Can vegans eat honey?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Can vegans eat honey?” and will discuss the reasons why vegans do not consume honey.

Can vegans eat honey?

No, vegans do not eat honey. Veganism is a style of life-based on avoiding the use and consumption of goods derived from the exploitation of animals in the process of their production. Vegans abstain from consuming anything produced from animals, including dairy, eggs, and meat. Honey is controversial among vegans since it is produced from insects and therefore is questionable. Honey consumption is controversial. Some think it’s okay, while others say it’s not.

6% of the German population follows a vegetarian diet (i.e., eschews meat) and 1% follows a vegan diet (i.e., eschews all animal products). Beyond this, a much larger 35% of the population finds it important that food packages display information on whether or not a product is vegetarian/vegan. Moreover, the number of people who consume meat every day declined from 34% in 2015 to 28% in 2018, and 38% of people surveyed in 2018 reported being open to buying plant-based meat substitute products (1).

What Is the Purpose of Bees Making Honey?

Bees rely heavily on honey as a food source. Their purpose in making it is to store nourishment during the winter when there are fewer flowers available for gathering nectar from. The queen bee and the rest of the colony must work together to make it through the winter. Sufficient stores of honey and pollen are vital and quantities needed for overwintering vary depending on geographic location. If honey stores are inadequate, colonies can be fed a 2:1 (granulated sucrose: water) syrup in early fall to bring them up to a desired weight while minimizing the energy spent by the workers for removal of moisture, which would be the case if a less concentrated syrup was preferred (e.g. 1:1) (2).

Honey has a lot of sugar, which makes it a good source of energy. According to Buzz about Bees’ website, “you might imagine they require a tremendous amount of energy when you realize that when flying, a honey bee’s wings beat about 11,400 times each minute.”

They require more than simply the ability to fly to leave the hive. Bees must flap their wings to keep the temperature just right within their hive. When the temperature drops below 10°C, the bees in the colony form a thermoregulating cluster. Clustering bees vibrate their flight muscles to generate heat that maintains an outer edge temperature higher than 6°C, usually 12°C. This ensures that the bees on the outermost edges of the cluster do not cool below their viable temperature (2).

Is honey a vegan?

For a long time, the issue of whether honey is vegan was hotly disputed.

Meat, dairy, and eggs are more easily categorized as “not vegan.” Even yet, some individuals consume backyard chicken eggs on occasion while following a mostly plant-based diet. People who follow this method may still identify as vegans since they aren’t doing any damage to hens in the process.

“A way of life that aims to eliminate, as far as is feasible and practical,” all kinds of exploitation and cruelty to animals for food or clothing is what the Vegan Society defines veganism as according to the organization.

Do you remain vegan if eating chicken eggs doesn’t damage the chicken in any way? Perhaps. It all boils down to how you look at it. Honey is the same way.

Honey is not vegan, according to the Vegan Society. Bees make honey because it is food for bees, and harvesting it by people puts bees’ health at risk. Honey harvesting does not correspond with the concept of veganism given by The Vegan Society, which aims to eliminate not just cruelty but exploitation as well”.

Bees produce honey for their food. When humans take it away, the bees must work harder. That is called exploitation (3).

The main reasons why most vegans do not consume honey?

Foods derived from insects, in contrast to animal-based goods such as meat, eggs, and dairy, are not considered vegan. Some vegans, on the other hand, abstain from honey since it is produced via the exploitation of bees, while others do not object to it being consumed.

Most people avoid honey for the following reasons:

·         Bee farming, according to the majority of vegans, is likewise exploitative.

Many commercial bee farmers are thought to exploit bees for honey to make the most money possible, which is why most vegans oppose the practice. Bees’ wings are clipped to keep them from flying away, and whole colonies are wiped off to prevent illness from spreading, among other things (3).

·         Bee farmers, according to vegans, may endanger the health of the bees.

Commercial honey production, according to vegans, may be harmful to bees’ health. Bees store honey for the winter and use it to keep warm and to help them withstand harsh conditions. Sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup is usually substituted for the honey that was stolen from them to be sold. Instead of meeting their nutritional needs, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup cause more damage than good (3).

·         Beekeeping may harm the bee population as a whole.

Studies show that commercial beekeeping methods are a significant factor in the global decline of bee populations.

Honey bees may frequently become exposed to environmental chemicals as a consequence of their foraging activities, and traditionally, the focus of pesticide regulations was more on protection of bees against direct poisoning. However, since the substances that are being used have changed, damage from acute toxicity is not the only threat to bees. Instead, sub-lethal effects such as paralysis, disorientation or behavioral changes, both from short-term and long-term exposure, increasingly come into focus (4).

Honey substitute

·         Honey substitutes that are popular among vegans include:

·         Maple syrup- is a sweetened liquid derived from maple tree sap. It contains fewer calories and a higher concentration of minerals (like manganese and zinc) than honey (5).

·         Blackstrap molasses-The dark brown liquid produced by boiling sugar cane juice is known as blackstrap molasses. It contains significant amounts of vitamins and minerals. “First” molasses is left over when sugarcane juice is boiled, cooled, and removed of its crystals (5).

·         Coconut nectar- is a syrup made from the coconut palm’s sap and blossoms. The sugar provides a better digestion rate and lower glycemic index (GI) of between 35 and 42. The sugar contains ~ 4 kcal per gram, high in vitamin C, B1, B2, B3, and B6 (6).

·         Date syrup- caramel-colored date syrup is made by cooking dates and extracting the sugar. The most important properties of date syrup are its potential health benefits, which are related to its high nutritional profiles, i.e., high content of unsaturated fatty acids (such as oleic, linoleic, palmitoleic and linolenic acids) and a combination of 15 minerals, including potassium, iron, magnesium and calcium (6).

Artificially inseminated queen bees used in industrial honey production have their wings shaved off to prevent them from fleeing the hive and starting a new colony elsewhere. The honey is also taken by certain beekeepers to benefit from it. It’s possible to make the case that this is exploitative and, as a result, does not meet the criteria of The Vegan Society. 

Other FAQs about Vegans that you may be interested in.

Can you eat fish on a vegan diet?

d’vegan menu

Do vegans actually make a difference?

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Can vegans eat honey?” and discussed the reasons why vegans do not consume honey.

References

  1. Kirsten, Hannah, et al. Validation and application of a German version of the Dietarian Identity Questionnaire: Revealing differences between omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans. Food Qual Prefer, 2020, 86, 103988.
  2. Doeke, Mehmet Ali, Maryann Frazier, and Christina M. Grozinger. Overwintering honey bees: biology and management. Curr opin insect sci, 2015, 10, 185-193.
  3. David Sztybel. Veganism vs. Violence. 2011. Queen’s University, Toronto.
  4. Meixner, Marina Doris. A historical review of managed honey bee populations in Europe and the United States and the factors that may affect them. J invertebr pathol, 2010, 103, S80-S95.
  5. Neacsu, N. A., and A. Madar. Artificial sweeteners versus natural sweeteners. Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Brasov. Economic Sciences. Series V 7.1, 2014, 59.
  6. Castro-Muñoz, Roberto, et al. Natural sweeteners: Sources, extraction and current uses in foods and food industries. Food Chem, 2022, 370, 130991.