June 23, 2014


Bees convert plant nectar to honey by partial digestion and regurgitation. Enzymes act on sucrose to create glucose and fructose in solution. Upon regurgitation, this sugar solution is quite high in water and requires evaporation before becoming the eventual honey. Honey is a supersaturated solution of these sugars, and at room temperature honey may contain granules of sugars that crash from solution. Without a seed crystal however, honey may persist entirely as a liquid in a metastable state.

Sugar has about the same sweetness as table sugar, but because of its higher water content, honey cannot be substituted with sugar at a 1:1 ratio in baking. The quantity of “wet” ingredients must be appropriately decreased.

The most plentiful sugars found in honey are similar to table sugar: sucrose, fructose, and glucose; but the remainder of the simple sugars are tied up in a plethora of oligosaccharides: centose, erlose, panose, maltulose, maltose, maltotriose, theanderose, kojibiose, isopanose, gentiobiose, and turanose; and a couple of polysaccharides: isomaltotetraose and isomaltopentaose.

Honey is also used in food preservation; the dehydration of honey prevents future fermentation, and microorganisms cannot grow in honey due to its low water activity (aw = .6).

This illustration contributed to the production of the video “Gluten in the Baking Process” found here. The video was featured by the good people at Better Engineers, a now-defunct online magazine for engineers and scientists.

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