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What is Honeydew Honey?

Honeydew honey is made sugary insect secretions harvested by honey bees.  Though it resembles regular honey in many ways it is not the same. It is often called forest honey. This is due to the fact that bees often collect it from various plant surfaces such as leaves, stems and bark. A common misconception is that this particular product is related to a certain type of melon vine. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Dark color honeydew honey in a small glass jar image.

Honeydew Honey vs Regular Honey

Honeydew is a sticky substance excreted by some types of insects such as aphids. Aphids are sucking insects that feed on plant sap. They eat the sap not for the sugars but for the proteins it contains.

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Because sap has a high water content, aphids must consume a lot of sap to get the proteins they need. The excess water and sugars are excreted from the body.

This sweet substance is called honeydew and it is consumed by many different insects and animals.

Normally, bees gather plant nectar from millions of blooming plants.  Inside the hive, the complex sugars are converted into a more stable substance -nectar becomes honey. The colony survives Winter by consuming this food stored in the comb.

Honeydew honey in jar with wooden dipper image.

Is Honeydew Honey Poop?

I must admit that the source of this sugar substance leaves a bit to be desired. Yet in the same way that regular honey is not vomit, this product is not poop. At least not in the conventional term.

It is a sugar deposit secreted on the leaves of plants. The most common producers are aphids,  scale insects or a fungus. Their simple digestive systems are simply expelling excess water and sugar.

Honey bees collect honeydew in the same way as plant nectar. Sucked into the crop and mixed with enzymes and transported back to the hive.

Once in the hive, house bees add more enzymes, including a special one called -invertase. This helps convert the sugars to a more stable form.  Then, the water content is lowered to make a product suitable for long term storage.

From the bees perspective, honeydew is collected stored and used in the same way as plant nectar. And, it is often mixed together with floral honey.

Taste of Honeydew Honey

The collection and conversion process is very much the same. But, this special product is not exactly the same as regular honey.

It tends to have a stronger flavor and aroma and be darker. In fact, the color of this honey can be very dark and sometimes have a greenish tint.

When produced in late Summer, it tends to be especially strong. Along with being less acidic, a woody taste or slight aftertaste is not uncommon.

Honeydew Honey is Not the Same are Regular

Also, there are some chemical variations. Honeydew honey tends to be higher in ash content.

While bees can use honeydew honey – it can cause dysentery in colonies that are confined and unable to eliminate wastes. 

It also lacks any of the pollen proteins found in food made from plant nectars. These characteristics make it an undesirable food for Winter stores.

Ants gathering honeydew from aphids image.

Where Bees Collect Honeydew

In some instances, honeydew can occur in such quantities that one might think the plant itself was producing the substance. However, it is those various sap sucking bugs who are the true producers.

Trees are the largest source-with pine, firs, beechwood, oak, willow, poplar and peach being most common. A few plants such as cotton or sunflowers may be a resource.

Like regular honey, bees can gather the substance from many different sources.  This results in a variety of color and flavor due to the individual differences in the insects and sap involved.

Health Benefits of Honeydew Honey

This honey is very popular parts of Europe. It is valued for its flavor and possible health benefits in : Greece, Slovenia, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. In Greece, fir honeydew honey represents about 5% of the total production in the country.

Is honeydew honey better for you? Perhaps. It is generally higher in minerals and amino acids that floral honey. And some believe, it may have higher antibacterial properties due to higher levels of glucose oxidase.

A Final Word

Honey bees are industrious insects that collect food from the best source possible. While they may prefer plant nectar, if is it not available in abundance – they will seek out another source.

Chances are you have consumed some honeydew honey – even if you were not aware of doing so. It is not unusual to see bees working the oak leaves in mid-Summer during a nectar dearth in my region. And, everything gets mixed together back at the hive.

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