Honeybees that collect and process the nectar of buckwheat flowers create a dark honey characterized by a full, robust flavor. While buckwheat honey can range in color from coppery yellow to purple or nearly black, the average jar is dark amber with a reddish tint when held to the light. Compared with lighter-colored varieties, buckwheat honey isn't as sweet and tastes similar to molasses. The basic composition and nutritional profile of all types of honey are relatively the same, but buckwheat honey has higher concentrations of macronutrients, trace elements and anti-oxidant compounds.
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Nectar to Honey
A colony of honeybees collecting nectar from a field of flowering buckwheat can gather up to 290 pounds of nectar per acre, according to "Insect Pollination of Cultivated Crop Plants," by S.E. McGregor. After forager bees collect the nectar, which is mostly water with a small amount of sucrose, they transfer it to hive bees for processing. Hive bees biochemically transform the nectar into honey by regurgitating it multiple times, a process that reduces the water content. Simultaneously, invertase, a salivary enzyme, breaks down the sucrose in the nectar — essentially predigesting it — into its component simple sugars, glucose and fructose.
Composition of Honey
The three main components of all varieties of honey are fructose, glucose and water. Honey has a small percentage of many other sugars, including sucrose, in addition to trace amounts of proteins, minerals and natural acids. Fructose is about 70 percent sweeter than sucrose, and sucrose is slightly sweeter than glucose. Light-colored honey, including wildflower and clover, has the highest ratio of fructose to glucose, making it sweeter than dark-honey varieties. Although the largest component of buckwheat honey is fructose, its glucose content is higher than that of lighter honey — the average jar of buckwheat honey is about 40 percent fructose and 30 percent glucose. Buckwheat and other dark-colored honey varieties also have less water and higher concentrations of anti-oxidants.
Honey is a rich source of flavonoids and other phenolic compounds that demonstrate significant anti-oxidant activity. Daily consumption of honey has been shown to improve blood anti-oxidant levels and help prevent lipid peroxidation, or damage to lipids — such as cholesterol — by free radicals. According to “The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods,” by Michael Murray et al, lipid peroxidation is integral to the emergence and progression of atherosclerosis. Dark-colored honey has the highest concentrations of phenolic compounds. Buckwheat honey, in particular, is often cited as a rich source of anti-oxidants. According to May Berenbaum, head of the entomology department at the University of Illinois, the concentration of anti-oxidants in buckwheat honey is gram-for-gram comparable to that of tomatoes and other anti-oxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
Honey acts as a therapeutic antiseptic for the topical treatment of wounds, burns and ulcers. Honey absorbs water, drying out wounds to inhibit bacterial and fungal growth. Honey also contains the enzyme glucose oxidase, which produces hydrogen peroxide when combined with the water absorbed from the wound. The anti-oxidants and flavonoids found in honey may also function as antibacterial agents, according to “The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.” While dark-colored varieties of honey such as buckwheat contain the highest concentrations of anti-oxidants, pasteurization can destroy these valuable compounds. Look for raw, unprocessed buckwheat honey, which has the highest amounts of health-promoting substances.
- “The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods”; Michael Murray, N.D., et al.; 2005
- Science Daily: Dark Honey Has More Illness-Fighting Agents Than Light Honey; Jul. 8, 1998
- National Honey Board: Carbohydrates and the Sweetness of Honey
- National Honey Board: Honey: A Reference Guide to Nature’s Sweetener
- National Honey Board: Buckwheat Honey Increases Serum Antioxidant Capacity in Humans
- USDA.gov: Insect Pollination of Cultivated Crop Plants