Why Is Honey Not Vegan?
Do vegans eat honey? And if not, why? You’re not the first to wonder this – so we’re here to provide some answers! At the end of the day honey is not vegan, as it involves exploiting an animal – but is there any actual cruelty involved?
First of all, what is honey?
Honey is a sweet, thick, golden liquid produced by honeybees as they collect nectar from flowering plants. Bees extract nectar from flowers and store it in their extra ‘honey stomach’, otherwise known as a ‘crop’.The nectar then mixes with special enzymes that alters it and makes it suitable for long-term storage – very important for winter months.
Once done pollinating, honeybees return to their hive and pass the nectar from their stomach to another bee. Bees in the hive will continue the pass nectar back and forth, further altering the nectar until it’s ready to be stored in their honeycomb hive.
Once deposited in the hive, the nectar is starting to resemble honey but is still very watery. After enough water has evaporated to create the thick consistency we know, the honeybees seal over the honeycomb with beeswax.
At this point, honey can be stored indefinitely so long as it stays sealed. This is why honeybees create honey – it’s their food source during the cold winter months, when there are no flowers or nectar.
How is honey harvested?
Farmed honeybees are kept in artificial, framed wooden beehives rather than their natural honeycombs made of beeswax. These frames are harvested at the end of summer, which is when they’re most full of honey the bees have been working hard to produce.
To harvest, beeswax cappings are removed from the wooden frames using a hot knife (or a machine equivalent). The frames are then placed in a machine that spins them around at high speed, removing the honey by centrifugal force. The honey must then be filtered through a screen because it still contains bits of wax.
Why isn’t honey vegan?
Honey isn’t vegan because, in order to obtain it, humans exploit bees. Beekeepers keep bees in artificial conditions rather than their natural beehives, and then take the honey from them when it’s time to harvest.
Wild honeybees create their honey for a very specific reason – it’s their sole food source through the cold winter months. Honey provides essential micro-nutrients to bees, and it’s often replaced with a less nutritious sugar substitute when harvested. Honey as a food source is very important to the wellbeing of every hive!
As with most animal agriculture industries, profit is more important than the wellbeing of the animals. Commercial honeybees are bred to increase their productivity, which narrows down the gene pool of the entire bee population – making them more susceptible to disease and genetic problems. Some beekeepers even kill off a large portion of their hives to keep costs down over the winter months, and clip the wings of queen bees to keep them from leaving.
Some beekeepers leave out their empty wooden frames for the bees, as they often still contain residues of honey – but this can go very wrong. If not done at the correct time of day or year, bees will fight over the frames and disease can be spread, infecting entire hives.
What can I have instead of honey?
Time for the good news! There are plenty of vegan honey substitutes out there to choose from – you won’t miss honey for one second. Popular vegan honey alternatives include agave nectar, maple syrup, molasses and more.
Agave nectar comes from the agave plant, and is slightly sweeter and thinner than honey. Just like honey, agave nectar comes in different shades and flavours, with the lighter versions tasting the most like honey.
Maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar, black or red maple trees. These trees grow in colder, northern climates – they store starch in their roots during winter, which turns into sugar and rises up to be harvested as sap in the spring.
Molasses is refined sugarcane (and sometimes sugar beets) and is a great source of calcium and iron. Just like the other sweeteners listed, molasses comes in a variety of shades and flavours depending on where it’s made and what it’s made of.
Lastly, there’s even vegan ‘honea’! There are tonnes of different kinds, but our favourite is Plant Based Artisans. Their vegan honey is made mainly from sugar, apple juice and inulin – a prebiotic dietary fibre that promotes digestive health, increases calcium absorption and provides better blood sugar control. Plant Based Artisans Vegan Honea comes in three flavours: Original, Lavender and Orange!
- Gabriella Rodriguez