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Is Raw Honeycomb Edible?
Can you eat honeycomb- surely not? This question is often asked of me during beekeeping demonstrations. But indeed- eating honey in the comb is a delightful experience. Perhaps the confusion is due to the fact that we don’t normally see comb in a jar of honey any more. Yes, you can eat it and there are many ways to enjoy it straight from the hive.
People have been eating beeswax comb for thousands of years with no ill effects. Not only is honeycomb edible 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.
What is Honeycomb?
Before we get too excited about eating it, lets explore this mysterious substance a bit. What is honeycomb anyway?
Honeycomb is made from beeswax that is produced by young adult bees. Wax is produced from glands on the bees abdomen. Only the female “worker” bees can produce beeswax.
The soft scales of wax are molded into hexagon cells. The bees create sheets of these cells – making use of every possible inch of space inside the hive.
We call a sheet of beeswax cells – a frame of comb. This natural product becomes the structure of their home and is used to store honey for Winter.
Why People Eat Honeycomb
Some people prefer the taste of honey straight from the comb. Biting into a chunk of honey comb is the purest way to eat honey.
There was a time in the US, when consumers wanted to purchase a whole piece of wax filled with honey (or a frame of honeycomb) -instead of liquid honey in jars.
Why was this method of buying honey so popular? It was because of unscrupulous businesses. Some greedy beekeepers would “stretch” the honey 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 honey 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. The consumption of honey in this manner 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 honey bees. Beekeepers struggle to find a way to make a profit. They can make more money from honey 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.
Who Should Not Eat Honeycomb?
Raw honeycomb is a sweet nutritious treat but not every one should eat honeycomb. It is important to remember that beeswax is a raw product.
And, as with raw honey or any raw food product, infants under the age of 1 should not eat honey. Individuals with compromised immune systems should also forgo this treat.
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 Healthy to Eat?
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 the special, Manuka Honey, is praised by the honey industry for having above average healing properties.
I can tell you that eating fresh honey 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. when you eat honeycomb.
And 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?
Eating honey in the comb 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 wont be cheap.
Another place to buy raw honeycomb is at a natural foods store. You can even order it online but take care to ask questions about the source. I would only buy honeycomb made in the United States.
How to Store Honeycomb?
Do NOT put your honey 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 raw 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.
A Final Word on “Is Honeycomb Edible”
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 honeycomb. You may come to learn that eating fresh honeycomb is one of life’s little pleasures.