varietal honey

Thixotropic honey gels in the comb

A honey bee in New Zealand manuka flowers.

Some varieties of honey become gelatinous as they sit undisturbed for long periods of time. Because gelled honey is difficult to remove from the comb, beekeepers need to liquify the honey before putting it into an extractor.

Inside: Specific proteins can cause some honey varieties to become gelatinous (or thixotropic). To cure the problem, beekeepers must shake or stir the honey before extraction.

Manuka and heather honey are famous for thixotropy

Thixotropy is a property of certain fluids—including honey—that results in a change in consistency. These fluids are gelatinous when undisturbed, but become liquid once shaken or stirred. If left to rest, they will revert to the gelatinous state.

Several types of honey are well known for being thixotropic. Among them are manuka honey (Leptospermum scoparium) from New Zealand and southeast Australia, heather honey (Calluna vulgaris) from Europe, and grapefruit honey (Citrus paradisi).

It’s all about the protein

Researchers believe certain proteins cause this behavior in honey. Honeys that are high in protein (up to 1.9%) are more prone to thixotropy than others. Most honey has only small amounts of protein and so remains unaffected.

While thixotropy does not change the nutritional properties of honey, the honey is difficult to extract. A regular centrifugal extractor often won’t work unless we agitate the honey first. To do this, several inventions have appeared, including a device that inserts vibrating pins into every cell. Once vibrated into liquid, the frames can enter a regular extractor.

What to do with thixotropic honey

Since this method is expensive and time-consuming, beekeepers often press thixotropic honey from the comb. Although this destroys the comb, they can use the wax for other purposes. Alternatively, they can market thixotropic honey in its natural state as comb honey.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

 

Manuka flower (Leptospermum scoparium). Flickr photo by iamNigelMorris.

About Me

I backed my love of bee science with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Crops and a master’s in Environmental Studies. I write extensively about bees, including a current column in American Bee Journal and past columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. I’ve endured multiple courses in melittology and made extensive identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist and other organizations. My master beekeeper certificate issued from U Montana. I’m also an English nerd. More here.


Discover more from Honey Bee Suite

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

4 Comments

  • I have bees in my vent outside my bedroom and they are making so much noise they are keeping me awake. The bees have a white bum and how long do they stay and when do they leave the nest. I can hear them when I stick my ear to the wall.

  • Hi Rusty

    I notice you write thixotropy but add h in the adjective: thixotropHic. In the UK we spell (and say) thixotropic.
    Separately, I was surprised to discover that it is permitted here to sell Erica cinerea (bell heather) honey as ‘heather honey’, though it is a regular floral honey with none of the gelatiousness we associate with ling honey. I wonder if buyers are sometimes disappointed?

    • Archie,

      Thank you for writing. That was a spelling error on my part and instead of doing it just once, I did it over and over. The post was first published in September 2010 yet you are the first person to point it out. Good on you!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.