CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Honey bees pollinate the crops we eat and provide honey. Where they forage for nectar now has gained nutritional importance: What they eat determines the level of antioxidants in honey, according to new research.
In a study that analyzed 19 samples of honey from 14 different floral sources, University of Illinois scientists found that honey made from nectar collected from Illinois buckwheat flowers packs 20 times the antioxidant punch as that produced by bees that lap up California sage. Clover, perhaps the most common plant source tapped by honey bees, scored in the middle of the rankings.
Antioxidants -- substances that slow the oxidation of other substances -- counter the toxic effects of free radicals, which can cause DNA damage that can lead to age-related problems such as arthritis, strokes and cancer. Free radicals are atoms or molecules that are usually reactive or unstable.
In an article to be published in the Journal of Apicultural Research, the researchers say darker honey has less water and more antioxidants than light-colored honey.
The co-authors of the study -- funded by the Illinois Value-Added Research Program and National Honey Board -- were May Berenbaum, head of the University of Illinois entomology department; Gene E. Robinson, director of the U. of I. bee research facility; and plant biology graduate student Steven M. Frankel.
"Not all honeys are the same," said Berenbaum, who also is a researcher in the U. of I.
Functional Foods for Health program. "The antioxidant content of buckwheat honey
compares favorably, pretty much bite for bite, with the ascorbic acid-related
antioxidant content of tomatoes. Gram for gram, antioxidants in buckwheat honey equal
that of fruits and vegetables such as sweet corn or tomatoes. It packs the antioxidant
power of Vitamin C in a tomato, but most people who would be willing to eat an
Contact: Jim Barlow
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign