Comb honey, in simplest terms, is the rawest form of honey available. The worker bee “architects” build tiny beeswax hexagons to give their young a place to develop and grow, to allow for the storage of pollen and nectar, and of course, a place to house the honey they produce. When you buy a jar of honey, the beekeeper has either crushed the comb to squeeze out the honey or used a centrifuge to sling the honey from the wax. The honey is then filtered and placed in jars. Comb honey skips all those steps: we take the frames whose hexagons are filled only with honey, cut that comb honey into squares, and place it in a box for you to take home. No human hands have come into contact with your honey.
Comb honey is raw honey packaged in its own edible package!
A century ago, comb honey was a very common product. In fact, it was more common to find comb honey than it was to find jars of honey. These days the only beekeepers that generally produce comb honey are small-scale or hobbyist beekeepers. Why? Comb honey does take a bit more nuance and patience to produce. Also, a beekeeper that uses a centrifuge to jar honey will reuse the wax hexagons after the honey is removed, which allows them to produce more honey much more quickly.
Comb honey is a gorgeous natural wonder: tens of thousands of bees working together to build perfect hexagons that are the exact same size and shape that fit perfectly together over and over again.
Why choose comb honey?
Because the bees make each of these hexagon containers with their own ‘lid’, which we leave intact when we cut comb honey, comb honey has been filtered..not even a little bit. In fact, the honey hasn’t come into contact with human hands or any artificial matter. That means all the anti-microbial and healthy properties from the pollen, propolis, enzymes make it to your breakfast table.
Comb honey is a much more exciting and interesting culinary experience. The beeswax makes comb honey more aromatic than jarred honey, and the smell, taste, and even consistency differs depending on the flowers the bees visited to produce the beeswax and honey. In addition to the aroma, the beeswax lends a texture, richness, and mouthfeel that regular old honey just can’t match. (Trust me. I’m a professional honey-eater.) It holds its shape, so instead of just getting watered down into your morning yogurt, it acts as more of a delicious, beautiful sweet garnish, instead of just a generic sweetener.
What is this beeswax stuff, and can you actually eat it?
Beeswax is actually produced by honey bees that at age 12-18 days. When these bees consume great amounts of honey and nectar, they are able to produce very thin scales of beeswax from 8 organs on the underside of their abdomens. They use their back legs to gather up the wax, bring it up to their mouth parts, and then use their mandibles to chew and form it into those perfect hexagons. (See a slo-mo video of a bee chewing beeswax!)
Beeswax is completely safe for you to eat. When eating comb honey by itself, you will be left with a bit of wax in your mouth. You can spit it out, chew it like chewing gum, or swallow it. Many folks don’t like this waxy feeling in their mouth. If you are one of these, I strongly encourage you to not give up on comb honey so quickly. When consumed in conjunction with other food (for example, on a cracker with a bit of goat cheese, or with some yogurt or oatmeal), you aren’t left with any sort of wax in your mouth after! Got the basics down? Now spread the comb honey on a really hot biscuit, make a few grilled peanut butter and comb honey sandwiches, or bake a pizza with goat cheese, arugula, and comb honey, and prepare to be wowed.
A note about “cone” honey. I am not sure how the trend of calling comb honey “cone honey” started, but I am here to set the record straight. It’s called COMB honey! Every time someone says ‘cone honey’, a tiny bee dies somewhere. And my mind goes here.