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Honey is not bee vomit

Why do people insist that honey is vomit when observation says otherwise? Seriously, does it look like vomit? Smell like vomit? Taste or feel like vomit?

Animals don’t build storage units for vomit, they don’t save it for winter meals, and they don’t rob each other of it. My guess, although I’ve never experimented, is that most vomit has a short shelf life and an in-your-face pull date. And antibacterial properties? Hmm, let me think.

In fact, the nectar a bee collects never goes into its digesting stomach or into its intestines. The nectar goes into a honey stomach where it is stored for a short time and mixed with special enzymes. But between the honey stomach and the bee’s digestive stomach is a one-way valve, a check valve of sorts. If the bee needs some fuel, some of the nectar can go through this valve, but once through, it can’t go back. Nothing from the bee’s digesting stomach or the bee’s intestines can return to the honey stomach.

When the bee enters her hive, the contents of the honey stomach—and only the honey stomach—are transferred to other bees through trophallaxis before it is ultimately stored in the comb. Excess water is then fanned away until the honey is the proper consistency for capping.

For some reason, people believe that food which reappears after having gone “down the hatch” must be vomit. But vomiting is defined as the involuntary and forceful expulsion of stomach contents, usually associated with illness or poisoning. Regurgitation, on the other hand, is considered normal, voluntary, and without unpleasant side effects. Other animals, such as birds, regurgitate partially digested food to feed their young, but bees store undigested food in a convenient and separate carry-pouch.

I sometimes get the feeling that those who insist that honey is vomit are in some­ way trying to belittle or denigrate honey as “nothing special.” But honey is indeed special as are the creatures that make it.

In the diagram below, the arrows show which way the food can move. Once the food goes through the one-way valve (proventriculus), it cannot move back into the honey stomach.

mouth↔esophagus↔honey stomach (crop)→one-way valve (proventriculus)→digesting stomach (ventriculus) →intestine→rectum→anus


Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Honey-and-comb
Honey shows no characteristics of vomit.

Comments

Robert L. Quarterman
Reply

Rusty,

What a concise and informative explanation of a honeybees innards! I loved it and your backlash cause I have never seriously thought of honey to be anything at all to be compared to vomit! How disgustingly inappropriate for people to taint the marvel of such a golden, righteous, tantalizing, satisfying and delightful and hard earned gift from heaven, by comparing it to PUUK! L0L, RLQ

Glen Buschmann
Reply

For we limited beings blessed with but one stomach, it is as difficult to conceive of life with auxiliary stomachs, crops, pouches, and regurgitation, as it is to imagine seeing with compound eyes, tasting with feet, smelling with antennae, breathing through our skin, flying, stinging, laying eggs, and on and on. Yes, honey is not vomit, and yet how better can I describe a process very much foreign to our inadequate human imagination and experience. Mea Culpa, unapologitically.

Rusty
Reply

Glen,

You poor thing! Only one stomach and you can’t taste with your feet? You should have told me.

Glen Buschmann
Reply

Nope I can’t taste with my feet — but they do smell sometimes.

Larry
Reply

Thank you for this concise explanation. I even hear bee keepers using this terrible description for this wonderful product from God’s creation.

Myrna Warren
Reply

I just love this explanation on what honey is not. I found it so amusing that I’m forwarding it to many of my friends who aren’t even beekeepers. May I have permission from you to use some of this article in our bee keeper club newsletter?

Rusty
Reply

Myrna,

Of course!

Pat
Reply

There’s a train of thought among some vegans of trying to get people to stop eating animal products by making it seem gross. So honey = vomit and eggs come from a chicken’s butt. I am vegan, and I keep both chickens and bees. I know how very special honey and eggs are, and that idea is infuriating. But I’ve stopped arguing with them, as I have better things to do, like snuggle my chickens and watch the bees gathering crabapple pollen.

Rusty
Reply

Pat,

Interesting because when I was doing some research for this post, I kept running into vegan sites that were totally (in my opinion) sensationalizing the “vomit” idea. It was unsettling.

Pat
Reply

Yes, I agree – that borderline shrillness really turns me off, and I suspect it drives off a lot of omnivores who might otherwise consider some of the ideas.

Kris
Reply

LOL – the chickens. Technically, chickens do not have a “butt”. They do have a vent however and feces comes out of the same orifice as the egg though the egg is formed by a different set of organs. My kids are used to the idea given that it is their chore to clean fecal matter of the eggs before they sell them. You bring up a great point and I get a good laugh out of the mindset of many people and their naiveté when it comes to food. They live in a nice bubble of imagining that all of their food is sterile, and comes from a pleasant, government regulated clean room.

Rusty’s post is highly informative and accurate, as usual. What I find more alarming however, is that many people expect their honey to be absolutely clear and free of any foreign matter. The only way to achieve this is to heat it to the point that it degrades and destroys any beneficial properties the honey has naturally. It is then usually diluted with corn syrup and other unnatural things to increase volume and profits.

A few times having given raw honey to friends they have pointed out that the honey has “floaters” and a fine layer of wax particles at the top of the jar (I used the crushed comb method of extraction) and were concerned by these “impurities”. I find it odd that they would consider raw unfiltered honey “impure” and processed honey “pure”. What a warped mindset many have been conditioned with in buying their food with no thought as to how it got to the supermarket in the first place. Just one more reason beekeeping (and chicken keeping) is such an incredible way to stay connected with reality.

Steve R
Reply

Your next to the last paragraph describes the people I deal with at work. They cannot understand how honey bees get the nectar to the end product “honey”. So they take every opportunity to regurgitate the “bee vomit” description. Pardon the pun!

Steve Reynolds

Reginald Finley M.Sc. Biology
Reply

It is a caricature but it is still correct technically. The bee is regurgitating previously ingested material that has been transformed. The materials enter the crop (which is a special kind of stomach) and released later through the mouth of the bee. The aversion to the term is because of the feelings of disgust associated with this term but it is somewhat correct. A more accurate term could be Crop Regurgitate, but this is still vomit. It’s just not coming from the more complicated portion of the bees digestive system. 🙂 – “forceful expulsion of crop content”. Yep, still vomit.

Rusty
Reply

Reginald,

I disagree. Because of the proventriculus, the nectar never gets into the digesting stomach. It only gets as far as the crop where it is held and partially processed. There is not a 1:1 correspondence between a human digestive system and a bee’s digestive system, and we have to accept that.

Granny Roberta
Reply

I sorta understand the vegans. (Pigs are so cute and smart but pork is my favorite meat, so I don’t think I’m a very ethical person.) But unless you (barbarically) clip your queen’s wings, how are you exploiting your bees. If they don’t like the accommodations, and the rent you collect, they can just leave.

As for the bee vomit debate, when I studied digestion (human) I learnt that digestion begins in the mouth, when saliva starts breaking down starch. Bees’ saliva is already working on the nectar before it even gets to the supposedly-doesn’t-count-as-digestion honey stomach.

Embrace the bee barf and don’t take it so seriously. (But vomit is just gross.)

Rusty
Reply

But like I said earlier, you are comparing a bee system with a human system, but they are just not the same.

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