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Bee bread is a mixture of pollen and honey or nectar made by honeybees for use as food. Read on for detailed information that clears the air about what is bee bread and how honeybees make it. You will also gain insights into the composition of bee bread. Further, this article imparts to you information on how honeybees use it within their colonies. Lastly, you will learn about how to harvest bee bread as a beehive product in your beekeeping operation, as well as its health benefits to humans. In popular literature, you might find mentions of bee bread by its alternative names: ‘Ambrosia’, ‘Perga’ and ‘Bee pollen’.
How do Honeybees Make Bee Bread?
Honeybees engage in a wide range of activities and processes for the collection of resources and processing those resources into various feeds. The making of bee bread requires the collection of pollen and nectar. Processing the nectar into honey is also necessary in the making of bee bread. To make bee bread, honeybees mix pollen with honey or some nectar. This makes the primary components of bee bread to be pollen and either honey or nectar. It is the reason why bee bread is a highly nutritious food containing nearly all the nutrients that honeybees need in their diet.
Often, honeybees add microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi to bee bread during its preparation. The microorganisms cause the bee bread to ferment during storage. Fermentation breaks down the complex proteins and other constituents of bee bread into simple sugars, amino acids and nutrients. A ball or pellet of ready bee bread contains proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and lipids.
Is all Bee Bread the Same?
As a result of honeybees using pollen and honey to make bee bread, the ratio of components and nutrients vary by a wide range. This is because honeybees collect different types and amounts of pollen and nectar depending on the honeybee colony, season of the year, the month, day, and even the time of day. Bee bread that is made at any time can thus vary greatly from those made in another time and place.
Bee Bread Production
To make bee bread, honeybees put pollen, some salivary secretions and honey in layers in a honeycomb cell. This production takes place in cells within the honeybee colony’s brood area, or near the brood area.
Why is Bee Bread Hard?
At the beginning of the production process, worker bees place some pollen in a layer in the cell. They then compact the pollen by pushing it against the cell’s bottom using their heads. A next layer of pollen is then added to the cell and is similarly compacted. This continues until the honeycomb cell is 2/3 (two thirds) full.
During the addition of these layers of pollen, some honeybees introduce a small amount of microorganisms into the pollen. It is unclear whether the addition of microorganisms in the pollen for the making of bee bread is intentional or accidental.
When an adequate amount of pollen is packed into a honeycomb cell, worker bees then add a little of their saliva to the top of the compacted pollen. Secretions in the saliva contribute to the breaking down of complex components of bee bread into simpler constituents.
Is Honey Used to Make Bee Bread?
Lastly, the worker bees in the honeybee colony add a little amount of honey into the cell. The honey forms a thin layer over the pollen and saliva in the cell. Among other useful functions, the thin layer of honey prevents the entry of oxygen into the cell. This protects the preparation from spoilage and decomposition in aerobic processes. It also regulates and limits the activity of microbes in the preparation in anaerobic fermentation of the bee bread constituents.
Honeybees now leave the preparation composed of compacted pollen, saliva and honey to sit in the honeycomb cell for some time. The components mix gradually over time to form a homogenous preparation. Additionally, the preparation dries out and hardens over time to form the final product that we call bee bread.
Storage of Bee Bread in the Beehive
If you open up a beehive and look for bee bread, you will find it in storage within the brood area or in the perimeter cells of the brood areas on brood comb. This is on the beehive frames in your brood boxes. Honeybees make it in the brood area and leave it to sit in the same cells in which they made it. This is because honeybee larvae are a major consumer of bee bread, both directly and indirectly. Sometimes, you might find a little in a brood cell with a bee larva in it.
During its storage, bee bread may ferment. It becomes more nutritious after it undergoes fermentation. Honeybees do not cover the cells that contain bee bread. This is a major difference between the honeycomb cells that contain bee bread, and those that contain honey or bee brood.
The layer of honey at the top of cells with bee bread prevents entry of oxygen into the preparation. It does not prevent loss of moisture. Additionally, over time, the thin layer of honey mixes with the pollen in the cell. Consequently, bee bread is often hard. Its final presentation is as a ball or pellet. Honeybees must therefore use some water or nectar to soften bee bread when they want to eat some of it.
How Honeybees Collect Materials for Making Bee Bread
The two major constituents of bee bread, pollen and nectar (or honey), come from outside the beehive. Honeybees must, therefore, go outside the beehive and forage for these materials. Worker bees that are on foraging activities bring pollen and nectar to the beehive. They get these materials from plant flowers in their foraging area.
Pollen and Nectar collection
For a forager bee to know where to find a flower, it relies on scents that the flower releases. It can also remember some of the most recent areas where it found useful flowers. It flies to the flower and lands on the outer parts of the flower. The honeybee must then, in most cases, crawl into the inner parts of the flower. In the inner parts of the flower, it finds nectar and drinks as much as it can.
Honeybees have a proboscis among their mouth parts. A proboscis is thin, long and has a hole through its length. It functions as a drinking straw using which honeybees can suck liquids into their mouths and digestive system. The proboscis in insects that have one varies in length and other capabilities by the insect species.
Once it has drunk all the nectar it can find, or as much as it can hold in its crop, the bee crawls out of the inner section of the flower. It then flies off from the flower when it reaches the outer section of the flower.
How Honeybees Cause the Release of Pollen and Collect it
During its interaction with the flower, lasting from landing on the flower to flying off, the honeybee causes the male parts of the flower to release the small powder-like pollen grains that the plant flower produces. The grains of pollen move in many directions and some may land on the female parts of the flower or on the honeybee. Those that land on the female parts of the flower cause fertilization of ovules in the flower’s ovary. The ovary later forms the fruit of the plant and the ovules form the seeds in the fruit.
Pollen grains that land on the honeybee’s body, or are brushed from the male parts of the flower by the honeybee, stick onto various surfaces of the honeybee or enter into structures found on the honeybee’s legs and called pollen baskets. The honeybee brings all these pollen grains to the beehive that houses its colony when it flies back to the beehive. Nurse bees brush the pollen from the bodies of forager bees. They also empty out the pollen in the pollen baskets on the legs of forager bees.
Nectar processing into honey
When a forager honeybee returns to its beehive and it has nectar in its crop, it transfers most or all of the nectar to other bees that are not on foraging duties. These are usually nurse bees that are engaging in honey production processes. They transfer the nectar from one bee to another until the nectar has lost a significant amount of moisture. During these transfers of nectar from bee to bee, enzymes in the mouth and crop of the bees break complex sugars in the nectar into simple sugars.
The transfer of the nectar goes on until it reaches a state in which it is a crude form of honey. This is then transferred into a honeycomb cell within the beehive, especially in the honey storage area for the honeybee colony. Various factors and activities then cause the crude form of honey in the cell to lose moisture until it has less than 20% (twenty percent) moisture content. This is true honey and it is ready for the next processing activity as well as consumption by the honeybee colony. The factors and activities include water evaporation due to heat in the beehive and fanning by honeybees among others.
When the moisture content of the honey in a honeycomb cell has dropped to the correct level, worker bees seal up the opening of the cell with a thin layer of wax called a wax cap. The wax cappings over the tops of honey cells separate the honey from the environment outside the honey cell. They prevent the entry of oxygen and water moisture into the cell. Moisture entering the cell would cause dilution of the honey and leave it vulnerable to fermentation. Oxygen entering the cell would cause aerobic spoilage of the honey.
Which Honeybees Eat Bee Bread?
The consumption of bee bread requires softening it with some water, saliva or nectar. A single pellet of bee bread from one cell feeds many bees. Not all types of honeybees in a colony eat bee bread. Only worker bees that are carrying out nursing duties on bee brood and the queen bee eat bee bread. They also give some of it to brood larvae when the larvae are more than 3 days old.
When nurse bees eat bee bread, it helps them to produce royal jelly. They feed the royal jelly to the queen bee and larvae for 3 days from the time it hatches from eggs. A honeybee larva that is to produce a new queen bee is fed royal jelly for the entire time that it is in the larval stage.
Queen bees and worker bees that have finished their nursing duties in the beehive do not eat bee bread. Drone bees rarely eat any bee bread too. They prefer to eat honey, but will eat bee bread if they find it and if they urgently need to feed.
Health Benefits of Eating Bee Bread
Humans sometimes harvest bee bread from beehives and eat it. Bee bread has numerous health benefits to honeybees and humans too. Some of the benefits are:
- Bee bread boosts liver function and recovery from damage. This helps to keep your liver in best condition to remove toxins from your body.
- There are many natural antioxidants in bee bread. These help your body to eliminate free radicals that would otherwise harm your body cells.
- Bee bread has many useful nutrients that are beneficial to humans. It has very little waste matter in it that is not absorbed into the body and used in various functions.
- Using bee bread, you can help your body to fight inflammation and swelling.
- Nutrients in bee bread strengthen your body’s immunity system and help it to prevent infection by microorganisms.
- Bee bread helps with alleviating the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause such as night sweats, hot flushes, and insomnia and mood changes.
- Eating bee bread improves your handling of stress, relieves tiredness and increases blood flow to your nervous system.
For more information, read: Bee Collected Pollen and Bee Bread: Bioactive Constituents and Health Benefits
Food collection, processing and consumption are vital to the life of the honeybee colony. Female worker bees that are more than 21 days old go out of the beehive to forage for various resources including food. Bee bread is one of the food products that honeybees make from resources that are available in the beehive. The bread is a good form of storage for pollen. It is also nutritious and has probiotic benefits to honeybees. You are welcome to use the information about what is bee bread to guide you in providing better resources to honeybee colonies in your beekeeping operation. It is also great guidance on the use of bee bread by people for health benefits.
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