Exactly how long honey has been in existence is hard to say because it has been around since as far back as we can record. Honey is as old as written history, dating back to 2100 B.C. where it was mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings, the Hittite code, and the sacred writings of India and Egypt. It is presumably even older than that. Cave paintings in Spain from 7000BC show the earliest records of beekeeping.
The earliest record of keeping bees in hives was found in the sun temple erected in 2400 BC near Cairo. The bee featured frequently in Egyptian hieroglyphs and, being favored by the pharaohs, often symbolized royalty.
The ancient Egyptians used honey as a sweetener, as a gift to their gods and even as an ingredient in embalming fluid. Honey cakes were baked by the Egyptians and used as an offering to placate the gods.
In Ancient Egypt honey had a role in births, deaths and marriages; it was believed to provide the energy and inspiration to create a child.
Honey is mentioned in the oldest written histories, dating back to at least 2100 BC where it was mentioned in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings, the Hittite code, and the sacred writings of India and Egypt.
Its name comes from the Old English hunig, and it was the first and most widespread sweetener used by humans. Legend has it that Cupid dipped his love arrows in honey before aiming at unsuspecting lovers.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, Israel was often referred to as “the land of milk and honey.” Mead, an alcoholic drink made from honey was called “nectar of the gods,” high praise indeed.
Honey was valued highly and often used as a form of currency, tribute, or offering. In the 11th century A.D., German peasants paid their feudal lords in honey and beeswax.
Although experts argue whether the honeybee is native to the Americas, conquering Spaniards in 1600 A.D. found native Mexicans and Central Americans had already developed beekeeping methods to produce honey.
The Greeks, too, made honey cakes and offered them to the gods. The Greeks viewed honey as not only an important food, but also as a healing medicine. Greek recipe books were full of sweets and cakes made from honey. Cheeses were mixed with honey to make cheesecakes, described by Euripides in the fifth century BC as being “steeped most thoroughly in the rich honey of the golden bee.”
The Romans also used honey as a gift to the gods and they used it extensively in cooking. Beekeeping flourished throughout the Roman empire.
Once Christianity was established, honey and beeswax production increased greatly to meet the demand for church candles.
Honey continued to be of importance in Europe until the Renaissance, when the arrival of sugar from further afield meant honey was used less. By the seventeenth century sugar was being used regularly as a sweetener and honey was used even less.