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Information from ICIMOD - International standards discriminate against honey from indigenous bees

Surendra R Joshi, Farooq Ahmad, Uma Partap, and Min B Gurung

Here we bring you another article with news about the work of the Austrian Government funded beekeeping project at ICIMOD in Kathmandu, Nepal. In BfDJ 72 we discussed extending the beekeeping programme to the grassroots through rural development organisations in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region. Here we describe the problem of international standards and the moisture content of wild bee honey.

The purity and - to some extent - quality of honey is generally evaluated from a physical and chemical analysis of its constituents. The International Honey Commission, which is officially recognised by the FAO Codex Alimentarius, has set certain constituents as quality criteria (Bogdanov et al, 1999).

These include moisture, apparent reducing sugar, apparent arose, water insoluble solids, mineral (ash) content, diastase activity, and HMF (hydroxymethylfurfural). According to the Codex standards, the maximum permissible levels of moisture in honey are 20 g/100 g for general honey, 23 g/100 g for heather and clover honey, and 25 g/100 g for industrial or bakery honey. The quality standards are set on the basis of nectar or honeydew sources and there is some flexibility for certain unifloral types of honey, but not for honey from different species of bees. A number of reports from Asian countries suggest, however, that the honey harvested from wild living honeybee species (Apis dorsata, Apis laboriosa and Apis florea) has a higher moisture content than Apis mellifera honey. This has serious implications for the honey hunters and beekeepers of the Hindu Kush- Himalayan region. In order to assess the situation better we investigated the moisture content of honey from wild bee sources in Nepal.

We collected 73 samples of honey, 59 from Apis dorsata bees and 14 from Apis laboriosa bees. Cutting a piece of honeycomb directly from the colony, moisture content was measured with a hand refractometer. The moisture content of the Apis dorsata honey ranged from 21.0-26.0 9/100 g; that of the Apis laboriosa honey ranged from 20.8-29.6g/100g with an average of 24.6/100g. Our results confirm earlier reports that the honey produced by wild honeybees has a higher moisture content than the maximum allowable content set by the Codex Alimentarius (see Table). This means that a major part of the honey produced in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region that produced by wild honeybees- is almost completely excluded from export markets.

The amount of honey affected is enormous. In India, for example, at least 22,000 tonnes of honey are collected annually from wild Apis dorsata colonies, double the amount of apiary honey produced by Apis cerana and Apis mellifera (Wakhle & Pal, 2002). Similarly in Nepal almost 50% of the annual honey harvest is from wild bees. Honey hunters and beekeepers often face problems in selling this honey because of its higher moisture content: they are offered very low prices for Apis dorsata and non-toxic Apis laboriosa honey. The exception is Apis florea and intoxicating Apis laboriosa honey, which command higher prices, even with the higher moisture content, because of their reputed medicinal properties, but this market is irregular.

It is the small, local producers, honey hunters and beekeepers, who suffer. The large companies and honey exporters process and dehydrate the honey and make a good profit. The standards set for the moisture content of honey affect those who cannot afford a dehydration machine or honey processing plant. The standards for moisture contents of honey need to be reviewed and particular attention paid to the higher natural moisture content of honey from Apis dorsata and Apis laboriosa bees. Honey samples should be analysed from all bee species and from different geographical areas, and the results used as a basis for setting new species - specific honey grade standards.

* Please see the original article to see a table showing 'Moisture content of honey for indigenous bees' .


BOGDANCOY, S. et al (1999} Honey Quality and International Regulatory Standards: review by the International Honey Commission. Bee World (80): 61-69.

JOSHI, S. R. (1999) Physico-chemical and Melissopalynological Characteristics of Nepalese Honey. PhD Thesis, University of Agricultural Sciences, Vienna, Austria.

WAKHLE, D.M., PAL, N. (2002) Honey and Hive Products in India Present Status. In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Tropical Bees: Management and Diversity, and 5th AAA Conference, Chiang Mai, Thailand, March 2000. IBRA, Cardiff, UK