Yes, you can eat and swallow honeycomb. Honeycomb is completely edible and safe to consume. The wax cells are made from beeswax, which is non-toxic for humans. The honey inside is also safe to eat. Honeycomb provides some nutritional benefits from vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes. However, it has a waxy texture that some people do not like. Chewing thoroughly or melting it can help make it easier to eat. There are no major health risks from eating honeycomb in moderation.
What is Honeycomb?
Honeycomb is a beeswax structure built by honey bees to store honey and larvae in the hive. The cells are hexagonal shapes that are made from beeswax secreted by worker bees. The bees fill the wax cells with honey for eating during times when nectar is scarce, such as winter. They also use the cells to raise larvae that will develop into adult bees. Fresh honeycomb contains both beeswax and raw honey that has not been processed or pasteurized.
To produce the wax for honeycomb, worker bees metabolize honey. The wax comes from glands on the bees’ abdomens. It is initially colorless and pliable. The bees chew and process the soft wax to build the honeycomb structure. As the wax is exposed to air, it takes on a light yellow color. The cell walls thicken and become more brittle as they age. The honeycomb frame provides structural support and protection for the honey-filled cells.
Beeswax consists of a complex mixture of over 300 chemical compounds. The main components are hydrocarbons, monoesters, diesters, hydroxy monoesters, hydroxy polyesters, and fatty acids. The composition varies depending on the geographical location and plant sources used by the bees. Some of the most abundant compounds include palmitate, palmitoleate, hydroxypalmitate, and oleate esters of long-chain fatty alcohols.
Beeswax has a low melting point range of 62°C to 64°C. It is malleable at warm temperatures, allowing the honey bees to shape and build the honeycomb. The wax solidifies into a brittle state at colder temperatures. It is insoluble in water but soluble in most organic solvents.
The nutritional value of honeycomb comes from the honey and beeswax:
- Honey: Contains sugars like glucose and fructose, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids, and other phytonutrients.
- Beeswax: Contains fatty acids, esters, long-chain alcohols, hydrocarbons, polyphenols, carotenoids, and fat-soluble vitamins.
The specific nutrition content varies based on the floral sources used to produce the honey. But in general, honeycomb is considered more nutritious than liquid honey. The honey is raw and unprocessed, so it retains more nutrients. The wax also adds nutritional value not found in filtered honey.
Is It Safe to Eat Honeycomb?
Yes, honeycomb is generally safe to eat. Beeswax is non-toxic to humans. It passes through the digestive system undigested and poses no significant health risks. Beeswax has been used as a food additive and in chewing gum for many years. The honey contained in the comb is also entirely edible.
Of course, some people may have allergies or sensitivities to honey, beeswax, or other bee products. Anyone with known allergies should exercise caution and consult a doctor before trying to eat honeycomb. But for most people, eating small amounts of honeycomb is considered safe.
Raw vs. Processed Honeycomb
Raw honeycomb straight from the hive has some advantages over processed comb:
- Raw honeycomb contains more live enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that may be diminished through processing.
- Heating and filtering can remove pollen and phytochemicals found in raw honeycomb.
- Raw comb has a stronger flavor with floral nuances depending on the nectar sources.
However, raw honeycomb may have a slightly higher risk of containing botulism spores. This is rare, but cooking or drying the comb can reduce the small risk. People with compromised immune systems should avoid raw honey and honeycomb.
Benefits of Eating Honeycomb
Here are some of the potential benefits of eating honeycomb:
Honeycomb contains polyphenols and carotenoids with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals and may reduce oxidative damage linked to chronic diseases.
Vitamins and Minerals
Honeycomb provides B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6. It also contains trace amounts of minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, selenium, and manganese.
Raw, unpasteurized honey contains probiotics or “friendly” bacteria like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. These probiotics may support digestive and immune health.
Compounds like flavonoids in honeycomb may offer anti-inflammatory properties. Reducing inflammation is linked to potential health benefits for many chronic diseases.
Honeycomb contains compounds like hydrogen peroxide that give it antimicrobial effects against certain bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Manuka honeycomb is especially high in these antimicrobial compounds.
Sore Throat Relief
The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties of honeycomb can help relieve sore throat pain and coughing. The viscous honey coats and soothes the throat.
Here are the nutrition facts for 1 oz (28g) of raw honeycomb from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) FoodData Central database:
|Nutrient||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Vitamin C||0.5 mg||1%|
Honeycomb is highest in sugar, with 23g per 1oz serving. It also provides riboflavin, niacin, and some minerals like calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
How to Eat Honeycomb
Here are some tips for eating honeycomb:
Take small bites of honeycomb and chew it very thoroughly before swallowing. Trying to swallow large chunks can be unpleasant. The wax can stick in your teeth. Chewing well helps release the honey and soften the wax.
Chew With Care
The wax cells can be sharp from broken edges. Be careful when chewing honeycomb to avoid scraping or cutting your mouth.
Let it Melt
Letting the honeycomb melt in your mouth makes it easier to consume. The wax softens as it warms up. Letting it coat your tongue first brings out the honey flavor.
Have water, tea, or coffee to help wash down the bits of wax. The fluids can clear your palate and help dissolve any lingering wax pieces.
Add to Beverages
For a flavorful twist, add pieces of honeycomb to coffee, tea, or lemonade. As it melts, it infuses the drink with honey sweetness.
Serve on Cheese Boards
Honeycomb pairs well with cheese. Try adding it to cheese boards or platters for guests to enjoy.
Bake with Honeycomb
Honeycomb can be used as an ingredient when baking cookies, breads, cakes or muffins. The honeycomb melts from the heat and infuses the baked goods with flavor.
Candies and Sweets
Chop honeycomb into small pieces to add texture and sweetness to candy recipes and desserts like puddings, ice cream or sweet sauces.
Potential Downsides of Eating Honeycomb
Some potential downsides of eating honeycomb include:
The waxy chunks of honeycomb have an unusual mouthfeel that some people do not like. It can be unpleasant if you accidentally bite into a large piece of comb.
Difficult to Digest
Some people may have a hard time digesting the wax. Beeswax passes through your system undigested. Eating too much could lead to gastrointestinal issues.
Risk of Allergic Reaction
Those allergic to honey, beeswax or other bee byproducts could have an allergic reaction to honeycomb. Reactions can range from mild to potentially life threatening.
High in Sugar
Honeycomb is high in natural sugar. Consuming too much may be detrimental for people with diabetes or metabolic conditions.
Contains Botulism Spores
Raw honeycomb has a small risk of containing botulism spores. Cooked or dried honeycomb has a lower risk. Infants and those with compromised immune systems should avoid honeycomb.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you eat honeycomb raw?
Yes, honeycomb can be eaten raw straight from the hive. Raw honeycomb may have more beneficial enzymes and nutrients compared to processed comb. However, raw comb has a slightly higher risk of containing botulism spores.
What does honeycomb taste like?
Honeycomb tastes sweet and waxy. The honey flavor depends on the floral sources, ranging from mild and mellow to rich, intense, and fragrant. The beeswax itself has a mild, earthy, grassy taste.
Is honeycomb good for you?
Honeycomb can be part of a healthy, balanced diet in moderation. It provides nutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and enzymes. Honeycomb also has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and wound healing properties.
Can you cook with honeycomb?
Yes, honeycomb can be used as an ingredient when cooking or baking. Gentle heating helps melt and soften the wax. Honeycomb works well in things like breads, muffins, cakes, puddings, granolas, and candies.
Does honeycomb go bad?
Honeycomb can crystallize and harden over time but does not actually spoil. Properly stored, honeycomb can remain safe to eat for many years. If honeycomb crystallizes, gentle warming can restore it to a liquid state.
Honeycomb is entirely edible and generally safe to consume in moderation. The honey provides natural sweetness along with beneficial nutrients and compounds. The beeswax adds texture and flavor but passes through your system undigested. Chewing honeycomb thoroughly helps release the honey and soften the waxy texture. Pay attention to any personal allergies or sensitivities. Overall, honeycomb can be a delicious, nutritious addition to your diet when eaten carefully and in small amounts at a time.