The mystery of what creates the rare and healthy sugar found in stingless bee honey has been solved by researchers at the University of Queensland, in collaboration with Queensland Health Forensic and Scientific Services.
The team found that trehalulose sugar – which is not found in other honeys or as a major component in other foods – is produced in the intestines of bees.
Dr Natasha Hungerford, UQ organic chemist and head of research, said the origin of this rare sugar has been a puzzle since the discovery of high levels of trehalulose sugar in stingless bee honey.
“We weren’t sure whether the trehalulose came from an external source – possibly native flora,” Dr Hungerford said.
“It could have been something in the resin of trees that stingless bees collect and take home to their nests – because unlike European honey bees, which store their honey in honeycombs made only from wax. bee, stingless bees store their honey in small jars made from a mixture of beeswax and tree resins. ”
Stingless bees are found throughout the tropics and subtropics of the world.
The largest European bees (Apis mellifera) produce much more honey and are the main honey-producing species in the world.
However, stingless bee honey which is highly prized as a specialty food, is known in native cultures for its medicinal properties and attracts a high price tag.
“Trehalulose is digested more slowly and there is no sudden spike in blood sugar that you get from other sugars,” Dr. Hungerford said.
She said the UQ team wanted to determine whether the trehalulose content of stingless bee honey could be increased, potentially making stingless bee honey more valuable.
“We fed confined colonies of Australian stingless bees Tetragonula carbonaria the most common sugars found in flower nectar – sucrose, glucose, and fructose.
“What we found is that stingless bees have a unique ability to convert sucrose to trehalulose and to produce trehalulose-rich honey in their gut.”
Native plants such as Grevillea and Banksia are believed to have nectar rich in sucrose, and bees that feed on these plants are believed to naturally produce trehalulose-rich honey.
The team also found that stingless bees fed a solution containing table sugar could convert it to “honey” containing high levels of trehalulose.
“But the ‘honey’ they produce from table sugar does not meet the requirements of real stingless bee honey which is made from nectar,” said Dr Hungerford.
“The honey that we produced in the lab is actually fake honey, and we were able to distinguish it from natural honey by isotopic tests.
“This trehalulose-rich syrup that was produced could be considered a potential side product of stingless bees, but it is not honey.
“It is also not good for the health of the hive to feed the bees only with table sugar.
“Honey contains a complex range of phytochemicals derived from the nectar, which makes it of vital importance for brood rearing and the expansion of the colony’s population.”
The UQ team will now work to identify different horticultural crops that have a nectar rich in sucrose.
“We want to study the nectar sugars found in crops such as macadamia, lychee and avocado, and whether stingless bee pollination of these crops could result in a high level of trehalulose in their honey,” said Dr Hungerford.
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