Roe Valley Beekeepers Association

Beekeeping Advice

Honey preparation

The preparation of run honey and creamed honey for sale and for the show bench.

Before preparing honey for consumption, it is essential to be aware of and to comply with food hygene regulations. These require that the preparation area is clean and that the surfaces are hygienic, and easily cleaned. There should be hot and cold water and hand washing facilities. Containers should be manufactured from food grade plastic or stainless steel. The most appropriate domestic environment for honey production is a kitchen or utility room. Before commencing thought should be given to the production process and areas defined for the various stages from storing unprocessed combs, decapping, extraction, storage of wet comb and cappings, and filtering and storage of the honey.

Decapping trays are used to separate cappings from comb. There are two variants: One uses a double tray with a fine mesh separating them. Cappings fall onto the mesh and honey can filter through for later collection. Commercial versions include a vacuum process to encourage extraction. The other version uses a heated waterbath to melt cappings and honey which can then be drawn off and separated. This honey will not be suitable for sale except as honey for cooking, as it will have been subjected to excessive heat. The most commonly used version of this decapping tray is the Pratley, which could benefit from the inclusion of a waterbath thermostat.

The decapping knife is flat bladed and in expensive versions the blade may be heated by an electric element or steam. Otherwise it can be dipped into hot water (and dried). An alternative would be a domestic knife with a long blade (eg bread knife) or an electric carving knife

Decapped frames are then loaded into an extractor which spins honey out of the cells by centifugal force. The variations include those which hold frames tangential to the rotating shaft, and radial. Radial extractors tend to be larger and can extract more frames. However they are less adaptable in the types of frame it can hold. Tangential extractors are generally cheaper, and are available in hand cranked versions. The disadvantage of this type is that frames must be turned twice to extract honey from both sides of the frame septum, and will be unsuitable for unwired frames which will break under the tangential forces. Honey spins out of the frames and collects in the base of the extractor from which it is drawn off from a tap near the base.

Honey drawn off the extractor can be filtered with a simple tap filter, and collected into a storage container. In commercial systems elaborate systems containing baffles are used to remove both floating and dense debris from the honey Fine mesh filters provide better results and honey may require multiple filterings. If a hanging filter is used above the honey surface, air bubbles will be introduced which will render the honey unsuitable for show. With fine filters heating of honey will be required to reduce its viscosity (eg 80 mesh/ sq inch will require heating to 35 degrees until thinned.  It is important not to overheat honey as this will alter its character, and will increase HMF levels.

Honey should be stored at 15 degrees to allow it to granulate.

Prior to bottling run honey will require rewarming to 30 degrees centigrade, and bottled in suitable containers which should be sterilised by washing in a dishwasher. The lids should also be thoroughly cleaned, remembering that the lids contain rubber seal rings which may be perished by heat. Following bottling jars should be heated in a waterbath to 54 degrees for 45 minutes to stop granulation for up to a year in the finished product.

Creamed honey requires a further process. This begins by seeding it with a honey which naturally granulates with a fine texture (eg OSR). 10% of the seeding honey should be stirred gently into the honey avoiding introduction of air bubbles, and the honey allowed to granulate. When this has occurred it should be rewarmed to 30 degrees for 24 hours and creamed by slowly stirring with a paddle to thoroughly mix the honey. The creamed honey will remain in this state for a prolonged period.

After bottling honey for sale must be labelled in accordance with current EC regulations. These require that the product is described accurately (eg “creamed honey” and its country of origin stated. The producers name & address should be printed along with a lot number and best before date (of about 2 years). The product net weight must also be recorded (gms) in type sizes commensurate with the weight (up tp 60 gm - 4 mm, 60-1000 gm - 6mm, over 1000 gm - 8mm)

Honey for the show bench should be processed in the same way but with scrupulous attention to detail, particularly filtering, so that there are no debris fragments. There should be no air bubbles, nor signs of crystallisation, and the jars should be filled to the level of the bottom of the lid. The honey should match the requirements of the judges described in the competition rules eg in colour, size of jar and process type. Jars should be unlabelled. In categories requiring multiple jars the containers and lids should be exactly the same. 


Alan McKinney