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Honey is a sweet and viscous fluid produced by bees and other insects from the nectar of flowers. The flavor and color of the substance is largely determined by the type of the flowers from which the nectar is gathered. Common flavours of honey include orange blossom honey, tupelo honey, clover honey, blackberry, and blueberry honey. In Australia, Tasmanian leatherwood honey is considered a delicacy for its unique flavour. Manuka honey from New Zealand is said by some to have more healing properties than other honeys, therefore sells at a premium price.
Similar to honey, and usually bottled and sold as honey is honeydew, which is made by the bees from the sweet secretions of aphids, scale, or other plant sap sucking insects. Honeydew from pine forests has a "piney" taste and is prized for medicinal use in Europe and Turkey.
The main uses of honey are in cooking, baking, spreading on bread or toast, and adding to various beverages such as tea. Because honey is hygroscopic (drawing moisture from the air), a small quantity of honey added to a pastry recipe will retard it from becoming stale. Raw honey also contains enzymes that help in its digestion.
Honey is also used in traditional folk medicine. It is an excellent natural preservative. Honey is, however, not always healthy. Because it is gathered from flowers in the wild, there are certain times and places when the honey produced is highly toxic. Rhododendrons and azaleas have nectar that is highly poisonous to humans although harmless to bees, producing deadly honey. In some areas of the world the hives are emptied immediately after the flowering season and cleaned of any residue to prevent accidental poisoning. There are stories that poisoned honey was used in warfare in ancient times, but they are unverifiable.
Honey (as well as other sweeteners) is also potentially extremely dangerous for infants. This is because, when mixed with the non-acidic digestive juices of an infant it creates an ideal medium for botulinum spores to grow and produce toxin. Botulinum spores are among the few bacteria that survive in honey, but also are widely present in the environment. While these spores are harmless to adults, because of stomach acidity, an infant's digestive system is not yet developed enough to destroy them, and the spores could potentially cause infant botulism. For this reason, it is advised that neither honey, nor any other sweetener, should be given to children under the age of 18 months.
Honey does not spoil. Because of its high sugar concentration, it kills bacteria by osmotically lysing them. Natural airborne yeasts can not become active in it because the moisture conent is too low. Natural, raw, honey varies from 14% to 18% moisture content. As long as the moisture content remains under 18% nothing will grow in honey. Honey was found in one of the Egyptian pyramids, estimated at several thousand years old, and it was still good.
The study of pollens and spores in raw honey (Melissopalynology) can determine floral sources of the honey. Because bees carry an electrostatic charge, and can attract other particles, the same techniques of Melissopalynology can be used in area environmental studies of radioactive particles, dust, or particulate pollution.
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