Honey as a Functional Food for Apis mellifera

May R. Berenbaum, Bernarda Calla

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Although nectar is consumed, primarily as a supplemental food, by a broad range of insects spanning at least five orders, it is processed and stored by only a small number of species, most of which are bees and wasps in the superfamily Apoidea. Within this group, Apis mellifera has evolved remarkable adaptations facilitating nectar processing and storage; in doing so, this species utilizes the end product, honey, for diverse functions with few if any equivalents in other phytophagous insects. Honey and its phytochemical constituents, some of which likely derive from propolis, have functional significance in protecting honey bees against microbial pathogens, toxins, and cold stress, as well as in regulating development and adult longevity. The distinctive properties of A. mellifera honey appear to have arisen in multiple ways, including genome modification; partnerships with microbial symbionts; and evolution of specialized behaviors, including foraging for substances other than nectar. That honey making by A. mellifera involves incorporation of exogenous material other than nectar, as well as endogenous products such as antimicrobial peptides and royal jelly, suggests that regarding honey as little more than a source of carbohydrates for bees is a concept in need of revision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-208
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Entomology
StatePublished - Jan 7 2021


  • alpha-glucosidases
  • antioxidants
  • detoxification
  • flavonoids
  • immunity
  • invertase
  • phenolics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Insect Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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