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Science Uncovers Sweet News from Stingless Bees

Science Uncovers Sweet News from Stingless Bees

stingless bee next to regular bee

DFC is proud to count ourselves among a fabulous group of local food producers. One of my favourite amazing products we get to enjoy in our area is glorious honey. I can really taste the difference between what we get here, and the stuff that comes in the bear-shaped squeeze bottles I used to buy in the city. So I’m fascinated by all aspects of honey production – and particularly a new study that looks at the sweet elixir produced by a type of bee I’ve never laid eyes on!  (Ain’t biodiversity great?)

Species of stingless bees can be found all over tropical parts of the planet. The honey they produce has been uniformly revered by local folks for its medicinal properties. Now, a group of scientists have analyzed this honey and uncovered the fact that it’s made up of a rare healthy sugar, that is transformed from regular old sucrose via a fascinating biological process.

The University of Queensland-based team was initially stumped by the presence of trehalulose, a type of sugar that is more slowly digested than regular sugars, and doesn’t cause those notorious “spikes.” The scientists thought it might come from one of the bees’ food sources or the tree resin with which they make their tiny honey-holding pots. (Their version of the North American honeybees’ combs.) They ran an experiment to see if they could increase the amount of trehalulose in the stingless bee honey, by starting with the basics. Said chemist and study leader Dr Natasha Hungerford:

“‘We fed confined colonies of the Australian stingless bee Tetragonula carbonaria the most common sugars found in flower nectar – sucrose, glucose and fructose. What we found is that stingless bees have a unique capacity to convert sucrose to trehalulose and produce honey rich in trehalulose in their gut.’

Native plants such as Grevillea and Banksia are believed to have nectar high in sucrose, and it is believed bees feeding from these plants will naturally produce honey rich in trehalulose.

The team also found that stingless bees fed a solution containing table sugar could convert it into a ‘honey’ containing high levels of trehalulose. ‘But the “honey” they produce from table sugar does not meet the requirements of real stingless bee honey which is made from nectar,’ Dr Hungerford said.”

The team hopes that cracking the trehalulose mystery – and its connection to high-sucrose flowers – can lead to even healthier honey in the future. And all through the hard-working bees’ even harder-working digestive systems! We remain very lucky to have a relationship with these happy little pollinators. I hope we can help it continue a long while yet.