Bees are important pollinators that contribute to food production, aiding in the reproduction of fruits, vegetables, and seeds, and improving their yields and quality. Bees are also of great interest to the nutraceutical industry as their products are known to have nutritional and bioactive properties.
Bee pollen, bee bread
For instance, as highlighted in a recent review published at Trends in Food Science & Technology (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tifs.2021.01.042), bee pollen (BP) and bee bread (BB) contain high nutritional values, including macro-and micro-nutrients as well as phenolic acids and polyphenols—basically most of the needed metabolic nutrients and phytochemicals. Thus, BP and BB are ideal candidates for humans to consume to maintain a well-balanced diet. As noted by the researchers, "BP is often characterised by its high protein content, rich nutritional value and a good source of bioactive compounds, all varying according to its botanical origin, geographical and climatic characteristics. It contains protein and amino acids (10–40% w/w), lipids (1–13% w/w), vitamins (0.02–0.7%), several minerals (K, P, Mg, Ca, Na, S, Fe, Cu, etc.), and significant phenolic acids and polyphenols. Nevertheless, carbohydrates are the main components of BP, composing 13 to 55% of dry weight, which includes polysaccharides, oligosaccharides and dietary fibre. For example, cellulose, an important polysaccharide, has a content in pollen of about 3 to 4% being the main component of the layers of pollen grains, and its presence significantly affects the digestibility of BP.” Further, “BB contains protein and amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, vitamins, minerals and phenolic acids and polyphenols, similar to BP, but with higher nutrient-rich content. Another important point is the BB higher digestibility and degree of absorption by humans since the multi-layered wall surrounding the pollen grain is destroyed by natural fermentation, which gives special features to the BB." Interestingly, BP and BB are also classified as an anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, anti-cancer, antimicrobial, antioxidant, gastroprotective, neuroprotective anti-ageing agent. "In brief, BP and BB present a variety of dietary phytochemical compounds with functional properties such as carotenoids, vitamins, phenolic acids and especially flavonoids. Therefore, considering the food industry and the positive effects on human health, these bee products, which have tremendous potential for the production and use as natural and functional ingredients, offer a wide field of study.”—researchers concluded.
Propolis, bee honey
Another recent review published at Molecules (DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26051232) highlighted the nutritional values of bee propolis and bee honey as natural ingredients to enhance consumers’ immunity. “Propolis contains more than 300 identified compounds. It mainly comprises resins (50%), bee wax (30%), aromatic and essential oils (10%), bee pollen (5%), in addition to (5%) of multiple organic compounds such as polyphenols, flavonoids, amino acids, vitamins, and micronutrients. Most active ingredients in propolis comprise polyphenolic phytochemicals that are widely distributed in vegetables and fruits: phenolic acids, flavonoids (flavanones, flavones, flavanols, etc.), stilbenes, and tannins”—researchers noted. Further, bee honey contains high levels of proteins, enzymes, amino acids, reducing sugars, vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols—making it highly nutritious for consumption. Bee honey also possesses anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antidiabetic, anti-cancer, antilipidemic, antifungal, and bactericidal activities. The review also highlights how bee honey supports the human microbiome by halting the undertaking of detrimental bacteria. Honey also is noted to be an excellent source of prebiotics to stimulate immunity. Overall, the review emphasises the role propolis and honey could play in clearing viral infections such as COVID-19—researchers noted that propolis and honey could have a role in decreasing viral infection mortality rate and speed up symptom clearance and recovery.
Bee honey is also used for cognitive and mental health properties, which is of high interest to consumers as COVID-19 has increased mental health wellbeing and awareness. Interestingly, recent research from the National Institute of Neuroscience (Japan) and Alexandria University (Egypt) (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/npr2.12079) shows bee honey antioxidant activity is also neuroprotective.
Stingless bee honey
Although most consumers are more familiar with the honey Apis mellifera bee species, it is in the nutraceutical industry's interest to keep up with the functional properties of the honey from stingless bees (Meliponini). Stingless bee honey is classified as functional food, but its nutritional and therapeutic values have not always been linked to specific bioactive compounds until recently, where published research (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-68940-0) identified stingless bee honey from Malaysia, Australia and Brazil as a new source of trehalulose disaccharide. According to this research, this was the first time trehalulose is associated as the main component within food commodity. As explained in the paper, “Trehalulose is a naturally occurring isomer of sucrose but has a much slower rate of release of monosaccharides into the bloodstream than sucrose. This disaccharide is therefore highly beneficial in having both a low insulinemic index and low glycaemic index. Trehalulose is also known to be acariogenic, and a highly active antioxidant and these properties may in no small way contribute to the reported beneficial health properties of stingless bee honey.” Researchers further added, “The long-established consumption of stingless bee honey as a therapeutic/medicinal commodity is consistent with the reported bioactivity of trehalulose as a natural sucrose isomer. Trehalulose, like isomaltulose, shows a reduced rate of hydrolysis in the small intestine (about one third that of sucrose) with application in controlling blood sugar levels for diabetes, glucose intolerance and obesity prevention. Trehalulose is 70% as sweet as sucrose and extremely water-soluble and, while not readily crystallised, has found commercial application in jellies, jams, cereal bars, juices etc. Our identification of trehalulose as a major component in stingless bee honey then provides a new, abundant and novel source for this bioactive disaccharide and opens the way to investigate the use of stingless bee honey as a food ingredient to achieve the same health benefits as attributed to pure trehalulose.”