A former colleague recently asked "is honeycomb edible for humans? I got some honey a week or so ago that had a big ol' wad of comb in it. I squeezed it out and tossed it. Looked dry and brown and ugly."
Honeycomb is definitely edible and, when harvested correctly, is not only the most expensive honey you can buy but a delicious sweet treat, too.
In a honeybee's 6-week summer life cycle, "older" bees make the comb or hexagonal waxy cells where bee eggs, bee bread and honey are stored. Temperatures have to be in the 90s and there has to be a food source to trigger bees to build honeycomb so beekeepers sometimes feed bees to try to get a jump on Missouri's three-month honey-producing season.
Comb that is brown may be burr comb, which bees make to grow drones, or male bees. Whenever a hive frame has any damage to comb, bees seem to rebuild the damaged area with the larger, darker comb. Brown comb could also have been old honeycomb, which gets darker and can be dry after bees re-use it. Neither one is comb you will enjoy eating.
The much sought-after, edible honeycomb is almost white or vanilla and very soft and wonderfully chewy. It's harvested literally only days after bees have finished making and filing it with honey. To get it right, hives have to be carefully monitored and filled comb quickly harvested.
When harvesting, the comb also has to be kept hydrated so it doesn't dry out.
After the harvest, bees have to rebuild comb and that can take a whole season, which is partly responsible for honeycomb's higher price.
Midwest prices last year were averaging $4-10 for 4 ounces. At a state conference, I heard 4 ounces of good honeycomb in New York was selling for $40.
If you haven't tried it, honeycomb can be eaten as is or as a spread.
People who have been around honey as kids will talk about summer memories of chewing honeycomb with honey and enjoying the gum-like experience.
A St. Louis friend who insists on regularly picking up a supply of my honey says one of her favorite "guilty pleasures" is spreading honey with comb on her homemade bran muffins.
Following up on last week's column, the White House did release their recipes for beer made out of White House honey.
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins shares her beekeeping adventures at http://www.homesweetbees.com. Copyright 2012 used with permission by The Rolla Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at firstname.lastname@example.org.