Among beekeeping products, honey is undoubtedly the best known and most popular. However, in addition to honey, royal jelly is also receiving increasing attention, and not only as a base material for cosmetic creams: it’s now popular of being used as a recognized dietary supplement.
Nectar or pollen - what do bees make honey from?
The best-known feature of bees is that they collect pollen and nectar and hoard them in the hive for winter food storage. The nectar is sucked up from the flowers using their proboscis, and the pollen is gathered in pollen baskets on their back leg and then taken to the hive. The nectar is taken over by the workers in the hive and mixed with the enzymes in their saliva, promoting long-term storage. The honey formed this way is gathered in the hexagonal wax cells (honeycombs) and then allowed to ventilate for some time. Once a sufficient amount of water has evaporated from the honey, the honeycombs are sealed. Pollen is less perishable, transported to the hive and mixed with honey or nectar it’s also stored in honeycombs, and serve as a source of protein for the workers. If bees live in an environment full of flowers, they will be able to produce plenty of honey, much more than would be needed to survive the winter, thankfully, we can tap this elemental storage.
What about Royal Jelly?
Royal jelly, in contrast, is not simply made of nectar or pollen, it is produced by nurse bees in their throat glands. Although royal jelly is also a food, its function is completely different, it plays a role in the development of bees. All larvae are fed on royal jelly, but after 3 days they switch to honey. The larvae destined to be queen bees are an exception to this, as they consume royal jelly for the rest of their lives - as a result, they develop into sexually mature and live for years, unlike workers who are infertile and have an average lifespan of just a few months.
In the hive, both royal jelly and honey can be found and collected, but by a different technique. Royal jelly is needed in much smaller quantities in the hive, so there is less of it, which makes it difficult to collect, and this narrower supply is also reflected in the price of royal jelly products.
The difference in the role of honey and royal jelly in their composition is also clear. The honey contains approx. 80% of sugar and 18-20% of water and the other ingredients together are around 1%. The royal jelly compared to that contains only 11-23 % of sugar and 60-70% of water, and additional 9-18 % of protein and 4-8 % of lipids, especially fatty acids. Both beekeeping products contain small amounts of important trace elements, vitamins, flavonoids, which further increase their biological value.
Their composition is also determinant for human consumption and use. Honey, when not used as a sweetener, is mainly used for sore throats, colds, or for minor wounds, burns, reducing inflammation, and promoting skin regeneration. Due to the low water content of the honey, it hardly deteriorates, the best evidence is that honey edible to this day has been found in a 3000-year-old ancient Egyptian tomb. The royal jelly was previously accessed only by a close circle, typically the regal class, who applied in the hope of a longer and healthier life. Today, as it is more widely available, besides its anti-aging effect it is suggested as an immune stimulant, to increase fertility, and for alleviating symptoms of hormonal changes after menopause. In contrast to honey, royal jelly decomposes more easily and some of the active ingredients in it are also very degradable, so after collection they must be stored in a refrigerator or frozen until processing.
If you want to read more about the topic, here are a few ideas where you can find a summary in English about royal jelly and other beekeeping products.