Humans have been buds with bees for quite some time now—about 9,000 years, to be exact. The honey we know and love played an extraordinary role in the ancient world. For the Egyptians, it was a treat of all trades, used for sweetening foods, healing wounds, paying taxes and even embalming dead bodies.
From mythology to medicine, the honey bee practically reigned over Egyptian society. Egyptians considered bees sacred, believing that their sun god, Re, created these impressive insects from his tears. This spiritual connection led people to believe that some spirits took the form of a bee after death, and bees’ buzzing was often thought to be the voices of souls. Because of this association with the afterlife, bees and honey were beloved by Pharaohs. So beloved, in fact, they would even be taken to the grave.
The Egyptians cherished honey so much, jars of the liquid gold were buried with deceased royalty to give them a sweet transition into the afterlife. Among wine, jewelry and weapons, honey was also valuable enough to be stashed in King Tut’s golden tomb—still edible after 3,000 long years.
But, how can honey reign longer than a king? The answer boils down to three scientific factors that make preservation possible.
Honey lacks moisture
And bacteria and microorganisms need moisture to survive. Simply put, the organisms that cause things to spoil thrive in water, so they aren’t able to grow in such a thirsty environment.
Honey is acidic
With an average pH level of 3.5—close to a lemon’s 2.5 pH—any bacteria that manage to grow in the sweet substance will have a hard time surviving in such acidity.
Bee bellies block bacteria
Their stomachs contain a special enzyme, glucose oxidase, that mixes with the nectar they collect to form hydrogen peroxide, which puts any other bad guys in a sticky situation.
Thanks to these spoil-proof superpowers, that honey on your shelf can withstand the test of time — maybe even 3,000 years. However, honey’s bacteria-battling properties don’t stop at self-preservation. Ancient Egyptians found that honey could be used as a natural bandage, smothering it on their cuts, burns and eyes to fight infection. Since we still use it to improve our health, it’s no surprise that the sweet staple is considered one of the world’s oldest medicines.
Having discovered both spiritual and practical purposes for honey, Ancient Egyptians revered bees’ ability to seemingly make it out of thin air. We may know more about how bees do their thing today, but we’re still pretty amazed at how they magically manage to make our lives sweeter. Our kinship with bees carries on today, allowing us to share our very own raw and unfiltered honey discoveries with you.