Honey's usual water content of 16–18 per cent prevents wild yeasts multiplying. Any more watery and honey is likely to ferment. The water content of raw honey can be as low as 14 per cent.


As bees convert nectar into honey, their hypopharyngeal glands release enzymes, including:

• Invertase, which converts nectar's sucrose into glucose and fructose. (The digestive enzyme sucrase does the same in our body, but in a different way.)

• Amylases, which break down starch and include diastase (see page 35).

• Glucose oxidase, which converts glucose into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide (as in hair bleach) when honey is diluted with water and its acidity falls, and when there is sufficient sodium.

• Others, including catalase and inulase.

Darker honeys contain higher levels of enzymes. Enzymes are inactivated by bright light and excessive heat, which is partly why a beehive's interior is very dark and its temperature is regulated by worker bees.

Health benefits

Honey's enzymes remain at full strength if a honey is never heated beyond 40ºC/104ºF.

Invertase – by 'predigesting' some of nectar's sucrose, this enables someone who lacks sucrase (for example, because of gastroenteritis) to eat honey without getting diarrhoea from undigested sucrose passing through the bowel.

Glucose oxidase – is released from honey's glucose in the presence of water, which reduces acidity, and sodium from food, drink, gastric or intestinal juice, or wound fluid. It facilitates hydrogen-peroxide production.

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