Pollen Grains vs. Bee Bread (Fermented Bee Pollen): What’s the Difference?

Bee pollen grains

Bee_Pollen_Sack

Often at Beepods we receive many questions about the products that bees create.  We hope you enjoy this series of blog posts, videos and articles that discuss the products from the hive.  This article is one in the series on “Healing from the Hive” that discusses the benefits humans can get from honey bees.

This question came about at one of our recent Beesentations and we wanted to be sure we put together a quality answer for the students in the class.  It came about as one student was discussing the fact that they purchase bee pollen and put it in their food like salads, smoothies and much more.  Further it was discussed as to if it was pollen grains or the fermented pollen from inside a beehive called “Bee Bread.”  Let’s shed a little light on the differences.

Pollen Grains

Bee pollen grainsBee pollen grains are pellets of flower pollen packed tightly together by worker bees.  More often than not, the bee pollen that is consumed by humans that can be purchased at health or natural food stores is straight flower pollen which has been harvested by a beekeeper with a pollen trap.  This pollen trap scrapes the pollen off of the bees legs into a storage container as the bee enter the hive. (1) This means that often times, the bee pollen purchased in stores is just flower pollen transported by the bees to the hive, knocked off of their legs, and has no further bee processing done to it.

There is nutritional value to this source of pollen.  Keep in mind a bee may travel up to 7 miles a day collecting nectar, as pollen clings to it’s legs via static electricity.  This means there is a very good variety of pollen and potentially other food sources like fungi, sap or other natural supplements included in the pollen grain.  

This type of supplement has been known to help with allergies, longevity, weight issues, cardiovascular health and much more.  Each of these has been identified as a . This is still a fairly new food trend to western culture and not much research has been done so the jury is still out on exactly how nutritional pollen grains actually are according to the FDA and pharmaceutical companies. Yet, this food source has been part of other culture’s diets for centuries.  Nutritional density can vary greatly from pollen grain to pollen grain based solely on where the pollen grains came from and how they were harvested.  Heat, moisture, handling, etc all impact nutritional value of foods and supplements for us, as well as the bees.  Nothing has been proven, but there are a lot of benefits to bee pollen that are seen on a case by case basis.  (2)

Bee Bread

fermented bee polen (bee bread)Bee Bread on the other hand is a slightly different composition, as the bees add honey and bee secretions to the pollen to make a nutritional protein source for the hive. (3) Bees tend to use this bee bread as a protein source especially for eggs and larva early on.  There are even solitary bees that will pack a brood cell with a small ball of bee processed pollen and lay an egg on top. (4)  

Bee bread is known to have a high concentration of protein and other nutritional impacts making it more valuable to natural food nutritionists.  Many high quality products will come from outside of the US and may even tout what they know to be true health improvements. Just like pollen grains, though, it is hard to regulate and know for sure what the exact composition of the bee bread is due to so many factors.  In fact, it can vary from hour to hour in the same hive based on the worker bees that gather the pollen.  Although there is no specific formula, the average makeup is said to contain simple sugars, proteins, minerals and vitamins, fatty acids, and diverse other components like fungi particles. (5) This variation, just like beer and other fermented foods humans eat, can have a huge variety in recipe, flavor and change in nutrition over time because the bees ferment it in order to preserve it. As we understand fermentation, it adds significant nutrition to the food we eat. Bees process and increase nutritional value of the flower pollen through a fermentation process of their own.  In addition to preservation, the fermentation process of the pollen also renders its nutrients more available. Some proteins are broken down into amino acids, starches are metabolized into simple sugars, and vitamins become more bio-available. In this sense, bee bread is even more health-giving than the more commonly available fresh bee pollen.The bees will use their head to pack in layers of pollen, sealed by honey until it is about ¾ full.  At this time, they’ll seal it with another layer of honey, under which it ferments into bee bread. (5)  This stuff should be considered a powerful nutritional source just based on how much the bees do to it before they even ingest it for themselves.

Conclusions

At Beepods we always recommend doing your research before ingesting new products like this.  The first thing you find on the store shelf at your local grocery store or farmers market may not be what it seems. You may be looking to purchase beebread when, it may just be pollen grains.  As health supplements, understand that there is no guarantee that it will meet your expectations due to the highly unregulated nature of bee pollen and bee bread for humans.  Yes, there is a ton of anecdotal evidence and the beginnings of scientific data.  If you’d like to know more about this, feel free to dig into some of the links below that have been cited in the article and let us know what you find.  The bees create some awesome goodness that can be shared with humans and we recommend you give them a try.

References

  1. Detroy, B.F. et. al, Pollen Traps – Trapping Pollen From Honey Bee Colonies, Beesource.com: Production Research Report No. 163, Retrieved August 2016
  2. Driscoll, Brogan, What is Bee Pollen?: Health Benefits, Concerns and Recipes for the Latest Superfood, Huffington Post, October 2015
  3. Smmataro, Diana & Avitabile, Alphonse, The Beekeeper’s Handbook, Cornell University Press.  ISBN 0-8014-7694-1
  4. Thorp, Robbin W., Vernal pool flowers and their specialist bee pollinators, Vernalpools.org, Retrieved August 2016
  5. Evans, Josh, Bee Bread, Nordicfoodlab.org, September 2015

Other Interesting Articles

Reevaluating Beebread: Part 3

FDA Warns consumers not to use Zi Xiu Tang Bee Pollen Capsules

Pollen: Production, Nutrition and Health: A Review

Pollen Traps

***Note: some of these links were recommended in order to give a well-rounded perspective of this topic.  They might not match the belief of Beepods, any member of Beepods or what we promote as recommended practices.

Brad James
Brad James
Brad James is Beepods CEO. He covers the business of beekeeping and implementation of beekeeping systems from every angle -- as well as occasional other topics. Before joining Beepods, Brad has helped many startups get off the ground through implementing organizational strategy that leverages current personnel and implementing tried and true business processes that promote business growth and leadership development. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @BJJames23.

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