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What is a Honeycomb?

A queen bee surrounded by attendants on a honeycomb.
Bees build honeycombs.
Piece of a honeycomb.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 April 2014
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A honeycomb is the amazing structure that bees build with honey. It can also be called beeswax and it is edible. Some people consider it a delicacy to eat the honeycomb, since it could be called extra-concentrated honey. It takes about 16 grams of honey to produce a gram of the waxy structure that makes up the honeycomb. Others eat honeycomb of specific types in the hope that it will reduce seasonal allergies. There’s very little evidence to support that this works, but it may be the tastiest remedy for allergies.

When beekeepers harvest honey, they remove sections of the comb and place it in a centrifuge machine to remove the liquid honey that drips from each hexagon in the comb. Some people object to this, and it’s virtually impossible to make cruelty free honey. A few bees do get stuck in the comb sections and are killed during this process. Vegans may abstain from eating honey products for this reason. It’s extremely important to keep the bee population up in order to sustain an active hive, so while there may be a few bees that inadvertently get into the comb when it’s processed, beekeepers do try to keep this to a minimum.

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Scientists and just about anyone who’s looked at a honeycomb absolutely marvel at its structure. Typically, each piece of the comb is hexagonal (six-sided), with a precise 120-degree angle for each side. This can bend a bit when the comb is cut or processed, but the pattern is almost identical between one hexagon and the next. People are amazed at the precision with which bees build each section of the comb, but the size is important for the bees. They store food there, excrete honey into the comb and use each comb to raise young bees. Precision in architecture is likely involved in survival of the bee population.

You can find honeycomb at natural foods stores, some specialty markets, and sometimes at local farmer’s markets. It’s definitely worth trying. As a food for people, honeycomb doesn’t have a lot of practical applications, though honey certainly is an excellent sweetener. Other animals, particularly brown and black bears do consume honeycomb when they can get it. Although to take it as bears do, straight from the hive, is not suggested for people who are not in appropriate safety clothing. As many know, bees are not very forgiving.

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Discuss this Article

burcinc
Post 4

@burcidi-- I've been eating honeycomb since I was a kid, it's a popular treat in my family and I eat it exactly the same way as you do.

I've noticed that the more fresh the honeycomb is, the more of the wax you can eat. But the bottom part of the wax is such too hard to eat, so I never do.

I think honeycomb is best when it's eaten by itself or along with toast, cheese, butter or as a topping on thick plain yogurt and fruits.

burcidi
Post 3

I bought a box of honeycomb from the grocery store the other day. I had never tried eating it before but it looked so good and interesting, I couldn't resist. The problem is, I don't know how to eat it! The product says that it is entirely edible but when I had a piece of it, I was left with the wax in my mouth that I just couldn't swallow, so was forced to spit it out.

Any suggestions as to how I can eat honeycomb? I like having the honey for breakfast on toast along with some butter. But is there a way to consume the wax part or can I use it for cooking somehow?

serenesurface
Post 2

I had no idea what the function of a honeycomb was until I watched a program on TV about it. It showed how the queen bee lays her eggs in the cells of the honeycomb and also fills the cells with "royal jelly" that the babies feed from. Field bees, house bees and future queen bees are all in different cells and are fed with the jelly for differing number of days.

The bees also deposit the nectar which is collected from flowers in the cells of the honeycomb. Each group of bees has a different task. The field bees bring in the nectar, house bees deposit the nectar and close off the cell when the nectar has ripened and become honey.

Isn't this amazing? I think it's fascinating. Now I feel bad about buying honeycomb, because bees need honeycombs for everything.

anon112224
Post 1

Bees getting stuck in the comb sections doesn't have to happen. I don't know if this happens with large scale honey producers, but it sure never happens with small scale beekeepers.

This is certainly not the reason vegans do not eat honey. They don't eat honey because we are "exploiting" the work of the bees, not because we are killing them. Of course, if beekeepers were not taking care of bees and creating more hives that there would be in nature, we would have few of the fruits and vegetables that vegans and the rest of us eat.

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