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The thin layer of new wax that bees build over the top of cured (or dried) honey is called capping wax. Although bees cap brood cells one at a time, they cap honey cells in groups. Once an area of comb is ready to cap, the bees may cover many square inches at once, smearing capping wax in a thin layer across the top. This different way of capping partially accounts for the flatter surface of honeycomb as compared to brood comb.
The type of capping is partially genetically controlled
Depending on their genetics, bees either place the capping wax directly on the surface of the honey, or they may leave a little air pocket between the surface of the honey and the wax. These two methods make no difference in the flavor, color, or quality of the honey, but they make the finished combs look dramatically different.
The honeycomb with the air pockets is said to have dry cappings. The comb appears white or very light tan. The honeycomb with wet cappings is not actually wet, but it looks like it might be. The appearance is darker and may have a variegated pattern due to scattered mini air pockets, which have a lighter color.
While some honey bees produce both types of capping, some consistently build one kind or the other. Italian honey bees (Apis mellifera ligustica) are known for producing white, dry caps. At the other end of the spectrum, Caucasian bees (Apis caucasica) produced wet caps almost exclusively.
Consumers prefer lighter honey, so they like dry cappings
Producers of comb honey have found that consumers prefer dry cappings. Especially back in the heyday of comb honey production, beekeepers found they could get better prices for light-colored, clean-looking combs. The desire for white combs is one of the reasons that Italian bees became so popular in the United States.
However, if you wish to sell comb honey, start with a variety of honey bees, such as Italians, that are known for producing dry cappings. Better yet, try to raise some queens from your own colonies that produce a high percentage of dry cappings.
Marketing techniques for wet cappings
If you extract all your honey, this difference in capping appearance is of no consequence. You will scrape off the capping in either case.
But if you want to sell wet-capped comb honey, try making chunk honey. Chunk honey, which is just a piece of honeycomb submerged in extracted honey, is one way in which beekeepers can easily sell their wet-capped honey.
Another way to boost comb honey sales is to display wet-capped honey on some days and dry-capped honey on other days. When the two or not side-by-side, customers don’t seem to notice the cappings one way or the other. But once you put them on the same shelf, customers will sort through them and choose the lighter-appearing dry-capped combs.
Let us know if you have other favorite ways of displaying and selling both wet-capped and dry-capped honey.
Honey Bee Suite