Everyone is familiar with honey, but have you ever experienced honey comb?
Honeycomb is delicious, and if you’ve never tried it before, you’re missing out. It’s also beautiful to see the honey in a more natural state, fresh from the hive.
But where does honeycomb come from, and what else should you know about it? Keep reading to find out!
What Is Honeycomb?
A honeycomb is a section of hexagonal cells made from beeswax that contain honey that hasn’t been extracted for bottling.
This is the way honey bees store it inside the hive, surrounded by wax to keep it fresh and clean for when they need it. Honey is their primary source of food, so producing and storing it gives them resources available at all times.
Most honey is sold filtered, pasteurized, and bottled, but honeycomb keeps the wax structure intact with the honey still inside. This means the honey is less processed, because nothing has been done to it once the bees finish producing it.
It takes a lot of work to make! It starts with the worker bees secreting tiny wax scales from a special gland under their abdomen, which they then form into a comb. They will chew and manipulate it into the perfect shape.
For it to become a honeycomb, the bees will store nectar foraged from flowers inside the wax cells. The combination of evaporation and enzymes from the bees’ digestive systems eventually transforms the nectar into honey.
Once it reaches the right moisture content and fills the cell, the bees will cap that cell with wax to preserve it, and the honeycomb is complete. The goal for the bees is to have lots of honey stored for the winter, when they are unable to leave the hive to gather more resources. They will survive on the honey they made in warmer weather.
Harvesting can look a little bit different from just harvesting liquid honey.
Especially in the case of commercial operations, the main goal is removing the honey from the wax comb. The comb can either be damaged in the process or can’t be removed due to the type of equipment the comb is built on.
In apiaries that use frames with plastic foundations, it isn’t possible to harvest honeycomb. Other frame types, such as foundationless, special comb frames, and top bar style hives, allow for harvesting the whole honeycomb.
It’s a much simpler process than honey extraction, as the product is nearly ready as soon as the frames are removed from the hive. From there, it just needs to be cut to size and packaged.
Many beekeepers offer “cut comb” to their customers, and it’s especially popular among foodies and people who like more natural products. It’s considered a more gourmet product, often found in specialty food markets.
The main downside of harvesting a comb is that the bees will need to rebuild the comb that’s harvested, and building a comb takes a lot of energy and work for them.
Where to Buy Honeycomb
You might be surprised to find that honeycomb is usually easy to track down.
A good place to start would be any kind of gourmet, locally owned, or specialty food store or market that carries upscale, premium food products.
You can also look for beekeepers in your area, who either sell it or would know someone who does. If you’re not sure where to find local beekeepers, try visiting the closest farmers market. You might find someone selling honeycomb there, or you can chat with farmers in your community who know about other local producers, including beekeepers.
Just like plain honey, honeycomb is completely edible–wax and all!
Consuming the beeswax in the comb is perfectly safe, though you can also spit it out if you prefer.
Honeycomb is great to use in a lot of dishes but wouldn’t work as well as regular honey in applications like tea or sauce, where it will dissolve as an ingredient.
Part of the appeal of honeycomb is the exquisite experience of eating it whole, and many people enjoy taking a bite right out of a solid piece. It also looks beautiful and makes for an extra special presentation on any occasion.
It’s also a perfect addition to a charcuterie or cheese board, where guests can cut off chunks to enjoy on a slice of fresh bread. It can also be used as a garnish to elevate a dish in interesting new ways.
Some beekeepers will sell jars of honey with a chunk of comb floating inside as well, so you get the best of both worlds.
One of the great things about honey is that it almost never goes bad as long as it’s stored properly.
Honeycomb especially has a long shelf life because the way the bees enclose the honey inside the cells makes it airtight and keeps it from absorbing excess moisture.
The great thing is that it can be safely stored just like liquid honey. It should be kept in a tightly closed container at room temperature, avoiding excessively high or low temperatures or constant direct light.
If you close the container between each use, it shouldn’t cause any issues to slice off pieces as needed. The best place to store honeycomb is in a cabinet or pantry. It doesn’t require refrigeration.
You shouldn’t have to worry about it spoiling, but if you ever notice a strange smell or taste, toss it to be safe. If it’s able to draw in moisture, it’s possible that it can ferment. Fortunately, it’s pretty noticeable when this happens.
Otherwise, the honeycomb will typically remain shelf stable for a very long time.
Honey Comb and Sustainability
In general, supporting honey bees is a great sustainable endeavor for the environment as a whole.
In many ways, honeycomb is even better. This is because it can encourage improved beekeeping practices. Since the honey won’t be refined, it has to be safe and clean, just as it is.
Beekeepers who sell cut comb will be very cautious with, or completely avoid, chemicals in their apiaries so it doesn’t end up in the wax that consumers will be eating.
Honeycomb can only be harvested from some sort of open frame, so there is no extra use of plastics in the production process. While plastic frames can be reused, they will eventually end up in the trash when they need to be replaced.
Since honeycomb is less processed, it requires less time, energy, and resources to produce. This ultimately means less packaging and other materials used for food processing.
Purchasing honeycomb often means supporting smaller or local beekeepers, which is great for your community in so many ways.
It even makes for a more sustainable gift–instead of buying someone more stuff, giving them a honeycomb is more practical and feels really special. They’ll think of you every time they reach for it.
Try Some Fresh Honeycomb
Honeycomb is beautiful and delicious, and it helps you better appreciate the importance of honey bees and other pollinators.
Even if you’ve never seen it before, chances are there’s somewhere nearby that you can find it to give it a try yourself. Look into local resources–the members of your community who keep bees will thank you, and the bees will too.
We have tons of resources all about bees, so you can continue learning all about these fascinating insects!