Honey is a symbolic food eaten at Rosh Hashanah in hopes for a sweet new year. In Arizona, there are hives producing this sweet, liquid gold across the state, from Coconino to Cochise counties. Honey bees in Arizona retrieve their nectar from a wide range of blossoms including citrus and mesquite trees, desert wildflowers and cactus.
Raw honey obtained from producers is inherently kosher as long as it is not bottled with equipment that has processed nonkosher items. That fact makes it easy for observant Jews to sample various raw honey flavors at local honey producers and farmers markets.
Honey has some fantastic qualities:
It never spoils
If kept in an airtight container, honey can last indefinitely. It contains a low moisture content and is naturally extremely acidic, making an environment difficult for bacteria to survive. Honey has even been found in Egyptian tombs.
A piece of amber found in a mine in northern Burma contains the fossilized remains of bees believed to be 100 million years old. The earliest recorded history of man’s interaction with honey bees was found in a cave painting in Bicorp, Spain, and dates back between 6,000 to 8,000 years.
Honey has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for healing burns, infections, cuts and more. It contains water, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and necessary enzymes to give the body an energy boost. Combining honey with a protein after a workout can help the body recover quicker and decrease muscle soreness.
Honey also has varying concentrations of polyphenols (powerful antioxidants) similar to those found in apples, spinach, almonds, tea and red wine. Polyphenols protect cells from free radical damage and are thought to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer and help aid in digestion and weight management.
To make one pound of honey, it will take more than 500 honey bees gathering nectar from two million flowers and flying more than 50,000 miles. During a collection trip, each honey bee will visit between 50 to 100 flowers, all within five miles of the hive.
Upon returning to the hive, the honey bees will regurgitate the nectar that they have stored in their “honey pouch” into the cells of the honeycomb. Once a cell is full, the bees will fan it with their wings to help evaporate the water. When that process is done, the bees will cap the cell with wax. When the entire comb has been capped, the beekeeper knows that the honey is ready to be extracted.
In recent years, honey bees’ numbers have been in decline. Diseases, poor nutrition, parasites and pesticides, all have an adverse effect on the bee population. Losing honey bees is a concern because the insects are not only responsible for honey production but agriculture and food production as well. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “of the top 100 crop species that provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 are pollinated by bees.”
Take a moment during Rosh Hashanah when you are dipping your apple slices in the dish of honey and reflect on what a remarkable food it is.