Eating Beeswax: A Sweet Treat
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Is beeswax edible? Get ideas for how to incorporate beeswax into your diet and see how people around the world are eating beeswax.
Beeswax, as many people know, is the only wax found in nature. Of all the thousands of commercial, industrial, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic uses for beeswax, one of the most underestimated is its edibility. Yes, honeycomb can be eaten. In fact, it’s likely in more foods than you think. And no, it’s not digestible.
Beeswax has a complicated chemical makeup with almost 300 natural compounds, including fatty-acid esters, hydrocarbons, diesters, triesters, acid polyesters, even a bit of alcohol. But physiologically speaking, beeswax is inert and does not interact with the human digestive system, so it passes through the body unaltered.
For this reason (inertness), beeswax has a number of food-related uses. Substances dissolved or encapsulated in wax are released slowly. Some people also chew the wax as a kind of gum. It can also be used as a thickener or bonding agent for candies such as jelly beans or gummy bears. Because natural ingredients are so popular, many items from licorice to cheese to gum will proudly list beeswax as an ingredient. Chefs often use beeswax in cooking because of its beautiful sheen and subtle honey undertones. It is frequently used as a glaze for candies, pastries, hams, and turkeys.
Is Beeswax Edible?
In foods and beverages, white beeswax and “beeswax absolute” (yellow beeswax treated with alcohol) are used as stiffening agents. (For obvious reasons, any attempt to create homemade consumable products should use 100% pure food grade wax.) Because beeswax has been shown to have antimicrobial properties against a number of bacteria and fungi, it is often used as a wax cover for fermented foods and cheeses.
When taken as a food or medicine, beeswax is considered “likely safe,” with the exception of the rare instances where people may have an allergic reaction. As one beekeeper cautioned, “While anyone can be allergic to almost anything, it is rare for consumption of beeswax in moderate qualities to be unhealthy.” Neither honey nor honeycomb should be given to infants under a year old (because their immune systems aren’t fully developed), and anyone whose immune system is compromised should also forego both honey and honeycomb.
All sorts of health claims have been made about consuming honeycomb. When ingested, beeswax may be effective in inhibiting the growth of certain bacteria and help protect the stomach from ulcers caused by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It may also contribute to higher metabolism, reduce bad cholesterol, lower the risk of infection, and provide a health boost to the heart and liver. Honeycomb is rich in carbohydrates and antioxidants and contains trace amounts of several other nutrients.
Yet other sources say beeswax has no benefit when consumed directly because it is inert in the body. Whatever claims may exist – about relieving pain, lowering cholesterol, reducing swelling, or being used as a treatment for ulcers, hiccups, and diarrhea – is important to realize these claims have not been scientifically verified.
Still, except for those with allergies, eating honeycomb seems harmless enough. However, beeswax should be consumed in moderation. If you eat too much – literally stuffing your gut with wax — the result will be gastrointestinal distress. Fortunately, this isn’t common.
Eating Fresh Honeycomb
Just like honey, honeycomb can vary in taste depending on which flowers the bees visited to produce nectar. Honeycomb is often consumed along with the honey it comes with – yum – but there are also ambrosial pairings that enhance the taste. Popular combinations are honeycomb and cheese, honeycomb and chocolate, and honeycomb on toast.
By far the oldest and (by some accounts) the best way to eat beeswax is when they’re filled with honey straight from the hive. The taste of honey cells “exploding” across the taste buds is a divine treat.
Cooking with Beeswax
Less common is to have beeswax directly incorporated into a recipe, either directly or indirectly. Aside from waxing cheeses, some enterprising chefs (both pastry chefs and savory chefs) have discovered ways to incorporate beeswax into food products.
Beeswax has the ability to lock out moisture and keep pastry crisp, a quality that pastry chefs can use to their advantage. One dish calls for cake to be frozen, then sliced thin. The slivers are crisped in the oven, then, a tiny amount of wax is zested over the top. This is then heated in the oven again, just enough to render the wax into a stable, crunchy garnish with subtle overtones.
A molded French dessert called canelé uses one part molten beeswax mixed with two parts clarified butter to grease the canelé molds. This mixture makes the finished pastry shell shiny, crunchy, and with a delicate honey flavor prized by gourmands.
Pastry chefs have grated beeswax over warm tart shells not only to maintain their crumb, but to allow almond slivers or other topping to adhere. Other uses include layering beeswax into honey-based dishes to reinforce the flavor.
Savory uses are less common, which is why the technique developed by an Austrian chef is so unique: He cooks fish in molten beeswax, which provides a gentle, even heat and infuses aromatic overtones to the fish. After cooking, he scrapes away the wax and plates the hot fish with beeswax-infused carrot juice jelly, lime sour cream, and other savory garnishes.
Not to be outdone in creativity, cocktail establishments are incorporating not just honey, but actual beeswax into their alcoholic drinks. Using some pioneering techniques, several well-known watering holes now include beeswax-infused drinks on their menus.
One eye-watering punch mix is created with various types of rum, fish sauce sherbet, peach leaf, lemon, and soda, then bottled in a beeswax-lined bottle. Beeswax is said to lend flavor and textural elements to the cocktails, and enthusiasts wax eloquent about the “aromatics” and “brighter tropical notes” and “complexity” of the resulting beverages.
Beeswax-infused bourbon is another drink growing in popularity, especially for cold-weather drinks. It is created using a precise cooking technique called “sous vide.” Beeswax pellets are added to bourbon and infused at a precise 163F for 2.5 hours. This softens the bourbon and brings a honeyed characteristic to the spirit, pulling out the leathery and savory earthy notes. It is then is used to build cocktails.
Similar techniques are used to make beeswax gin and scotch. All these infused spirits are often stored in beeswax-lined bottles. The main purpose of the wax is to add a texture to the drink that wouldn’t otherwise be there, as well as adding some floral top notes.
All these creative applications of beeswax into foods and beverages demonstrate that one of the most ancient culinary treats on the planet is still working to captivate the palates of modern-day gourmets.
PATRICE LEWIS is a wife, mother, homesteader, homeschooler, author, blogger, columnist, and speaker. An advocate of simple living and selfsufficiency, she has practiced and written about self-reliance and preparedness for almost 30 years. She is experienced in homestead animal husbandry and small-scale dairy production, food preservation and canning, country relocation, home-based businesses, homeschooling, personal money management, and food self-sufficiency. Follow her website http://www.patricelewis.com/ or blog http://www.rural-revolution.com/
Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.