The exact components of honey actually vary depending on the source of nectar. Nectar from different plants and flowers will determine the color and flavor of the honey. There are also several other factors that influence the components of honey such as the season and weather conditions. In fact, some types of honey contain unique substances that are not found in other types of honey. For example, orange honey contains a substance called “methyl anthranilate” that is not contained in any other types of honey. This substance gives the orange honey a distinct aroma.
However, in general, the main components of honey are fructose, glucose, and water. We can say that the two sugars, fructose, and glucose, form approximately 90 – 95% of the honey. These simple sugars have actually been predigested by the bees, so they are absorbed directly into the blood, which is why it is a rapid source of energy for the body.
Glucose is less soluble in water compared to fructose. Honey that contains a higher amount of glucose has a tendency to crystallize more quickly than others. On the contrary, fructose is more stable and very soluble in water. So honey that is rich in glucose tends to remain liquid. The fructose content in honey is the reason why it is commonly used in baking because it keeps the moisture longer, improves the browning quality and makes the texture better. This is also due to the hygroscopic nature of fructose, which means it absorbs moisture from the air and prevents food from becoming stale.
So for you cake-bakers out there, now you know why honey is a must-have ingredient for your cakes! 🙂
Other components of honey include pigments (like carotin, xanthophyll, anthocyanin, and tannin) as well as a number of valuable enzymes such as glucose oxidase, diastase, invertase, catalase, and inulase.
These enzymes contain the antioxidant properties of honey and they help in digestion. The enzymes in honey will be damaged when heated. Each enzyme has a different role. For example, the diastase enzyme (also called amylase) breaks starch into maltose. The freshness and rawness of honey are sometimes measured by the diastase index. Glucose oxidase catalyzes the formation of hydrogen peroxide that helps stabilize honey against microorganisms. Honey also contains small amounts of other sugars (e.g sucrose) and a wide variety of vitamins – vitamin C and seven of the B vitamins – and minerals, such as calcium, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, and magnesium. The minerals somewhat influence the honey flavor and color. This is because they react by reducing the intensity of the acidity, which in turn influences the flavor. This action (increasing the pH level) is known as the “buffer effect”.
So a type of honey that has a high quantity of minerals (such as honeydew honey) will also have a high pH value (lower acidity. Darker honey usually contains more minerals than lighter ones.
Honey is also a rich source of essential organic acids (such as acetic, malic, citric). Gluconic acid (derived from dextrose) is the most dominant one. Although these acids constitute no more than 1% of honey, they can somehow influence the flavor of honey. So, if you add enough amount of alkali to honey to neutralize the acids, you will see that the honey will taste different. Increased acidity due to long storage or fermentation will give honey a sour taste.
The proportion of these honey components differ in different types of honey. The different characteristics of honey may also differ due to small quantities of other substances such as flavor and color substances. The differences in the components of honey, although by small quantities, also influence the behavior of honey, for example, its reaction to heat, the tendency to crystallize or the tendency to darken during storage.