Honey: The Elixir of life

Few interesting facts

  • Honey is the only insect produced food consumed by humans. Beekeeping, or apiculture, has been practised by humans since 700 B.C. World’s oldest edible honey, approximately 3000 years old, was found during pyramid excavation in Egypt. 
  • A honeybee visits 50–100 flowers on a single trip out of the hive. A single honeybee produces approximately only 1/12 teaspoon of honey during her lifetime. Bees have two separate stomachs, one for food and another specifically for nectar.  
  • Honey is a superfood exhibiting anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-fungal, antibacterial, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Hydrogen peroxide, acidity, and lack of water make pure honey last forever.
  • Declining bee population is posing threat to global food security and nutrition. However, there have been no beehive losses in Cuba — unable to import pesticides due to the embargo, the island country now exports valuable organic honey. 
  • Up to 5000 sensors, measuring 2.5mm x 2.5 mm were fitted to the backs of the bees in Tasmania, Australia before they were released into the wild. This was done to monitor and improve honey bee pollination and productivity on farms as well as help understand the drivers of bee Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a condition decimating honey bee populations worldwide.

What is honey?

Honey is produced from the nectar of flowering plants and the efforts put in by the honeybees to convert nectar into honey. Flower nectar is a sweet, liquid substance produced by flower glands, an adaptation that attracts insects to the flowers by offering them nutrition. In exchange, the insects help fertilize the flowers by transmitting pollen particles clinging to their bodies from flower to flower during the foraging. Both parties benefit in this relationship — bees gain food while transmitting the pollen required for fertilization and seed production in the flowering plants. 

In its natural state, nectar contains nearly 80 percent water along with complex sugars. If left unattended, nectar eventually can ferment and would become useless as a food source for the bees.  Therefore, by transforming the nectar into honey, the bees create an efficient and usable carbohydrate with only 14 to 18 percent water and can be stored almost indefinitely without fermenting or spoiling. Honey offers bees energy source capable of sustaining them through the cold winter months. Therefore, honey is a natural product formed from flower nectar possessing nutritional, cosmetic, therapeutic, and industrial values. 

Honey varies in its nutritional composition based on the origin of the nectar used in its creation i.e. botanical as well as geographical origin. It primarily contains fructose (40%) and glucose (30%), while the remainder is water, traces of local pollen, as well as other substances, such as:

  • Amino acids  
  • Enzymes
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins

The trace elements primarily make honey a superfood exhibiting medicinal properties finding application as anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-fungal, antibacterial, antimicrobial and antioxidant.

Apart from honey, beehives are sources of:

  1. Pollens: It is believed that pollens when consumed may lower cholesterol, improve metabolism, and improve stamina. However, some people may be allergic to pollens therefore consumption should be accompanied with caution.
  2. Royal jelly: An excellent dietary supplement, the jelly is the bees’ secretion used as food by the queen and all bee larvae; the worker honeybee secretes royal jelly through its hypo-pharynx glands situated in its head. When consumed by humans, it may provide relief from menopause symptoms. Some researches claim that royal jelly local application speeds up the process of wound healing.
  3. Propolis: Also known as bee glue, it is created by bee workers from resins, balsam and tree saps, and used as a defence mechanism to seal cracks in the hive thus safeguarding any external intrusion. Propolis helps in cold sores and mouth surgery. More scientific research is being carried to establish its effectiveness in cancer sores, tuberculosis, and overall improvement in immune response.   
  4. Wax: It is produced by worker bee’s glands, which they then use to build the honeycomb, and to seal the top of honey-filled cells; Wax is very popular in the cosmetic industry for making products like lip balms, creams, hair care products. It is also used in furniture polish, crayons, anti rust coats etc.
  5. Bee venom: It is this defence mechanism of bees which help to protect against any danger. Bee venom is a colourless liquid containing proteins that can lead to localised inflammation. It finds application in naturopathy for treatment of chronic injuries, gout, and burns.   


  1. https://www.csiro.au/en/News/News-releases/2015/Honey-Bee-Health
  2. https://www.winchesterhospital.org/health-library/article?id=13504
  3. https://www.purewow.com/home/uses-for-beeswax
  4. https://www.rxlist.com/propolis/supplements.htm
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6893770/
  6. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324152#wound-healing
  7. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=19&contentid=BeePollen
  8. https://www.nationalgeographic.com.au/history/honey-in-the-pyramids.aspx
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5424551/
  10. https://saveourbees.com.au/bee-products/
  11. https://www.worldbeeday.org/en/did-you-know/92-honey-and-other-bee-products.html

5 Most Common Adulterated Foods in India

What is food adulteration?

Motivated by economic profitability or malicious intent, adding or mixing substandard or harmful substances to food items that may have adverse effect on health is known as food adulteration. Most common of adulterated foods in India include:

  • Milk – India is world’s largest producer and consumer of milk and related products. Unfortunately, it has become notoriously infamous for being the country to produce synthetic/artificial milk. Driven by increased urbanisation, high demand and unethical profit motives, adulteration and contamination of milk has become a serious problem. Contaminants range from water to chemicals such as caustic soda, white paint, refined oil, urea, starch, glucose and formalin. Detergent is often detected due to lack of hygiene in handling and packaging. Either way the health risks of the resulting mixture is very high. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently issued an advisory to the Government of India. It states that if milk and related products adulteration was not checked immediately, then by 2025, 87 per cent of its citizens may suffer from serious diseases like cancer.
  • Milk products – Just as gloomy is the situation with milk products such as paneer, ghee, yoghurt, butter and cream. Paneer is a staple for vegetarians in the country. In the market, it is often replaced with synthetic paneer which is made from mixture of maida, palm oil, baking powder, detergent, bicarbonate soda, skimmed milk and sulphuric acid. Similarly, synthetic butter, yoghurt and cream replacements are manufactured from combination of chemical and oils. The ‘real’ ghee has been replaced by butter oil. A wide variety of Indian sweets available are made from adulterated milk and milk products posing risk human health.
  • Tea/Coffee: Tea and coffee are the most consumed beverages in India. If your idea of a perfect evening is enjoying a hot cup of tea, then you need to know that adulteration of tea has taken place since the early 1800s. To enhance the aroma and taste, the tea leaves are mixed with artificial food colour, flavours and synthetic dye such as tartrazine, indigo, gypsum, graphite, Prussian blue. Coffee is ubiquitous food product of considerable economic value. It is often mixed with cheaper materials like clay powder, corn powder, chicory, woody tissues etc to increase profitability.
  • Honey: In ancient times, honey was considered to be ‘elixir of life’. However, in 2020 this definition for commercially available honey does not hold much ground.  In the year 2010 and 2016, CSE and Consumer Voice respectively conducted tests on popular honey brands available in India. On both instances, they detected rampant use of adulterants and antibiotics. Artificial honey is manufactured in illegal factories using sugar, corn or rice syrup to cater to rising demand. Artificial honey is devoid of trace minerals presents in natural honey and therefore does worse than good to human health. Additionally, at an alarming rate honeybees are being given antibiotics to keep them disease free. Besides, farmers often spray chemical pesticides on crops and flora in order to protect their yield. The Bees while foraging on nectar consume the deadly spray. Bee’s exposure to antibiotics and pesticides ultimately adulterates honey.
  • ‘Masala’ Powders: Spices and herbs are labour-intensive to produce, which keeps their prices high compared to other crops. Indian kitchen uses a variety of spices such as cardamom, clove, nutmeg, peppercorns and cumin.  Growing demand, production challenges and high prices make spices particularly tempting targets for food adulterators. To enhance the aroma, colour and texture of spices, different types of cheap chemicals are used. For instance, ‘Sudan 1’ a red dye also a known carcinogen, is used to cater red colour to chilli powders. Similarly, adulterant like lead chromate is used to impart bright yellow colour to turmeric. Also, to increase the weight of the spice packaging cheap fillers are used. For example, a packaged garam masala may contain saw dust or powdered bran while a pack of saffron may contain coloured maize thread.

With fair understanding about most common adulterated foods, in next blog, I will deep dive into various aspects of honey.


1. https://www.firstpost.com/india/appetising-in-taste-adulterated-in-content-your-paneer-may-be-gourmets-delight-but-it-might-just-be-spurious-5423131.html#:~:text=A%20report%20by%20the%20food,cheese%20to%20increase%20its%20quantity.

2. https://www.dailypioneer.com/2020/state-editions/district-admin-seizes-huge-quantity-of-adulterated-paneer.html

3. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/coimbatore/712kg-adulterated-tea-seized-from-palakkad-rd-godown/articleshow/71414135.cms

4. https://www.whatshot.in/pune/punes-famous-yewale-tea-c-19653

5. https://tea.fandom.com/wiki/Adulteration_of_tea6. https://www.cnbctv18.com/economy/how-safe-is-food-in-india-fssai-says-one-thing-data-says-another-4300401.htm

Food Traceability: An Introduction

The What, Why and How of it

Food traceability stands at the cusp of many a contemporary buzz word. It also somehow seems to figure in the lexicon of generally opposing forces: ethics and business, profits and environmental sustainability, disruptive technology and sustaining innovation. Let us glance through the what, why, and how of it, prior to arriving at the way it is making its presence felt across the globe, and the opportunity that it presents in the relatively nascent market that is India.

The What

Term ‘Traceability’ holds different definition in international standards, dictionaries, legislation, and scientific community. Following are few examples of the same:

International standards:

ISO 8402 – “The ability to trace the history, application or location of an entity by means of recorded identifications”; ISO 9000 – “The ability to trace the history, application or location of that which is under consideration”;


Dictionary.com and The Free Dictionary – “the ability to trace”; Cambridge Dictionaries Online – “the ability to discover information about where and how a product was made”;


The EU GFL (General Food Law) (Regulation 178/2002) – “The ability to trace and follow a food, feed, food-producing animal or substance intended to be, or expected to be incorporated into a food or feed, through all stages of production, processing and distribution”;

Thus, in general, Food Traceability can be defined as the ability of tracking food and related products through various stages of production, processing and distribution, including that of importation and retail. Food traceability inherently suggests that each of the food’s movements is able to be traced a step backward or forward, as the case may be, at any point in the supply chain.

The Why

The why has plenty of anchors it can latch on to, the most obvious being that it provides visibility to quality, freshness, and authenticity. Besides, traceability allows food products and their ingredients to be tracked and verified, helping establish foundations for robust compliance and stringent safety requirements. At the same instant, it also helps in augmenting consumer belief, retain trust, loyalty and recall. Another logical pivot to the why is the hyper globalised food supply market where traceability goes a long way in assuaging the fears that arise with such complex market systems. The more one can vouch for the antecedents of the product, the greater sway it can have, as also bring in multiple ingredients to the table. Quite importantly, traceability provides scope for corrective actions to be implemented quickly and effectively when something goes wrong. An effective traceability system can also help isolate and prevent contaminated products from proliferating widely in the market, thereby minimising disruption to trade and at the same time avoiding any potential public health risk. Such improved data governance by way of traceability can also help companies constantly improve food safety.

The How

Traceability needs to extend its efficacy to identify the source of all food inputs, including raw materials, additives and packaging. The how of it comprises technology of various genres. These include blockchain, software applications which are currently being developed with the help of java, drupal ,etc. Their capabilities would be able to identify the food source, quality, transit temperature, and freshness of the produce, as well as can be further used to ensure that the data is accurate so as to provide confidence to both consumers and retailers.

In much of the modern West, traceability is now indelibly incorporated in their food supply management systems, with ever growing customer consumption patterns, burgeoning demand, and a legal framework which makes it mandatory for all food and feed business to incorporate it within their businesses. The European Union also has special traceability rules for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which ensure that the GM content of a product can be traced and require accurate labelling so that consumers can make an informed choice. The EU also has made it compulsory for producers to tag animals with details of their origin, and when animals are taken for slaughter, stamp them with the traceability code of the abattoir. Stakeholders such as Producers and Food companies that welcome more stringent environmental and social standards, organic-certification requirements, and traceability standards would be able to create niche brand value for themselves particularly in the face of evolving regulation and would continue to grow to take advantage of food traceability trend. For example, in 2010 Unilever announced plans to source 100 percent of its agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020, and, as of the end of 2014, had reached 55 percent. Traceability in West, is a well evolved system, with clarity of roles and responsibilities with respect to technology there by making already entrenched systems qualitatively better.

The India Connection

In India, the farm to fork industry is yet to takeoff in right earnestness, more so when it comes to incorporating traceability in the root of things. India is also largely infamous for recurrent habits of adulteration, chemical-intensive produce rampant with pesticides and possible carcinogens, with little accountability. Rampant use of preservatives, and malpractices like antibiotics in animal food products also further exacerbate the equation. The systems here still have to rely on local produce to guarantee authenticity. Globally, India is the second largest producer of fruit and vegetables. Fruit production in India has increased nearly 90 percent in the last decade, but we are traditionally wary of ‘unseasonal’ varieties of food, or those that arrive from far shores. With all its shortcomings in the food production systems, India also happens to be one of the most aspirational countries in the contemporary world, with the human potential to fulfill its flight. Food being responsible for a sizeable number of its employment, traceability may be the perfect antidote to a lot of its food-related systemic issues. The Indian food industry is well aware of the necessity for a proper traceability regime, what is lagging is the mass awareness with respect to food traceability. A food traceability system is not only an important tool to manage food quality and safety risks, but also to promote the development of effective and efficient supply chain management in India. Demand also is rising for healthier functional foods, that are certified and traceable, those that offer benefits beyond basic nutrition, such as lowering cholesterol, regulating blood sugar, managing arthritis etc. This is the right time for us to up the ante, and inculcate traceability in our food mechanisms.

What also needs remembering is that the human world is going through a pandemic the parallel of which it has not witnessed in living memory. Within such uncertain times, a simultaneous fear arises of the unknown. This can easily spill on to food supplies where trust is of solitary importance, and food-borne illnesses would be of particular concern to consumers. India has pledged a doubling of the farm economy, as well as has spelt plainly that it is aiming for the top 5 global economies. Within that context, it becomes all the more incumbent on us to let go of our constant lag in incorporating viable mechanisms like traceability. India is willing to pay more for food that knows its journey from the root to the plate, and that should be a welcome signal for businesses to put their best foot forward.


1. https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/enewsletter/the-importance-of-food-traceability/

2. https://globalfoodsafetyresource.com/food-traceability/

3. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/chemicals/our-insights/pursuing-the-global-opportunity-in-food-and-agribusiness

4. https://www.accenture.com/us-en/_acnmedia/pdf-70/accenture-future-of-food-new-realities-for-the-industry.pdf

5. https://digital.hbs.edu/platform-rctom/submission/lets-talk-turkey-cargills-blockchain-supply-chain-of-the-future/

6. https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2019-04-30-gartner-predicts-20-percent-of-top-global-grocers-wil

7. https://www.gartner.com/en/documents/3723421/supply-chain-brief-employ-data-governance-to-enhance-foo

8. http://fishwise.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/081314_OlsenBorit_HowToDefineTraceability.pdf