You may have heard that nectar is a fluid containing a high percentage of sugar, and that it’s associated with the pollination of flowers. Based on this definition, you might be wondering what the difference is between nectar and honey.
Although it’s true that nectar and honey share some key characteristics, they are actually quite different.
Keep reading to find out the main differences between nectar and honey so you can be well informed about these pollen-related substances in the future.
Nectar Vs. Honey: What’s The Difference?
Differences In Production
The biggest and most important difference between honey and nectar is that these substances are produced in different ways, although both production methods are linked to bees and pollination. Nectar is made by leaves and flowers themselves, whereas honey is produced by bees using nectar.
Nectar in its purest form is a sweet liquid secreted from both flowers and leaves. We tend to associate it only with the flowers of plants because that is where bees collect it from, but the leaves of some plants also produce nectar.
When nectar is turned into honey, bees add a specific enzyme to make it more acidic. The acidity of honey compared to nectar is why it lasts for so long in the pantry and doesn’t get easily contaminated by bacteria.
Additionally, the bees set in motion a process of evaporation that removes a lot of the water content in nectar and concentrates the sugar content as a result.
Not the Same Composition
There is more water in nectar than anything else, although it does contain various sugars which is why it tastes sweet. Additionally, you’ll find trace amounts of flower oils, salt, protein and different acids in nectar.
It’s important to bear in mind that the nectar collected from different flowers will have different compositions because the flower oils will be different.
So, it’s impossible to make a blanket statement about the exact composition of nectar because it can vary so much from plant to plant.
Honey contains the same ingredients as nectar, but there is less water in it because of the enzyme contributed by the bees.
This enzyme is one example of an additional ingredient in honey, but you’ll also find extra pollen and wax.
Depending on whether you purchase raw or filtered honey, there may be some pieces of random debris in the honey as well. This debris is harmless and usually just consists of plant material.
Something you might not know is that honey can be multi-floral or mono-floral. If honey is mono-floral, that means its nectar is only sourced from one type of plant (think Manuka honey).
Most honey you’ll find at the store, however, is multi-floral, meaning that it’s made from nectar sourced from a variety of different plants.
In both of the above points, we’ve mentioned that honey contains less water compared to nectar. This is because when the bees collect the nectar and add the enzyme to the solution, they create air circulation with their wings, which causes a lot of the water to evaporate.
Make no mistake, honey still contains a lot of water, but because some of it evaporates during the transformation process, honey is thicker and stickier compared to nectar, which is mostly made of water.
They Serve Different Functions
We’ve touched on the fact that both nectar and honey are linked to the process of pollination, but they serve different functions.
The primary purpose of nectar is to attract pollinators to plants. Pollinators like bees feed on nectar, and when they collect nectar from a plant, they pollinate it, which benefits the plant.
Certain plants, like thyme, are especially mutually beneficial for bees because their nectar contains antibacterial compounds.
Pollinators and other nectar-eating insects are also useful to plants because they prey on smaller pests that feed on the plants.
A good example is the Acacia tree, which uses nectar to lure ants towards it. The ants can then feed on smaller insects that are known to damage the Acacia tree.
In the case of carnivorous plants, the nectar serves as a lure to draw insects towards the plant so that the plant can eat the insects.
By contrast, honey is something that bees produce using nectar so that they can store their food during the winter months, when the weather is too cold for the colony to go out and find food.
Honey is basically a superfood for bees. It’s packed with essential nutrients as well as plenty of sugar, so it sustains the bee colony by providing energy as well as vitamins and minerals to keep the bees healthy.
If you’re wondering why bees would need so much energy while hibernating, bees are still active inside the hive!
They are constantly flapping their wings to keep the temperature inside the hive regulated, and since bees wings move at a speed of over 11,000 beats per minute, it makes sense that they would need a high-energy food source.
One Is Easier To Obtain
One time you’ll clearly notice the difference between honey and nectar is if you try to buy both at the grocery store.
You’ll find honey very easily along with the jelly and peanut butter, since beekeepers are able to harvest it and produce it on a commercial level. However, if you try to find a jar of pure nectar at the grocery store, you won’t find it.
You might be able to find agave nectar, which is sap taken from the plant of the same name.
Maple syrup is also sometimes thought of as a type of nectar, but there is technically a difference because neither of these products consist of phloem sap, and they have not undergone nectary cell modification.
So, while you can easily purchase honey commercially, it’s much more difficult to get your hands on a jar of pure nectar.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Humans Eat Nectar?
Yes, humans can eat (or, rather, drink) nectar as long as the nectar is sourced from a plant that isn’t harmful to humans.
Remember, nectar will contain traces of the oils from the plant that produced it, so if you drink nectar from a plant that is toxic to humans, you could be putting yourself in danger.
Apart from the hassle of having to verify which plant the nectar was harvested from, you’ll probably also find that nectar is pretty bland if you drink it. It’s mostly water with sugar, after all.
Is Nectar Healthier Than Honey?
No, nectar is not healthier than honey. In fact, honey provides more health benefits for humans because it contains more antioxidants.
Is Raw Honey Better Than Regular Honey?
Because raw honey isn’t filtered as much as regular honey, more of the nutrients are returned, including more of the beneficial antioxidants.
Therefore, if you want your honey to be as healthy as possible, it may be best to purchase raw honey. Raw honey isn’t as widely available but it’s easier to source than raw nectar.
There are five main differences between nectar and honey that everyone should know about. Firstly, nectar is a plant secretion whereas honey is a food made by bees using nectar.
Nectar is usually mutually beneficial to plants and insects because insects feed on the nectar and pollinate the plants.
However, some carnivorous plants use nectar to lure insects into their traps. Honey, on the other hand, is produced by bees as a food source for the winter.
Nectar has a higher water content than honey because bees cause some of the water to evaporate when turning nectar into honey.
This means that honey is thicker and stickier than honey. While you can easily purchase honey from the store, it’s much more difficult to buy raw nectar.
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