Products from the Hive – Part III: BEEBREAD
Beebread! Who knew? With a name like that it’s not hard to imagine all those little honey bees scurrying around the kitchen wearing their teeny-tiny aprons and their teeny-tiny Toqués. Yes. While that is easy to imagine, it is slightly more difficult to shake that image from one’s mind and come back to reality.
Of all the products of the hive, beebread is the least explored and possibly one of the most valuable nutritionally. Also referred to as “Ambrosia,” which means the food of the gods, or “Perga” translated “tower.” The terminology denotes the strengthening effect of beebread as it is utilized by the body.
The Roman army was known to have beekeepers accompany them into war. The products of the hive were tantamount to the well-being of the soldiers. Honey was used for packing wounds, beebread for strengthening, and other hive products were utilized for the benefit the troops.
So what exactly is beebread? Beebread is lacto-fermented honey bee food made from honey or nectar and pollen mixed with enzymes and lactic acid bacteria which live in their honey stomach(2) and are applied through the bees “saliva.” These enzymes prevent the pollen from germinating. The raw beebread is tightly packed into honeycomb cells and capped off by worker bees. Then it is allowed to ferment. This fermenting process is what takes a “superfood” like plain ol’ pollen granules and transforms it into a substance commonly known as Ambrosia thousands of years ago.
If you’ve ever wondered what it was that makes a tiny little insect have so much energy to perform what would seem like an insurmountable task, this is it. Worker bees don’t generally consume pollen when it’s fresh. Fresh pollen is used to feed larvae. Worker bees eat this fermented beebread, especially during the time they overwinter in the hive. They fill each honeycomb cell about two-thirds with pollen, then put a layer of honey over it and cap it off with beeswax to make it airtight. This begins the process of fermentation. The end result is a product with three times the bio-availability of bee pollen granules. One might think of bee bread as the “yogurt” of bees. Without it they cannot secrete two other bee products: royal jelly and wax.1 You might say that beebread is what keeps the hive “buzzin’!”
Interesting things happen as a result of the honey/pollen lacto-fermentation. Fresh pollen, which has a limited shelf life before it goes rancid or molds, is transformed into a product that has an indefinite shelf life like that of honey. The end product is rendered much more digestible and even though the protein content is lower than pollen, the bioavailability of the protein is dramatically increased to 63 percent.(3) The fermentation process predigests the proteins into amino acids which are then found to be higher than that of pollen. The acidity of beebread is also high, which helps it to be easily absorbed. Another thing that happens is now, voilà, Vitamin K is present where it did not exist previously in either the honey or pollen products. Fermentation seems to “unlock” the minerals bound tightly within the cellulose covering of the pollen seeds in the granules.4 The end result is a food three times higher in its nutritional and antimicrobial content which is also a good source of unsaturated fatty acids. “Beebread has a large variety of minerals and has high quantities of iron, cobalt, phosphorus, calcium. It is one of the richest natural foods containing selenium. Beebread is also an excellent source of potassium and B-group vitamins.”5 For those with allergies to bee pollen it would be good to note that allergies to fermented beebread are extremely rare.6
So how does one obtain beebread? Well, beebread is often gathered by the beekeeper as whole comb, then harvested with a scraper and placed in a jar. They are dried and look like little multi-colored pellets, the size of a cell of a honeycomb where it was packed by the bee. With modern beekeeping methods it is difficult to harvest bee bread directly from the hive as much of the comb would be destroyed. Pollen granule collectors which are placed outside the hive, make it easier for beekeepers as they do not need to enter the hive and disturb the bees. Therefore, fresh pollen is more frequently available for purchase.
Fermented beebread is not difficult to make, so with that in mind here’s a recipe that will help us on our way!
HOW TO MAKE BEEBREAD
- 2-1/2 Parts Raw Honey
- 1 Part Fresh Pollen Granules (always use fresh pollen or pollen immediately frozen at harvest)
Into a sterilized wide-mouthed canning jar, pour a layer of honey, then a layer of fresh pollen granules, then honey, pollen, and so forth. Finish with a honey layer at least one to two inches from the top of the jar. Place a double layer of waxed paper over the opening between the honey and the lid and set the lid on top and screw on the band. Next, quickly take a picture because the layers disappear quickly and it does look pretty.
The layering helps the pollen dissolve into the honey quickly. It doesn’t have to be perfect. (What a great opportunity for kids.) Then turn your jar over for the first time. Put it is a spot where it gets flipped whenever you walk by, at least several times a day for two weeks or longer. If the room is on the cooler side, the fermentation process will take longer. Almost all of the pollen granules will be dissolved.
If you like, once the fermentation process is complete you can top off the jar with honey to thin the product a bit, replace the lid and continue to flip the jar for another day or two. Then decant into smaller jars. Please don’t use plastic when fermenting the beebread. Chemicals will leach into your final product.
Do Not Refrigerate! Keep beebread at room temperature!
Dose: If you’re new to taking pollen granules or beebread, adults can start off with 1/4 teaspoon twice a day at breakfast and lunch. Increase slowly until you’re at the desired amount. Gradually increase the dose from ¼ to 1 or even 2 Tsp daily in the AM. Do not give beebread to any child under one year of age.
WHEN YOUR BEEBREAD IS DONE & YOU WANNA ADD SOME SPIN!!
Once accustomed to the flavor of bee products, most people find beebread delicious plain. However, if you’re the adventurous type and would like to experiment with adding flavors, decant your beebread into several smaller jars. (Take care to never, add herbs or spices to beebread before it has completely fermented. They are powerful in action and can stop the fermentation process leaving you with an undesirable product.)
Try stirring in some ground cinnamon or a cinnamon and clove combination. How about another jar with cayenne, or even cinnamon and cayenne for that ‘red hot cinnamon gummi bear’ flavor? Maybe a citrusy jar with grated orange and lemon peel, or vanilla bean, or a star anise and vanilla combination (just mouthwatering.) …And for a walk on the savory side how about rosemary or dill? Then there’s spearmint, lavender, ginger, cacao (oh my!)… The ideas are endless.
Bee-Healthy Salad Dressing
How about this. Mix a couple of tablespoons of plain or savory beebread with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar. Stir in some garlic powder, Italian seasonings, and a pinch of sea salt for an easy, healthy, tasty, salad dressing. Perhaps you will share your beebread culinary creations with us in the comments below!
Beebread is not only yummy and good to eat, it can be incorporated into a beauty routine as a nourishing facial mask. Here is a recipe you can customize and have fun with. It can help smooth wrinkles, tone, and moisturize.
MEDICINAL USES OF BEEBREAD
Due to the large amount of selenium in beebread, it is a good natural food choice to assist those undergoing chemo and radiation. Selenium boosts red blood cell (RBC) production while RBCs are destroyed by chemo and radiation.
It may also be beneficial for those with digestive and hepatic system illness as well as disorders of the urinary and prostate, male infertility, muscle weakness and wasting, congestive heart failure, cancer, asthma, IBS, and rheumatoid arthritis. Beebread is known to lower cholesterol and benefit atherosclerosis.7
BEE FOR BEAUTY
Bee-Kissed Facial Mask
- 1-2 TSPS Honey
- 1 TSP Beebread
- 1 DROP Lavender Essential Oil
- Add: Water, Green Tea, or other herbal decoction of your choice*
Directions: In a small glass bowl mix the honey and beebread together. Add your essential oil, then carefully, one drop at a time with an eyedropper or pip, add your herbal decoction until your mask is the desired consistency. You want a thicker mixture that won’t drip off of your face. *Remember, should you choose to increase the moisture content any leftover mask will only last a few days and must be refrigerated.
How to Apply: On a freshly washed face and neck, apply the Bee-Kissed Facial Mask and allow to set for 20-30 minutes. Rinse with warm water.
Bee-U-T-Full Hair Conditioner
- 2 TBSPS Beebread
- 4-6 DROPS Rosemary Essential Oil, or essential oil(s) of your choice
- 4 CUPS Herbal Infusion. Use any one or combination of herbs (chamomile, peppermint, lavender, rosemary, etc.)
Directions: In a plastic quart bottle add your infusion after it has cooled until about 2 inches from the top. Add the Beebread and the essential oils, then shake well until the beebread is dissolved and the essential oils are disbursed.
How to Apply: This homemade conditioner can be used each time you wash your hair. Shake conditioner well, then massage through hair after washing. Allow conditioner to set for 3-5 minutes, then rinse well with warm water.
6 (taken from Krell, R.,“Value-Added Products from Bee-Keeping,” FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin #124, 1996)