Small amounts of beeswax have food and flavoring applications, and are edible in the sense of having similar toxicity to undigestable plant waxes. However, the wax monoesters in beeswax are poorly hydrolysed in the guts of humans and mammals, and are therefore of no significant food value.
The wax is formed by worker bees, which secrete it from eight wax-producing mirror glands on the inner sides of the sternites (the ventral shield or plate of each segment of the body) on abdominal segments 4 to 7. The sizes of these wax glands depend on the age of the worker and after daily flights these glands begin to gradually atrophy. The new wax scales are initially glass-clear and colourless (see illustration), becoming opaque after mastication by the worker bee. The wax of honeycomb is nearly white, but becomes progressively more yellow or brown by incorporation of pollen oils and propolis. The wax scales are about 3 millimetres (0.12 in) across and 0.1 millimetres (0.0039 in) thick, and about 1,100 are required to make a gram of wax.
Honey bees use the beeswax to build honeycomb cells in which their young are raised with honey and pollen cells being capped for storage. For the wax-making bees to secrete wax, the ambient temperature in the hive has to be 33 to 36 °C (91 to 97 °F). To produce their wax, bees must consume about eight times as much honey by mass. Typically, for a honey beekeeper, 10 pounds of honey yields 1 pound of wax. It is estimated that bees collectively fly 150,000 miles, roughly six times around the earth, to yield one pound of beeswax (530,000 km/kg).
When beekeepers extract the honey, they cut off the wax caps from each honeycomb cell with an uncapping knife or machine. Its color varies from nearly white to brownish, but most often a shade of yellow, depending on purity and the type of flowers gathered by the bees. Wax from the brood comb of the honey bee hive tends to be darker than wax from the honeycomb. Impurities accumulate more quickly in the brood comb. Due to the impurities, the wax has to be rendered before further use. The leftovers are called slumgum.
The wax may further be clarified by heating in water. As with petroleum waxes, it may be softened by dilution with vegetable oil to make it more workable at room temperature.
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An approximate chemical formula for beeswax is C15H31COOC30H61. Its main components are palmitate, palmitoleate, and oleate esters of long-chain (30-32 carbons) aliphatic alcohols, with the ratio of triacontanyl palmitate CH3(CH2)29O-CO-(CH2)14CH3 to cerotic acid CH3(CH2)24COOH, the two principal components, being 6:1. Beeswax can be classified generally into European and Oriental types. The saponification value is lower (3-5) for European beeswax, and higher (8-9) for Oriental types.
Beeswax has a relatively low melting point range of 62 to 64 °C (144 to 147 °F). If beeswax is heated above 85 °C (185 °F) discoloration occurs. The flash point of beeswax is 204.4 °C (399.9 °F). Density at 15 °C is 958 to 970 kg/m³.
Natural beeswax (quoting Thorpe 1916 p737): When cold it is brittle; at ordinary temperatures it is tenacious; its fracture is dry and granular. The sp. gr. at 15° is from 0.958 to 0.975, that of melted wax at 98° - 99° compared with water at 15.5° is 0.822. It softens when held in the hand, and melts at 62° - 66°; it solidifies at 60.5° -63°.
Uses as a product
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Beeswax has many and varied uses. Primarily it is used by the bees in making their honeycomb foundations. Apart from this use by bees themselves, the use of beeswax has become widespread and varied. Purified and bleached beeswax is used in the production of food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. The three main types of beeswax products are: yellow, white and beeswax absolute. Yellow beeswax is the crude product obtained from the honeycomb, white beeswax is yellow beeswax that has been bleached and beeswax absolute is yellow beeswax treated with alcohol. In food preparation it is used as a coating for cheese; by sealing out the air, protection is given against ageing. Beeswax may also be used as a food additive E901, in small quantities acting as a (glazing agent), which serves to prevent water loss, or used to provide surface protection for some fruits. Soft gelatin capsules and tablet coatings may also see the use of E901. Beeswax is also a common ingredient of natural chewing gum.
There has been a growing use of beeswax in skin care and cosmetics. A German study found beeswax to be superior to similar barrier creams (usually mineral oil based creams such as petroleum jelly), when used according to its protocol. Beeswax is used in lip balm, lip gloss, hand creams and moisturizers; and in cosmetics such as eye shadow, blush and eye liner. Beeswax is an important ingredient in moustache wax, as well as in hair pomades, which make hair look sleek and shiny.
Candle-making has long involved the use of beeswax which is highly flammable, and this was the material traditionally prescribed (in large part), for the making of the Paschal Candle or "Easter Candle". It is further recommended for the making of other candles used in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church.
From a relatively small production of about 10,000 tons a year, a number of different niches are catered to.
Beeswax is an ingredient in surgical bone wax, which is used during surgery to control bleeding from bone surfaces.
Modeling waxes can also use beeswax as a component.
Beeswax blended with pine rosin, can serve as an adhesive to attach reed plates to the structure inside a squeezebox. It can also be used to make Cutler's resin, an adhesive used to glue handles onto cutlery knives.
- Used in Eastern Europe in egg decoration. It is used for writing, via resist dyeing, on batik eggs (as in pysanky) and for making beaded eggs.
- Formerly used in the manufacturing of the cylinders used by the earliest phonographs.
- Used by percussionists to make a surface on tambourines for thumb rolls.
- Beeswax can also be used as a metal injection moulding binder component along with other polymeric binder materials.
Beeswax was the among the first plastics to be used, alongside other natural polymers such as gutta-percha, horn, tortoiseshell and shellac. For thousands of years beeswax has had a wide variety of applications, it has been found in the tombs of Egypt, in wrecked Viking ships and in Roman ruins. Beeswax never goes bad and can be heated and reused.
- As a modelling material in the lost-wax casting process, or cire perdue.
- For wax tablets used for a variety of writing purposes.
- In Encaustic paintings such as the Fayum mummy portraits.
- Used in bow making (see English longbow).
- Used to strengthen and preserve sewing thread.
- As a component of sealing wax
- To form the mouthpieces of a didgeridoo, and the frets on the Philippine kutiyapi - a type of boat lute.
- As a sealant or lubricant for bullets in cap and ball and firearms
- To stabilize the military explosive Torpex - before being replaced by a petroleum-based product.
- In producing Javanese batik.
- Used to coat hemp strands in the making of Hemp Wick; an alternative use to Lighters.
- An ancient form of dental tooth filling.
In the phrase "mind your own bee's wax," meaning "mind your own business", where it is probably a corruption of the word business.
- Apis mellifera
- Encaustic painting
- Paraffin wax
- Carnauba wax
- Bone wax
- Brood comb
- Beeswax absorption and toxicity. Large amounts of such waxes in the diet pose several theoretical toxicological problems for mammals.
- Brown, R, H. (1981) Beeswax (2nd edition) Bee Books New and Old, Burrowbridge, Somerset UK. ISBN 0-905652-15-0
- Umney, Nick; Shayne Rivers (2003). Conservation of Furniture. Butterworth-Heinemann. p. 164.
- "[[MSDS]] for beeswax". Wikilink embedded in URL title (help). No reported autoignition temperature has been reported
- A Dictionary of Applied Chemistry, Vol. 5. Sir Edward Thorpe. Revised and enlarged edition. Longmans, Green, and Co., London, 1916. "Waxes, Animal and vegetable. Beeswax"
- Peter J. Frosch, Detlef Peiler, Veit Grunert, Beate Grunenberg (July 2003). "Wirksamkeit von Hautschutzprodukten im Vergleich zu Hautpflegeprodukten bei Zahntechnikern - eine kontrollierte Feldstudie. Efficacy of barrier creams in comparison to skin care products in dental laboratory technicians - a controlled trial.". Journal der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft (in German) (Blackwell Synergy) 1 (7): 547–557. doi:10.1046/j.1439-0353.2003.03701.x. PMID 16295040. Retrieved 1/12/2008. "CONCLUSIONS: The results demonstrate that the use of after work moisturizers is highly beneficial and under the chosen study conditions even superior to barrier creams applied at work. This approach is more practical for many professions and may effectively reduce the frequency of irritant contact dermatitis."
- 'Altar Candles", 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia
- Uwe Wolfmeier, Hans Schmidt, Franz-Leo Heinrichs, Georg Michalczyk, Wolfgang Payer, Wolfram Dietsche, Klaus Boehlke, Gerd Hohner, Josef Wildgruber "Waxes" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2002. doi:10.1002/14356007.a28_103.
- 'Metal Injection Molding Process (MIM)", 2012 EngPedia
- LOK Congdon (1985) Water-Casting Concave-Convex Wax Models for Cire Perdue Bronze Mirrors. American Journal of Archaeology, 89, 511-515
- Egyptology online
- Ormeling, F. J. 1956. The Timor problem: a geographical interpretation of an underdeveloped island. Groningen and The Hague: J. B. Wolters and Martinus Nijhoff.
|Look up beeswax in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- The chemistry of bees Joel Loveridge, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol [accessed November 2005]