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Honey Hype

We have a sweet topic for today. Honey. That concentrated solution of sugars in water that was central to Winnie the Pooh's obsession. Most of us like it too.

We have a sweet topic for today. Honey. That concentrated solution of sugars in water that was central to Winnie the Pooh's obsession. Most of us like it too. The main sugars in honey are fructose and glucose, with smaller amounts of sucrose which of course is ordinary table sugar. There various other compounds in small amounts as well which are responsible for the flavor and aroma. Honey, because of its sugar content, can act as a preservative. The preservative action of sugar is due to its ability to remove water from microorganisms by the process of osmosis. This essentially means that if the concentration of a dissolved material is higher outside the microbe than inside, water will diffuse through the cell membrane to the outside thereby dehydrating and killing the microbe.

The ancient Romans already knew about this phenomenon and preserved fruits and meats by immersing them in honey. Others made more imaginative use of the preservation property. Both Democritus and Alexander the Great were buried in honey coatings. Much later, Admiral Nelson was returned to England after the battle of Trafalgar in a barrel of honey. The Romans also discovered that wounds healed better when treated with honey and today we understand why. The honey kills microorganisms that can infect a wound. Roman soldiers actually carried honey into battle for this purpose. Modern research shows that there may be compounds in honey other than sugars which could have antibacterial activity.

In New Zealand, honey made from manuka trees has been found to contain an antibiotic more potent than any found in honey before. It can even knock out drug resistant Staphylococcus that causes so much grief in hospitals. Australia has recently approved a product called "medihoney" for the treatment of wounds and sores. In lab experiments it has been shown to have antibacterial properties.

Preliminary research shows that at least in the laboratory, honey can even kill the Helicobacter pylori bacterium which is responsible for ulcers. It is unknown if the honey can work in the digestive tract, but a pilot study is under way in which patients are taking two spoonfuls of honey several times a day. It may yet turn out that a spoonful of honey not only makes the medicine go down, but that it is medicine itself.

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