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

Earthy Wisdom – Women organic farmers of eastern UP show the way

With her one-acre farm, Ramrati and her husband Rambahal are able to sustain their 12-member family throughout the year and earn a monthly income.

————————With her one-acre farm, Ramrati and her husband Rambahal are able to sustain their 12-member family throughout the year and earn a monthly income.

Source: http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/other-states/article3366889.ece

With her one-acre farm, Ramrati and her husband Rambahal are able to sustain their 12-member family throughout the year and earn a monthly income.

At a time of widespread concerns about the crisis situation faced by an increasing number of farmers, the remarkable achievements of some women organic farmers have appeared like a ray of hope in Gorakhpur district of eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Prabhavati Devi is one such farmer based in Dudhai village (Sardarnagar block). Along with her husband Suryabhan she owns one and a half acres of land. It is a very small farm, but this family utilised it in such a well-planned way that this small piece of land provides nutritious food to the 10 member family all through the year, apart from earning them a steady cash income all through the year. In addition, the cost of cultivation is kept very low. The quality of grain, vegetables and other produce is very good as no chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used. Hence the vegetables grown here have many eager buyers.

Another interesting aspect of this family is that while all members make their contribution, the leadership role of Prabhadevi is clearly and easily accepted. This became obvious from the way in which she provided us all the details and guided us in the farm at the time of our visit. Prabhavati, 53, follows the ‘food first’ approach by trying to meet as many of her family’s food needs from the small farm. So not only her family’s grain (rice, wheat, maize) and vegetables (over 20) but also many pulses, oilseeds and spices are grown on this small field. Every nook and corner is utilised in a judicious way to grow some food crop or the other. The way in which one plant can support another crop – for example by providing shade – is kept in mind while growing various diverse crops. Fruit trees like mango, banana, jack fruit, bel, papaya, mulberry, lemon and pomegranates also have a place in the farm. Medicinal plants like tulsi and jwarankura have a place of honour in the fields.

All this is nice, but obviously Prabhavati cannot ignore the cash needs of her family. So, various crops are planned in such a way that beyond the family’s needs, a cycle of vegetables, fruits and other crops for the market is ensured. Prabhavati has also leased a small plot on sharecropping basis to grow groundnuts for the market.

When an attempt was made to count all the crops grown by her on the small farm, more than 50 crops could be counted. Fuel wood and small timber needs were also met by the bamboo grown. In addition there were three buffaloes and four goats. Last but not the least important component of Prabhavati’s success is how she makes judicious use of local resources to provide her farm inputs and does not purchase any fertilizers or pesticides from the market. She and her family prepare their own compost. Here also they improvise – when they could not easily buy cement for the composting tank, they made do with branches and bamboos from their own field. To prepare pest-repellants, Prabhavati uses neem and dhatura plants as well as cow’s urine. Her main cash expense is on diesel for the borewell.

Prabhavati inherited a field of low fertility, but her farming methods have improved the fertility of soil. This was achieved at a time when elsewhere complains of nutrient depletion of soil are common. Prabhavati has also trained other women in organic farming practices, something she has gained knowledge about after nearly 13 years of such farming.

The pattern of successful organic farming followed by Ramrati in Sarpathan village (Compereganj block) is somewhat similar. Using her one-acre farm in a very careful way, Ramrati and her husband Rambahal are able to provide nutritious, wholesome food to their 12-member family throughout the year, and in addition earn a monthly average income of Rs. 3000.

Ramrati, like Prabhavati, clearly plays a leadership role in the farm. She also uses innovative ways for getting her banana (and other fruit) crop market-ready so that the use of harmful chemicals can be avoided. In recent years, Ramrati has emerged as a much-in-demand master-trainer of sustainable mixed farming.

Similarly, Dhaneshwari and Sonpati of Avadhpur village, Shanti Devi of Dudhai village as well as other women farmers of this area have rich experiences of low-cot, environment-friendly highly diverse and productive farming. What is common to all these women is that they were all contacted some years back by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG).

They attribute their exposure to alternative farming practices and their subsequent success largely to the guidance they received from the organization. But as the director of GEAG, Shiraj Wazih says, “We just provided some training, ultimately it is their own dedication, hard work, earthy wisdom and on-the-work innovativeness which gave these good results.”