“Honey is fascinating; everything about it – its chemistry, its history, its unbelievable activity. It’s just an amazing substance,” said University of Illinois entomology professor and department head May Berenbaum, the editor of a new cookbook, “Honey, I’m Homemade: Sweet Treats From the Beehive Across the Centuries and Around the World.”
In addition to being a sweetener, honey is a term of endearment, an antibiotic balm, an offering to the gods and a symbol of plenty. References to honey appear in every major religious tradition. Mead (honey wine) is the earliest known alcoholic beverage. Honey has even been used as an aid in embalming the dead.
Honey bees themselves are also venerated for their cooperative work ethic, said Gene Kritsky, an entomologist at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, an expert on the history of beekeeping and the author of “The Quest for the Perfect Hive: A History of Innovation in Bee Culture.” (Kritsky is an alumnus of the University of Illinois.)
The skep, an upside-down basket used as a beehive for hundreds of years, also became a religious and economic symbol, Kritsky said.
Taylors and Lloyds, the founding partners of Lloyds Bank, used a bee skep as a symbol of productivity. The Mormon church appropriated it to signify a coordinated society working together for the good of the whole, “and there are legends that the papal mitre is symbolic of the skep,” Kritsky said.
Kritsky’s book traces the history of human exploitation of honey bees, starting with the honey hunters’ earliest forays into wild areas to look for swarms they could rob. Gradually humans learned that they could relocate bee swarms into logs, pipes or clay vessels placed closer to home.
“The earliest beekeepers were the ancient Egyptians,” Kritsky said. “They had horizontal hives they made out of clay tubes. From there beekeeping moved up into the Mediterranean area where the Greeks and the Romans also used clay tubes or clay vessels laid on their sides.”
“By A.D. 200 we had our first skeps,” he said. “We had straw skeps by about A.D. 500.”
The straw skep became the norm for more than a millennium, until humans discovered that a simple wooden box also would work, as long as it had an opening that the bees could use as an entrance. Some of the earliest box hives were octagonal, to mimic the shape of a hollow tree, but square wooden hive boxes soon prevailed. The moveable frame hive now in use was developed in 1851. (See also, “Symposium Marks Milestones in Honey Bee Management, Research.”)
Although it is a book of recipes, the introductory chapter of “Honey, I’m Homemade” also includes a brief natural history of honey, its chemical and health-enhancing properties and a description of how honey bees collect and process nectar into honey. The effort is astoundingly labor-intensive, Berenbaum writes.
“Whatever their species, individual flowers generally produce only tiny quantities of nectar, so up to 100,000 loads of nectar are required to produce a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of honey,” she writes. “One load of nectar, however, can require visiting at least a thousand individual flowers, so the 2.2 pounds of honey are the result of visits to as many as 10 million flowers.”
Berenbaum touches on some intriguing questions related to the human exploitation of the honey bee. For instance, is beekeeping a form of animal cruelty? Are honey bees livestock? Is honey a vegetarian or vegan product?
The recipes themselves are collected from entomologists and honey enthusiasts around the world, from Korean honey flour cakes to Apiscotti, or “Bee-Enabled Biscotti,” to an Armenian rice pudding, Gatnabour, to Baagh-lava, a honey-laden treat enjoyed throughout the Middle East. (Here is a slide show of some of the treats from the book).
In their books, presentations and research, Berenbaum and Kritsky repeatedly draw attention to current challenges and threats to honey bees and the human cultural traditions and economies that depend on them. Colony collapse disorder (CCD), which has led to serious declines in honey bee populations around the world, is the most dire of these threats.
Kritsky believes that commercial beekeeping may itself be to blame.
“We’re making bees do something that they were never evolved to do,” he said. “These bees are put in small hives, they’re shuttled all over the country, from California to Washington to the Dakotas to the Carolinas to Texas, and bees didn’t evolve to do that.”
A final chapter in Berenbaum’s book also addresses CCD.
“Honey bees are beset by a staggering diversity of problems,” she writes. “The introduction in the 1980s of two parasitic mites (one of which spreads at least five viral diseases to the bees)… the escalating demand for pollination services… the pesticides used to control the mites inside the hive… (and) the agricultural chemicals the bees inevitably encounter as they forage across an increasingly toxic agricultural landscape” are all taking their toll.Proceeds from the sale of “Honey, I’m Homemade” will go to support the Pollinatarium at the University of Illinois. It is the first free-standing museum in the U.S. devoted to pollinators and the plants and habitats on which they rely.
Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Nerves control the body’s bacterial community
26.09.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Ageless ears? Elderly barn owls do not become hard of hearing
26.09.2017 | Carl von Ossietzky-Universität Oldenburg
Controlling electronic current is essential to modern electronics, as data and signals are transferred by streams of electrons which are controlled at high speed. Demands on transmission speeds are also increasing as technology develops. Scientists from the Chair of Laser Physics and the Chair of Applied Physics at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have succeeded in switching on a current with a desired direction in graphene using a single laser pulse within a femtosecond ¬¬ – a femtosecond corresponds to the millionth part of a billionth of a second. This is more than a thousand times faster compared to the most efficient transistors today.
Graphene is up to the job
At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.
Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
26.09.2017 | Life Sciences
26.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
26.09.2017 | Information Technology