You may have noticed that sometimes your honey frames appear darker at times. There are two main reasons for this: ‘wet capped honey vs dry capped honey’, and ‘bee traffic’.
What is wet capped honey?
Wet capping is essentially when bees place the wax capping over the honey in cells and do so in a way that does not leave an airgap. This means that the colour of the wax capping is darker as the honey underneath is pressed up against it.
Is wet capped honey bad?
No, wet capped honey is perfectly fine to consume. While it may not present as nicely as dry capped honey on the frame, it is still safe to consume and will taste the same. This honey will look and taste the same once bottled.
What is dry capped honey?
Dry capped honey occurs when bees leave a slight air gap between the surface of the honey in cells, and the wax that covers it. This slight gap means that little or no honey touches the wax capping surface. Because of this, the wax capping appears much lighter in colour.
Why is dry capped honey preferred?
Dry capped honey is preferred simply because it looks better. When selling honey as comb honey, the nice white appearance of the wax capping is more favourable.
Beekeepers may even enter frames of honey in competitions, and one of the key criteria to winning framed honey competitions is the nice white appearance of the honeycomb. Dry capped honey will always present lighter than wet capped honey, so therefore many beekeepers prefer this.
How do we get honey bees to dry cap honey?
Some beekeepers prefer nice white comb honey so much that they will selectively breed their queen bees to achieve this. The way they do this is by hand-selecting ‘breeder queens’ from colonies that dry cap honey and pairing them with drones from colonies that also exhibit the same behaviour.
The resultant offspring should then display the same traits and continue with the dry capping tendencies that the beekeeper/breeder prefers.
What else makes honeycomb darker in colour?
As mentioned above, the amount of bee traffic that there is in a hive influences the colour of comb honey. More specifically, the amount of times that bees walk over a particular piece of wax capping, the darker it gets.
In much the same way as kids running around indoors with muddy boots dirties a floor, the bees tiny little feet also tarnish the colour of wax. While there is nothing wrong with this, and much of the discolouration is from safe elements such as pollen and honey anyway, it does give the wax an ‘off-white’ colour that is less aesthetically pleasing to some beekeepers and customers.
In order to prevent the discolouration of comb honey, beekeepers must remove frames of honey from their hives as soon as they are capped off. This prevents the further discolouration of the wax capping and allows them to be removed while still perfectly white.
When beekeepers want to produce the purest white comb honey they will be best served by placing their new frames in a hive that is on a heavy nectar flow. This means the honey is filled into the cells and capped off in a matter of days, rather than weeks or months, thus allowing it to be removed quickly before the bees discolour it with their tiny little feet.
At the end of the day, the taste of your honey will not be altered whether your honeycomb is a dark colour or if it is snow white. While many beekeepers pride themselves on producing the purest of white-capped honey, don’t stress if yours does not look the same.
It can be interesting to try and produce nice white-capped honey and is something that beekeepers can definitely have some fun with. If you’d like to sell comb honey, perhaps you could even look at getting into breeding queens yourself to have some control over your own bee genetics or just buy from breeders who do this already.
Either way, we hope this article has provided you with some explanation as to why some capped honey looks different from others.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to share this with anyone who may be interested.