The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Plain Talk Beekeeping

Comb Honey

- July 1, 2023 - James E. Tew - (excerpt)

Why don’t beekeepers make more of it?

Why did extracted honey replace comb honey?

If comb honey is thought to be more wholesome and artistic, over the passing years, why have bee equipment innovators gone to such extensive technological efforts to develop ways to remove honey from combs? I don’t know, but I have some guesses.

Guess #1
Right from the starting gate, and in no order of priority, I suspect that comb honey was not convenient to use when cooking or using medicinally. At this moment, I can’t see a large cereal company or a barbeque sauce company using comb honey as an ingredient. Though I suppose they could have, I really can’t see our early ancestors slathering comb honey on a burn or a skin blemish. Liquid honey would have been the easier way to go. Could I write, without any documentation or citation, that liquid honey diversified honey’s many uses?

Guess #2
I doubt that our early ancestors were greatly concerned, but comb honey is essentially impossible to re-liquify once it granulates in the combs. Extracted honey could be heated and converted back to liquid. So, could I write that liquid honey was more convenient to handle, eat, and ship?

Guess #3
If early honey crops were anything like early apple crops, liquid honey could be diluted and fermented into mead. Early apple crops were extensively used to produce Apple Jack. I wonder how much liquid honey was used to make mead. Once mead had fermented too much, the vinegar that it subsequently formed had many uses, too. Did early beekeepers only want honey as a sweetener or did they want to make other products from liquid honey?

Guess #4
Could I conjecture that no one really wanted to eat old, dark combs? You and I, as modern beekeepers, think of comb honey being stored in new, white combs. I suspect that wild honey was frequently stored in dark, chewy combs. That doesn’t sound appealing to me. Did our early ancestors want beeswax for its multitude of uses such as candles or as a wax lubricant? Otherwise, the wax crop was wasted.

Guess #5
So, did earlier beekeepers want a wax crop, too? If the wax was only chewed until all the honey was consumed, and then discarded, were the wax contents simply lost? Without any documentation, I wonder if early beekeepers wanted to extract the honey crop to procure an additional wax crop.

I don’t know how accurate my guesses are, but my thoughts would indicate that it’s not easy to put ourselves in our beekeeping ancestors’ shoes. Even so, it’s not too difficult to guess why liquid honey has become the desired product rather than simple comb honey.

So, we just extract our honey
For whatever reason or reasons, extracting honey is presently the common way to go. I suppose today’s modern beekeepers want to liquify their honey crops because:

(1) We need to use our extractors and related processing equipment.

(2) Extracted honey allows us to efficiently reuse comb.

(3) Extracted honey stores better long term than comb honey.

So liquid honey is common while comb honey, in any form, has become more and more of an elite food rarity. Consequently, we have lost many of our diehard comb honey consumers. It has been my experience that I must now give a short course on eating comb honey to most people who are curious enough to consider buying it.

Can you eat the wax?
“Can you eat the comb?” is a most common question when a new consumer considers buying comb honey. I need you to help me with the wording in my answer to the curious customer. Frequently, at my university bee laboratory, the comb honey purchaser would be an international student speaking English as a second language. I would tell them that eating wax comb is perfectly safe. They would ask, “Does it have food value?” I would respond, “No, our digestive system just voids it.” That response rarely clearly translates so I try, “Our digestive system eliminates it.” “We pass it?” with a quizzical look, would have been a typical response from the potential customer.

If you don’t want to swallow the wax, spit it out. That always sounds crude. So maybe I should say, “You can just take it from your mouth and discard it.” By now this has become a delicate conversation, and by default, the average customer will have begun to understand what I am trying to say without me having to say it. Ironically, I hope you, too, are grasping my meaning. It’s no easier to write a description for you than it is to word it in verbal format for a novice comb-honey customer.

The bottom line? Swallow the wax if you want or spit it out if you want. It’s your call. It won’t hurt you to swallow reasonable amounts of new, white wax, but it will not benefit you either (so far as I can determine at this time).1

How do I eat it?
Another easier but common question is, “How do I eat comb honey?” You use it the same way as you would use any jam or peanut butter spread. If the comb honey was made correctly, the foundation (that forms the comb’s “midrib” in the completed comb) is undetectable to your senses of taste and feel.

I suppose there are a few points that you should clearly know that I don’t ever recall reading in the bee literature.


  • Some of the wax from the comb will stick to your teeth. Nothing is wrong with that, but sometimes you will need to be clever to get the wax removed.
  • Honestly, after you cut a few bites off, the remaining piece of comb can be unsightly. My only suggestion? Only offer new comb honey to your guests. Then, at your leisure, eat the remaining portion of the unconsumed comb honey.

Why would I want comb honey over liquid honey?
Both are good products but with differences. Comb honey is unmodified, in any way, from the way the bees made it. In years past, it was a guarantee that it was pure and unadulterated. The extracting process aerates honey so you lose some of the delicate aroma of honey when it is removed from combs.

Bottom line? Comb honey has all the flavor and aroma possible, while extracted honey has lost some of these characteristics. Comb honey is a truly natural, unprocessed bee product. Liquid honey is a dependable, convenient product. Both products have a place.

How long will it keep?
It is edible indefinitely, but the honey contained in the comb will probably granulate within a few months. While you can still eat it granulated, it will have a slight gritty or sandy texture. Since the comb will soften, even melt, if heated, it’s probably a good idea to eat it within a short time. You can’t re-liquify honey in comb honey — at least not very easily.

Comb honey foundation
Comb honey purists would not have used any foundation at all, but the common challenge would have been to keep the comb oriented correctly within the comb honey device (the frame). An alternative would have been to use just a small strip of foundation, hardly ½” wide, as a starter strip. Another old procedure that probably worked less well was to use a thick bead of melted beeswax as a starter bead for the bees to follow when building combs.

However, for many years, bee supply companies have manufactured comb honey foundation. It is so thin that while holding a light behind the foundation, a newspaper can be read through the foundation. It is really thin and pliable. This foundation has multiple names such as comb honey foundation or thin surplus foundation. It’s still available from bee supply companies.

In a strict sense, any beeswax foundation is edible, but …