to eat honeycomb – give it a try. The delight of fresh honey in comb is a true taste experience. But, you can swallow or spit out the wax – I won’t tell.
Getting the Most Out of Your Wax Harvest
If you are a beekeeper, once the harvest is complete, your ideas turn to the excess wax. This is good because that wax represents a lot of work by the colony. In fact, beeswax is worth more per ounce than honey. You don’t want to waste any of it.
One reason that beeswax is held in such high regard is the many ways it can be used. From candles, to cosmetics to waterproofing applications – wax from honey bees is a major ingredient in many formulas. Each shade of wax color has some use for which it is perfect.