As long as the lid stays on, which food won't spoil?

And the answer: honey.

Photo courtesy: El Camino Health.

In excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, archeologists have discovered pots of honey that are thousands of years old, and unspoiled. Because honey has very little moisture in its natural form, very few microorganisms or bacteria can survive in it.

Honey has three main tricks for fighting bacteria. The first is a likely suspect: sugar. Honey is only about 17% water, while the rest is all sugar. All that sugar serves the very important purpose of supersaturating the honey, meaning, the sugar makes it so honey contains more sugar than would normally dissolve at that temperature. In short, honey is chemically desperate for water.

Water can travel across cell membranes from where there's a higher concentration of water to where there's a lower concentration. Enter: bacteria. As due to the fact that bacteria has more water than honey, the honey (essentially) sucks the water out of the bacteria and inhibits any potential formation of mold. Plus, there simply isn't enough water in honey for microorganisms to live on, so they die quickly and keep the honey unspoiled.

The second trick for fighting bacteria comes from the bees: glucose oxidase. This compound is present in the creation of the honey – it seems to occur to help the honey to keep from spoiling while the bees are drying it out.

The third and final trick is another amazing adaptation from the world's littlest honey producers: antibiotics. Some types of honey contain a protein called bee defensin-1, which is exactly what it sounds like: bee defensin-1 protects bees as a part of their immune system and prevents disease in the hive. Scientists are unsure how much of this protein is actually present in honey, though it makes sense that bees would use it to protect their food.

Learn more about bees, honey, and the whole shebang below.


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