Rebuttal: bees turn sugar into honey

yellow and white ceramic vase

I have no doubt that syrup made from refined sugar cannot be changed into honey, but not everyone agrees. Bees do indeed break down sugar (sucrose) into its component parts (fructose and glucose). But that enzymatic process does not make honey, just as adding invertase to sugar syrup does not make honey.

Although honey is mostly fructose and glucose, it is all the other stuff that gives honey its flavor, aroma, color, and nutritional benefits. Honey bees thrive on honey in part because of the nutrients, antioxidants, amino acids, protein, flavonoids, minerals, and pollen that it contains. Yes, these are small in quantity, but they are vital, just as the vitamins and minerals in human food are vital to us.

At any rate, I thought I would let you read the rebuttal and decide for yourself. This comment arrived this week attached to a different post on the same subject, “What’s really in the bottle?” but it rebuts my most recent post “Is your honey cut with sugar syrup?” in the same way. I deleted references to other commenters for their privacy.

Honey Bee Suite

Here is the complete text

If sugar and corn syrup and HFCS does not come from a plant, where, pray tell, does it come from???

Rusty, while you may be attributed with having the patience of Job, your love of bees is more in question.

We highly discourage ANY supplemental sweetener other than PURE CANE sugar (not “pure sugar,” nor corn syrup in any form, because of the pesticides used on those plants, as well as genetic modifications to the plants (sugar beets and corn) used to produce other products.

We (as well as many beekeepers the world over) feed our bees sweetened water throughout the year, particularly during the early spring and autumn months, for the VERY simple reason that the BEES (not the beekeepers) need this sweetened water to LIVE.

The bees are well able to convert this PLANT sweetened water into HONEY, regardless of the pedantic arguments, and the hive utilizes this honey throughout the winter months, to survive and live.

Now, in regards to the “clear color” of honey, or non-nectar honey – this is a prime example of people over-thinking nature.

Clear honey (or bee-product), is simply honey that has not aged. Like fine wines, honey ages, due to the bacteria and enzymes in the bees’ pre-digestion. Honey that is in uncapped honeycomb cells has not been sufficiently dehydrated enough to be capped and age.

Once capped, the “bee-product” darkens over time. Our sugar-syrup-fed bee colonies produce HONEY from early spring, as soon as the worker bees can get out and find some sweet liquids to bring back to the hive. They then make honey until the cold temperatures force them to ball up and keep the queen warm over the winter when the cycle continues. During this period, the bees consume the honey stores they have produced since early spring.

Honeycomb that we have harvested in fall (we have top bar, not Langstroth hives) shows all shades of color, from pale and almost water clear to deep amber, almost brown. This is not due to the chemical makeup of the honey, be it nectar or sugar produced. This is due to the aging of the bee product itself, and uncapped honey cells that contain a higher water content. Please stop overthinking the color situation. Pure nectar honey would display the same thing.

If sugar water (from plants), did not make honey, the BEES would not be able to survive winter. The fact that humans harvest the food that these insects produce for their personal survival is secondary, regardless of the monetized commercialization of the product.

I, along with [deleted], would love to see the chemical breakdown of the supposed “bee product,” in comparison with “nectar honey,” as I suspect little to no difference, beyond the aforementioned minerals and protein content.

I would also love to see the survival rate of bees on the planet increase, not for the consumption of honey or “other bee product,” but for the survival of humans and plants. Any efforts that contribute to bee populations should be encouraged, not discouraged over the semantics and sources of the sweetened liquid bees consume to produce HONEY.

While I cannot speak for any large, commercial operations attempting to sell and profit from “non-plant sweetener-fed bee product” (and while there is “sugar-free honey,” this discussion is not about that), I can, as a private, small-scale, beekeeper, speak for the bees, in that sugar water (and ONLY pure cane sugar water) is FAR from being a money maker. Thirsty bees can drink gallons a day, and at a 1:1 ratio, a 50# bag of sugar only makes a little over 6 gallons of sugar water.

That sugar water then has to dehydrate and be capped by the bees and then age to become honey. Time is money, you know.

And not all of the honey produced can be harvested. Sufficient stores of sugar-water-produced honey must be left for the hive to consume over the winter.

Harvested honey then has to be processed, whether by centrifuge, as is the case for Langstroth hives, or by crushing the comb, for top bar hives. Labor is money. So, the snarky worry about profiteering from sugar-water-fed bees is utterly needless.

Bottom line, folks, if you are beekeeping in any form, it should, first and foremost be for the bees. Wasting your energies over stupid semantics, instead of focusing on the bees is not helping the cause.

Evil profiteers will always be evil. But looking for evil in every little thing, and pedantically castigating sugar water feeding as not being honey, or somehow contributing to the evil men do in the name of money is truly missing the forest for a chipped piece of bark on a very small tree.

Love bees,


  • With respect to Moz, I hear the words, but where is the scientific proof that bees can make honey from refined sugar? Thank you.

  • Absolutely untrue about the color of the honey! I have seen all different shades of honey, immediately upon arrival, because of the diffe]rent flowers in season. Brighter orange honey, very dark honey, almost white honey , all brand new, not aged at all.

    And feeding sugar syrup “for the bees benefit”… thats silly… their survival is for them to be polinators of plants and trees, making them dependent on sugar, (even if it was healthy which its not) doesnt help them to be a healthy insect that knows how to survive on plants if youre always giving sugar water…. it means that theyre getting lazy and accustomed to not behaving like normal bees, and theyre not even being polimators.

    The profit part… is it even worth being addressed? Everything said about processing, every natural beekeeper also has to do- labor etc. Kind of ridiculous. Sugar is cheap.

    Im sure everyone will be addressing all the points better than me, but its still fun writing.

    Thanks Rusty for your awesome website!!


  • The shade of honey depends on the flowers the bees visited, not how old it is. Capped honey that is a pale lemon color stays that way no matter how aged it is. Darker honey, probably from a mix of wildflowers, is dark from the beginning and stays dark, but doesn’t get any darker with age. I kept 2 frames of pale yellow capped honey from last year, and it was still pale yellow when I gave them to a nuc this past July. It’s nonsense to think that thickened sugar water is the same as honey, even if it gets capped. I would not want to pay $13 for a pound of sugar syrup sold or represented as “honey.” In Beekeeping 101 we were taught to stop feeding once you’ve added honey supers to your hive so as not to adulterate the honey; or, if you must feed during a summer dearth, for instance, add a few drops of food coloring to the syrup so you can see on the frames what is honey and what is stored syrup. Rusty, I have a feeling that you will not convince the people who genuinely believe that honey is the same as sugar syrup, but we can only hope there are not too many of them. I’m actually somewhat alarmed by “Moz”‘s letter.

  • Rusty is not “looking for evil in every little thing.” She is explaining why sugar syrup can never be honey.

    And that thing about color is bogus.

  • http://pinkpages.chrisbacherconsulting.com/2004_Sep_-_SEPTEMBER_IS_A_VERY_IMPORTANT_MONTH.html

    I am no scientist but this man is a scientist. I have heard of people that sold honey made from sugar. Apparently people can’t tell the difference in the honey from sugar and the honey from nectar. I don’t know. I am not sure I agree that the ONLY difference in the color of honeys is totally based on the age. I got my lightest colored honey in the spring. The first of August the honey was noticeably darker. If bees break the sugar water down then they might be able to approximate nectar. The above link is George Imirie’s Pink Pages. He wrote for a well known and widely read magazine for many years. He kept bees for about 70 years and he was a master beekeeper in the state of Maryland. In his spare time he was a nuclear scientist.

  • Looks like this has been studied, and it turns out that feeding sugar does lead to a different kind of honey:


    The nutrition of bees is essential in certain periods of the year,
    especially during brood rearing, growth and strengthening of the
    worker and forage bee populations, queen rearing and comb foundation,
    as well as during uniting and establishing the nuclei of colonies
    to meet nutrient requirements. However, giving excessive
    amounts of syrup during the main nectar flow period (indirect
    adulteration) leads to a reduction in honey quality and honeybee

    It is possible to detect the adulteration of honey produced by
    using strong syrups of sugars derived from C4 plants such as corn
    (Zea mays) and sugar cane (Saccharum officinarium) by using the
    d13C value of honey and d13C value of its protein, difference between
    the Dd13C value of honey and its protein, and the C4% ratio.
    Adulteration at low syrup levels (20 L/colony) can be more easily
    detected when the fructose (monosaccharide) content of HFCS syrups
    increased. However, honey C4% sugar analysis (AOAC 998.12,
    2005) was more efficient in detecting adulteration compared to
    the other parameters. According to the findings of the present
    study, we suggest that 10 and 15 L/colony of HFCS-85 and 30
    and 40 L/colony of HFCS-55 sugar levels should be investigated
    to determine adulteration. On the other hand, it can be concluded
    that the official methods (AOAC, 978.17, 1995; AOAC, 991.41,
    1995; AOAC 998.12, 2005) and EA-IRMS cannot efficiently detect
    the indirect adulteration of honey made by feeding bee colonies
    with various excessive levels of syrups originating from C3 plants
    such as sugar beet (B. vulgaris) and wheat (T. vulgare). For this reason,
    it is strongly needed to develop novel methods and standards
    that can detect the presence and the level of such adulterations.

    [Rusty – email me if you want a copy of this study]

  • That rant just seems totally crazy and not based on any scientific data or accurate definitions. It seems like rationalizations for selling sugar as honey, or at least rationalizations for why someone thinks it’s ok to give bees junk food. Sugar is not nectar, period. Orange flavored kool-aid is not orange juice. Period. Nobody can make excuses otherwise.

  • You can delude yourself all you want, but “sugar honey” is not honey and cannot be legally sold as such in NC. It is emergency food for bees, and not a fair substitute for the honey you robbed from them.

  • Wow! I’m not sure how to respond? I believe that the flower nectar collected determines the color/hue/darkness of the honey not the age of the honey. [honey.com states that “Honey comes in many colors and flavors – these are called honey varietals and they are determined by the type of flowers the bees visited for nectar. Some are light and sweet; others are dark and bold” and they also mention “Exposure to heat may affect the honey’s color.”]

    It is well established that honey from flower nectar has antioxidants and phytonutrients that benefit us, I don’t believe it is ethical to produce honey from sugar syrup and call it honey; nor do I believe it has the same nutritional value. I hope all beekeepers share the same belief that I do?

  • Does this explain why I had very few Honey Bees in my garden this year?

    I have spent mega bucks to make sure that all of my flowers are chemical free. I have spent many hours down on my hands & knees pulling weeds to make sure that my yard is chemical free.I was worried that pesticides somewhere else had killed them.

    I was loaded with hummingbirds this year. Loaded with butterflies this year. I am happy to say, loaded with native bees this year, but am very concerned for the first time ever! I have seen very few HONEY BEES this year!

    I usually work along side them in my flower garden. I have worked so hard to make that they all stays safe and sound when they travel so far just to come into my yard. (I live in an urban environment)

    My neighbors have freaked out on me a time or two. While talking to them over the fence, they will say “YOU HAVE A BEE ON YOU BACK!”
    I reply ” that’s OK, they won’t hurt you.” Luckily it didn’t.

    I was so worried that they didn’t show up this year in the massive droves like they have in the past. I have thought someone or something has killed them. Maybe not! Maybe they are just staying home & getting fat.

  • That comment is wrong in so many ways! If you genuinely live somewhere where you need to feed your bees syrup throughout the year (which I’m skeptical about – do they live in a flowerless desert?) then your bees cannot produce honey.

    The ‘honey’ their bees are making from syrup would be illegal to sell labelled as honey in the UK. Under our Honey Regulations 2015, the definition of honey is made by bees from plant nectar or excretions of plants/insects:

    “2.—(1) In these Regulations “honey” means the natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera bees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants or excretions of plant-sucking insects on the living parts of plants which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in honeycombs to ripen and mature.”

    Of course beekeeping should be about the bees. But we also have a responsibility when selling honey to consumers to sell the genuine product, not an illegal substitute.

  • ‘Sweetened water’ is syrup and bees do not need it to live, if they did there would be no colonies outside of those in hives. Here in Europe I know of no beekeepers who feed syrup all year round and in Britain the National Bee unit (offshoot of the Min. Agr.) advises feeding syrup only when, “there is no or little nectar flow”.
    Add to that under EU directives the “bee product” made in this way could not legally be labelled Honey. Does it even conform to the maximum 18% water content?
    He favours sugar cane over sugar beet but following this link: http://www.pesticideinfo.org/DS.jsp?sk=25003
    will lead to a list of the top Fifty pesticides used on sugar cane.
    The author appears to favour a more natural form of beekeeping but robs his bees to the point where they cannot survive winter without syrup.
    I leave sufficient honey on my hives to see them through the winter and only if winter is longer than usual will I feed them slabs of candy.
    Legally and intellectually this syrup is not honey.

  • The only time I gave organic raw sugar water is after a purchase. They were starving. I feel and believe the bees can take care of themselves and need little or no help from man to survive. Providing clean water is ideal but they can take care of themselves. I don’t feed them. I keep hands off as as much as possible, sugar water included. Anything processed is not fully natural. On the other hand, if the conditions were brutal ie drought, no plants, then I would. Not as a habit. Especially not corn syrup. My opinion.

  • I don’t agree this is a rebuttal of your post.

    To me, a lot of the discussion seems to be down to what the word honey means. Let me say first that I have the feeling that the arguments being made to rebut your points are trying to push what you wrote into a more radical position on the meaning of the word honey and on the feeding of bees with diluted refined sugars than what your real position is, and on the use of refined sugar.

    Contrary to what people disagreeing with you read from your posts, I feel you were simply saying that sugar syrup (whatever the plant source) can adulterate pure nectar derived honey. You didn’t say that bees couldn’t store sugar syrup in a dehydrated form using exactly the same process they use with nectar, and you certainly weren’t saying that you can’t feed sugar syrup to bees.

    You simply stated what for most of us is common sense: real honey comes from flowers, not from fed diluted sugar. It doesn’t matter that bees can turn diluted sugars into a honey like product. It is just a honey like product, not the real thing, and in fact, I think in most of the world it is not allowed to use sugar supplements when bees are producing honey for extraction.

    Can you call honey what bees do with diluted sugar water? I feel that is a bit of a pointless sterile discussion. Can you sell it? No (at least not here in Portugal). Is it real honey from flowers? No. Is there an alternative word for it? Not really, I guess you would have to call it something like sugar-honey or make a new word for it. In the lack of one, honey can be used but always with some kind of description of its source.

    I feel honeykeepers would be well advised to make the difference between flower honey that you can sell and honey-like product from sugar and water. If they ever tell a client that there is really no difference between nectar-honey – the real McCoy – and sugar-honey they might find their customers taking their business elsewhere!

    But it is good to discuss things and hats off to you for playing so fair with us down the line.

  • I totally agree with Pedro and it is refreshing to hear everyone else that knows that sugar syrup is not organic honey from flower sources. I have been able to make it through this first year without feeding my bees syrup. They have taken care of themselves just fine. At this time, they have one full super of honey and what they have stored in the 2 brood chambers. I have 2 hives and both are set up this way. My plan is to harvest in the spring if any honey is left and next year I am going to try Tony Bees method. As much as I wanted to harvest some honey, my first concern is the health and welfare of these tiny blessings. Unfortunately, Moz sounds like an opportunist to me who takes advantage of the bees and people, while making poor excuses for passing off stored syrup as real honey.

    Rusty, your common sense has helped me so much! I owe much of my beekeeping methods to you – from the use of slatted racks and screened inner covers to powdered sugar shakes and splitting hives. I split my first hive successfully by reading your blog and was able to get my second hive and two nucs to boot. One nuc absconded on me but I was able to sell the other one. I thoroughly enjoy raising bee colonies.

    I really appreciate your fairness in reporting all the different methods available but allowing folks to make up their own minds. Personally, I have chosen to keep my bees as organically as I can. So far, so good. Thank you so much!

  • Ha! Ha! Spelled my name wrong. I wish I was bonie (like in less fat)! Two questions, please – I am going to use the quilt box with wood shavings for winter so what do you use for an upper entrance or do I need one? Just in case, I want to be able to put sugar on newspaper in the vented super. Second, what do you make your hive skirts out of? I plan on leaving the screened bottom boards on. Thanks again.

    • Bonnie,

      I went back and fixed your name. Sorry, I did wonder about it when I typed it.

      I don’t use an upper entrance in the winter, but you can put one in the feeder rim below the quilt. For those not using a feeder rim, you can use an Imirie shim with an entrance right below the quilt. So in your case, I think you could just drill it in the vented super.

      I also don’t use skirts here in western Washington, but you can easily make one out of tar paper. Just staple it on the base of the hive and wrap around to reduce air currents. You could also use Tyvek house wrap.

  • This discussion was very interesting, if a bit confusing for a “new-bee” like me. We have had a top bar hive for three seasons now and this year, for the first time, I think we have a healthy population that is going to survive our mountain winter. There is a lot of honey being put away by our busy girls. I see pollen being brought in daily which I assume means they are also getting nectar from our flower garden and the nearby forest wildflowers.

    But I also have three hummingbird feeders during the summer and our bees seem to like them just fine (even though they are supposed to be bee-proof). So am I “poisoning” our bees honey supply by allowing them to feed at the hummingbird feeders? And if so, how do I keep the girls from enjoying the easy treat?

    • Steve,

      The federal government and most states have definitions of honey. They differ slightly, but basically they define honey as nectar collected from flowers and processed by bees. So that right there would eliminate both sugar syrup and hummingbird nectar, as well as candy canes, soda pop, and other sweets bees like to get into.

      Although hummingbird nectar is a contaminant, usually there won’t be enough to notice. You can take down your feeders, but who is to say the bees won’t go to some other feeders that you don’t know about?

      Where I personally draw a line is deliberate vs accidental. I believe feeding bees during a honey flow is ethically and morally wrong, but you can’t control what they do out in the real world.

      Personally, I watch my hummingbird feeders and my bees don’t mess with them, although the yellowjackets certainly do. If your bees are draining the feeders every day, I would stop filling them or try a different type. If the amount they take is insubstantial, I wouldn’t worry about it. Just my take on a complex question.

      • Thanks. Just to be clear, we don’t sell our honey. We really have the hive primarily to give us another way to watch nature. I am fascinated by the complexity of honey bee society and how the whole hive functions as a living organism. The honey is just a side-effect of this new and interesting hobby.

  • I am feeding the bees in a separate feeder, a bowl, with rocks in it and 1 part sugar to 1 part water. Now we have such a giant swarm. I don’t want to harvest honey, but I want to help the bees live and want to know if I can make a hive for them (away from people as we live in a small community)? Please tell me how do I start. The bees are great, they don’t sting, follow me even come to the window when their sugar water bowl is empty. They drink it like there is no end.

    • Janet,

      I don’t know if I can answer. It sounds like you are feeding honey bees that live somewhere else. If so, you won’t be able to start a hive with them because you don’t have a queen. If you want to start beekeeping, you will need to build or purchase a hive and then buy or capture a colony to live in it. Perhaps you can do some wintertime reading about it and be ready for spring.

  • Wow, wow, WOW. I would love to know where Moz lives so I can make sure no one I know buys his cured sugar-syrup that he sells as fake honey. People like this are a constant battle for beekeepers, I wish he would get out of beekeeping. Not a single sensical or scientific argument in that comment of his. I appreciate that you let him speak Rusty, but I could barely get through his empty diatribe.

  • This time of the year can lead to interesting harvests here in MN. Whether it be the virtually clear basswood honey or the opaque buckwheat I can assure you that it has nothing to do with aging. It’s pssible were one using top bar techniques that the product might actually assimilate some additional coloration from residues left in the comb from brood or perhaps from greater quantity of pollen. As a totally scientific (LOL) experiment a number of years ago I made cane sugar Coke and cane sugar BubbleUp available for my bees. The Coke was ignored and the BubbleUp was consumed in total. This was an early spring test, and of course a ‘keep them alive’ versus ‘total bee health’ approach. I should add that it was much simpler to feed outdated soda than mixing cane sugar. Adulteration of honey remains a huge issue but in this age of artificial flavorings and ‘factory food’ in general we might be overthinking honey sugar. Just don’t harvest it.

  • Rusty,

    Wow! Looks you have created quite a buzz. For those who want quality honey there can be no substitute. Sugar/corn syrup is not honey. It can be repeated, argued, even shouted that this is an honest practice but that will not make it true. Those who would make “sugar water honey” should be forced to eat this product, not sell it.

  • Honey color based on aging — yeah right. Sugar-Water-Moz took one too many marketing classes instead of that needed class in science.

    Bees have little more common sense about making healthy choices that we do — except … . People have greater and lesser tolerances and interests in every taste from broccoli and cilantro to alcohol, soda, and candy. It seems fully plausible that bees could develop preferences for certain flowers or sugars that is measurably different between colonies and breeding stock. Sugar-Water-Moz could well be raising couch potato bees who prefer his syrup offering over doing real work. I’ll bet his bees are not as good at pollinating.

    A whole lotta bees eat a whole lotta sugar so that a whole lotta honey can be sold as a healthy alternative to sugar. Sugar-Water-Moz is the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

  • Rusty,

    Perhaps, we can safely say honey is naturally produced by honey bees.

    For fact, pure sugar, from any source, is artificed from nature by humans. This makes sugar both artificial and unatural.

    I believe it is accurate and fair to say honey containing sugar extracted from plants by humans is a lesser product. The more extract infused water fed to bees (they are not gathering it from nature) the “nature” in the honey will be lessened.


  • How does somebody equate syrup with nectar with respect to the production of honey but think hfcs is not sugar when feeding syrup?

  • Ughh… So much to learn! I’ve been reading everything I can here since I found you but there is so much to know. When I got my nuc on May 24th they told me to feed them “until they quit taking it”. There is plenty in bloom here in Virginia right now and I’ve already had to add a second super. I added four frames of honey and four frames of drawn comb from a failed hive from a package I got last year (my first attempt). I commented a couple days ago about this on a post about reusing old comb. My bees are constantly flying out and up high and returning from the same direction out over a clear-cut flush with blackberries and wildflowers. They seem to be going somewhere that they prefer even more than what seems to be all around the hive and much closer. Should I still be filling the entrance feeder with sugar syrup at a rate of almost a quart per day when it seems there is plenty of nectar flow? I feel like maybe I got bad advice from the employee when I picked up my bees.

    • Ty,

      I would not feed them if they are actively foraging. You want them to have as much honey as possible for overwintering, not just stored syrup.

  • Ty, the advice you received is standard. I think they meant to also tell you that when you add a super there is no longer a need for the sugar water. They should have said until they stop taking it or until they fill the first box then it is time to put them out on their own.

  • Rusty, I enjoy your website and your point of view. The discussion about mite treatment is a great example (although horizontal transmission of viruses by mites could have been emphasized a bit). Thanks.

    One request is to encourage responders to provide their location. So much of beekeeping management is so closely related to local climate and local flora and when natural nectar flows occur, that advice can be severely biased if location is not considered.

    Second, I appreciate the map of location of responders, but it has some issues. One, the time does not make sense. Also, the location is not necessarily where the hive(s) are, but where the computer source is. Not the same at all. Are you or someone actually using the data for something? While you fastidiously copyright everything that appears, does that mean you think you own the location data as well? Shouldn’t you provide a warning on such use.

    Wayne Esaias
    Master Beekeeper
    Central Maryland

    • Wayne,

      1. I have asked people hundreds (literally hundreds) of times to include their location. I’ve basically given up. I suppose I could hire someone to set it up in the comment box as a mandatory field, but I don’t know how to do it.

      2. The globe was put there by a friend who was doing some work on my site. No data is collected from that. Website owners do, however, have access to that kind of data and it is all collected somewhere. I can go to Google Webmaster tools and tell you where my hits are coming from, the sex, age, and education levels of my readers, etc. I have no idea how they figure it all out, but I know privacy on the net is more or less an illusion.

  • Firstly I should state that I do feed my bees cane sugar syrup, in the autumn after I have removed my honey. I do this for the purpose of ensuring (as far as possible) that the colony will not starve through the winter. I feed again in the early spring in order to ensure the colony gets a good start. I have suffered losses due to starvation in the mid spring in hives where I have removed nothing the previous autumn.

    I DO NOT condone the feeding of ‘sugar’ to artificially increase the crop from the bees.

    Having said that I do not feel that the author of the mail in the original post is getting a ‘fair shout’ and is being denied by non scientific arguments.

    He claims that the colouration of honey is due (in part) to ageing. I don’t think anyone will argue that nectar freshly arrived in the hive will having differing degrees of colour due to its source. However, to deny that ageing does change the colour would be shortsighted without any scientific backup. Who is to say that the ‘digestion’ by bees does not actually invoke a chemical reaction that will cause a colour change over time, be that to nectar or cane sugar. Also the storage within a wax cell will likely impart some colouring and flavouring to the contents over time. Using the counter arguments made above shouldn’t we also claim that honey produced in flow hives that do not use wax cells should not be classed as honey as it is not subject to the natural ageing within a wax cell.

    As we are all aware, different sources of nectar produce vastly different types of honey. It must be fair to say that some nectar sources must produce a honey which has little flavour and little other constituents, yet we are happy to call this honey even though it may be no better (for us or the bees) than ‘honey’ produced from cane syrup.

    I don’t know anything about sugar cane but would assume if the stem is damaged it will likely exude a sugary substance. According to the regulations (certainly in the UK) if ‘honey’ is created by bees from this exudate then it is legally honey and no better or worse than if a beekeeper was to feed the same substance.

    Again I emphasise that I DO NOT condone adulteration of honey with sugar but merely wish to present a counter to the non-scientific comments above.

    • Dik,

      The US definition says that honey is made from the nectar of flowers. Plant exudates that come from the stems or leaves don’t meet the definition.

  • I found this post very useful, as a newbie in the wolrd of bees it could stimulate, reading about opposite point of view is stimulating (I do not know if this was the purpose but I see it in this way).

    As stated, a lot of countries clearly define (legally) honey as the result of nectar processing by bees to avoid this king of adulteration.

    I’m wondering however, if there are studies clearly designed to assess mortality rates, health and honey production ability with different feeding in winter and until the collection of nectar starts, using different percentages of honey and sugar (or other substitutes) from 100%-0% to 0%-100%.

    I think it would be interesting for both amateurs beesaver, professional honey producer and every shade of beekeeper in between

  • Some time since this article attracted comments, but since it’s coming up at the top of some search results still in late 2022 (relating to bees feeding with sugar), I felt compelled to add these links:


    I realise that this discussion has been more about what is and is not honey – and it’s an interesting topic. Here in Australia (as I’m sure elsewhere in the world), we have honey in supermarkets that has been filtered to the nth degree. This is properly sourced honey, but in processing has had a lot of the pollen and other bits removed (that can cause the honey to candy after all, and consumers don’t seem to like that). Is it still honey if many of the components have been removed?

    This argument aside, the general tone of conversation in these comments came across to me as a little anti-sugar syrup – as though the argument went from “what is actually honey” to “don’t feed your bees sugar!”.

    I think feeding sugar is a very useful tool in managing colonies. Of course, we should endeavour not to have bee-processed sugar syrup end up in honey, but it can be difficult to guarantee in some cases. My own colonies came out of winter very strong this year, and I was proud of my efforts managing them through our (admittedly mild) cold season. Come spring though, and weather patterns conspired to bring heavy rainfall after heavy rainfall, with barely any time for nectar to develop on flowers. The first two months of the season were a literal wash-out. The consequence was many a starving colony in my region – something we usually see due to drought, not rain.

    I did feed my own bees to get them through. I cannot guarantee that no sugar-derived product made its way into the honey super, but I’m fairly certain that it would be a minimal amount if anything. Do I owe my family/friends a disclaimer (I do not sell commercially) that their pail of honey may actually include a teaspoon of cane sugar-derived product? I think that can be a complex topic to get into with non-beekeepers.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth, I thought this may be some useful information to add (in the links above). For sure, we should not be producing “not quite honey” with sugar syrup and passing it off as honey if we can avoid it, but at the same time we should not ignore a very useful management tool in our beekeeping.

    • Damien,

      Thank you for your insight. I agree with you on the use of sugar syrup: it is an effective and often necessary management tool for modern beekeeping. And yes, I’m sure some sugar sneaks into our honey and it may even come from outside our own apiaries. If bees find sugar water somewhere–even miles from their hive–there is nothing to stop them from bringing it home and storing it.

      I think many of the naysayers, the group that says feeding sugar is wrong, have not considered that we in North America (and I’m sure the same applies in Australia) have largely removed crop weeds and roadside weeds and homeowner’s weeds to the point where there may not be enough natural bee feed available. You can’t take away all the weeds and not provide an alternative feed source and expect the honey bees to thrive.

      I would rather not feed syrup, but when it’s necessary, I certainly do. I am responsible for my own bees, but I have no say in who sprays what plants throughout my county. We beekeepers do what we have to do.

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