Is it safe to consume honeycomb? Surely not? This question is often asked of me during beekeeping demonstrations. But indeed- wax comb is edible and it is a delightful experience. Perhaps the confusion is due to the fact that we don’t normally see wax comb in a jar of honey any more. Whereas in the past, this was the only way to enjoy raw honey.
Consuming Raw Honeycomb
People have been eating beeswax comb for thousands of years with no ill effects. It tastes quite good – if a little waxy! While the beeswax itself has no flavor, it contains the purest, freshest honey you will ever taste.
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While anyone can be allergic to almost anything, it is rare for consumption of beeswax in moderate qualities to be unhealthy.
What is Honeycomb?
Before we get too excited about consuming it, lets explore this mysterious substance a bit. What is honeycomb anyway?
Honeycomb is beeswax that is produced by young adult bees. Special glands on the underside of the bees’ abdomen produces wax. Only the female “worker” bees can produce beeswax.
The soft wax scales are molded into hexagon cells. Bees create sheets of these cells – making use of every possible inch of space inside the hive.
The cells become the structure of their home and is used to store food for Winter and raise baby bees.
In a modern hive, beekeepers call a sheet of beeswax cells – a frame of comb. Modern hives have removeable frames that make harvesting and hive inspections easier.
Why People Eat Honeycomb
Some people prefer the taste of honey straight from the comb. Biting into a chunk of comb is the purest way to enjoy honey.
There was a time in the US, when consumers wanted to purchase a whole piece of wax filled with honey -instead of liquid in jars.
Why was this method of buying honey so popular? It was because of unscrupulous businesses. Some greedy beekeepers would “stretch” the harvest by adding corn syrup.
The practice faded as rules and regulations were put into place for food sold to consumers. Sadly, the experience of buying honey by the full frame almost passed out of existence.
If you know a beekeeper, you may still be able to purchase a whole frame of fresh comb but expect to pay a premium price.
The experience of having cells of fresh honey “explode” on your taste buds is worth the effort required to procure some fresh honeycomb.
Why Fewer People Eat Honeycomb Today
It is easy to find people who have never experienced eating raw honey in a comb. This form of consumption is not as common.
The major reason is a lack of availability. Years ago almost every jar of honey sold had at least 1 piece of comb in the jar.
Some beekeepers would even put 2 or 3 pieces of comb in there. Today, it is hard to impossible to purchase multiple pieces of honeycomb in a jar of honey .
This is advantageous because the colony does not have to work hard to produce as much wax. Therefore, the bees produce more honey.
Beekeeping is not easy, especially with all of the troubles facing bees. Beekeepers struggle to find a way to make a profit. They can make more money from sales without comb.
When you find jars of honey with comb, they are usually small jars. These are great for gifts or special occasions. But are not large enough for family use beyond a special treat.
Another factor in the availability of comb honey is the value of wax. Beekeepers can sell any excess wax and it often brings more per pound than the honey harvest. There are many ways to use beeswax and it is always in demand.
People Who Should Not Consume Raw Honeycomb
Raw honeycomb is a sweet nutritious treat but not every one should consume it. As with raw honey or any raw food product, infants under the age of 1 should not eat it.
Individuals with compromised immune systems should also forgo this treat. And of course, those with specific allergies may find honeycomb consumption inadvisable.
What Are You Eating When You Consume Comb?
When you enjoy a sweet piece of fresh honeycomb, you are eating more than just beeswax. You are consuming honey, traces of pollen, propolis and other natural substances.
Unfortunately, your wax can be contaminated with environmental pollutants. But, this is true for any produced food item. We can not control where the bees fly and they will forage across the countryside.
To ensure the best quality honeycomb, I encourage you to consume honey produced in the United States. We still have work to do on environmental issues, but some chemical standards do exist.
Is Honeycomb a Healthy Food?
Well, now we are getting into that grey area. The answer to this question depends on who you ask.
Some studies show consuming raw honey in the comb promotes good heart health. In addition to soothing sore throats, honey has an anti-inflammatory properties.
And , Manuka Honey is praised by the honey industry for having above average healing properties.
Whether it has special medicinal properties or not – I can tell you that eating fresh honeycomb is good for my soul! This is because it is an absolute delight.
In fact, my Daddy always said that honeycomb was “the poor man’s chewing gum.” As a child, they would chew pieces of comb. Once all of the honey was gone, they would swallow the wax.
Most studies report beeswax alone to have very little nutritional value. But you will be getting the nutritional value of the honey, pollen etc. in the wax cells.
However, other researchers say that the long chain fatty acids, long chain alcohols (esters) can provide health benefits. Still more honey lovers swear that honey with comb (or without) helps with allergies.
The jury is still out on this one. Eating it may be healthy, or not, but reasonable amounts wont hurt you either.
How Much Honeycomb is Safe to Eat?
Everything in moderation is a good guideline for those of you who love to eat honey in fresh comb. We know that too much of anything is not usually good for you.
It would be possible to “over-do-it” with comb consumption. Eating mass quantities of it over a short period of time can lead to gastrointestinal issues.
Even though honeycomb is edible, you do not want to gorge on it. But, you would not normally consume enough wax for that to be a major concern.
Smaller amounts of beeswax (as with any roughage) should pose no problem for most people.
You may find “sections” of honeycomb for sale. These are sold in clear plastic containers – square or round.
All honey should be stored in a tightly sealed container or wrap. Moisture is the enemy of honey and the comb will absorb moisture from humid air.
Where to Buy Honeycomb?
As consuming honeycomb has regained popularity in the last few years. The problem is that it is not easy to find. Be prepared to pay a fair price – it won’t be cheap.
You can find pieces of raw honeycomb in natural food stores. You can even order it online but take care to ask questions about the source. Perhaps you have a beekeeping in your town or city?
How to Store Honeycomb?
Do NOT put your comb in the refrigerator. This is not necessary and will actually cause the comb to be sticky and brittle.
In fact, the refrigerator is the worse place to store any honey. Just keep your honey protected from moisture.
Surprisingly, you can freeze honey-if you have several pieces of honeycomb to save for later. Wrap tightly first to protect the comb from moisture.
When you are ready to enjoy, remove a piece from the freezer, thaw and enjoy. Please don’t put your honey in the microwave – that’s criminal- or should be.
Biting into a fresh piece of raw honeycomb is a special experience. If you have never tried it, I encourage you to find some as soon as possible.
Yes, it is safe to eat raw honeycomb for most people in moderation. Enjoy slices of honey comb on warm toast or English Muffins or straight off the spoon.
And that’s just the beginning, there are many other interesting ways to enjoy eating honeycomb. You may come to learn that it is one of life’s little pleasures.