Bee pollen

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Honey bee with pollen baskets.
A pollen trap.
Frozen bee pollen, a human food supplement.
Bee bread: the bee pollen stored in the combs.

Bee pollen is a ball or pellet of field-gathered flower pollen packed by worker honeybees, and used as the primary food source for the hive. It consists of simple sugars, protein, minerals and vitamins, fatty acids, and a small percentage of other components. Also called bee bread,[1] or ambrosia, it is stored in brood cells, mixed with saliva, and sealed with a drop of honey.[2] Bee pollen is harvested as food for humans, with various health claims, one of them being that the fermentation process makes it much more potent than simple flower pollen.[3]


Pollen balls are stored in the chambers of honeybee hives, and sometimes in wood and mud created by female ground-nesting bees, such as the leafcutting bee.[4] With the leafcutting bee, when the pollen ball is complete, a single female lays an egg on top of the pollen ball, and seals the brood cell.[5] It differs from field gathered pollen as honey bee secretions induce a fermentation process, where biochemical transformations break down the walls of flower pollen grains and render the nutrients more readily available.[3]

Forager bees that gather pollen do not eat it themselves, since they stop producing the proteolytic enzymes necessary to digest it when they transition to foraging. The foragers unload the pollen they gather directly into open cells located at the interface between the brood and stored honey, creating a typical band of what is called bee bread – the substance which is the main food source for honey bee larvae and workers.

Foraging bees bring pollen back to the hive, where they pass it off to other worker bees, who pack the pollen into cells with their heads. During collection and possibly packing, the pollen is mixed with nectar and bee salivary secretions.[6] Bee pollen is the primary source of protein for the hive.[7] This method of packing can be seen in the bee species Xylocopa sulcatipes[8] and Xylocopa varipuncta.


Like honey and propolis, other well-known honey bee products that are gathered rather than secreted (i.e., in contrast to royal jelly and beeswax), the exact chemical composition depends on the plants the worker bees gather the pollen from, and can vary from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, colony to colony, even in the same apiary, with no two samples of bee pollen exactly identical. Accordingly, chemical and nutritional analyses of bee pollen apply only to the specific samples being tested, and cannot be extrapolated to samples gathered in other places or other times. Although there is no specific chemical composition, the average composition is said to be 40–60% simple sugars (fructose and glucose), 20–60% proteins, 3% minerals and vitamins, 1–32% fatty acids, and 5% diverse other components.[9] A study of bee pollen samples showed that they may contain 188 kinds of fungi and 29 kinds of bacteria.[10] Despite this microbial diversity, stored pollen (also called bee bread) is a preservation environment similar to honey, and contains consistently low microbial biomass.[11]

Use as a health supplement[edit]

Bee pollen has been touted by herbalists as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions,[12] but there is no good evidence that bee pollen has any health benefits other than as a source of nutrition.[13][14] Potential risks of consuming bee pollen include contamination by fungal mycotoxins, pesticides or toxic metals.[14] Bee pollen is safe for short term use, but for those with pollen allergies, allergic reactions may occur (shortness of breath, hives, swelling, and anaphylaxis).[13] Bee pollen is not safe for pregnant women and should not be used during breastfeeding.[13] The Food and Drug Administration has warned against the use of some bee pollen products because they are adulterated with unapproved drugs including sibutramine and phenolphthalein.[15][16]


Vertical dissection of cells from a comb, showing the packing of different types of pollen over time
  1. ^ Oxford Canadian Dictionary
  2. ^ Gilliam, Martha (1979). "Microbiology of pollen and bee bread: the yeasts". Apidologie. 10: 45–53. 
  3. ^ a b Mutsaers, Marieke; van Blitterswijk, Henk; van‘t Leven, Leen; Kerkvliet, Jaap; van de Waerdt, Jan (2005). Bee products properties, processing and marketing (PDF). Wageningen: Agromisa Foundation. pp. 34–35. ISBN 90-8573-028-7. 
  4. ^ "Examination of "pollen Balls" in the Nests of the Alfalfa Leafcutting Bee, Megachile Rotundata". United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. Retrieved 10 September 2011. 
  5. ^ Thorp, Robbin W. (5 March 2013). "Vernal pool flowers and their specialist bee pollinators". California Vernal Pools. 
  6. ^ Bogdanov, Stefan (2017) [2011]. "Chapter 2:Pollen: Nutrition, Functional Properties, Health". The Pollen Book. 2. Bee Product Science. pp. 1–31. 
  7. ^ Sammataro, Diana; Avitabile, Alphonse (1998). The Beekeeper's Handbook. Cornell University Press. p. 60. ISBN 0-8014-8503-7. 
  8. ^ Gerling, Dan; Hurd, Paul David; Hefetz, Abraham (1983). Comparative behavioral biology of two Middle East species of carpenter bees (Xylocopa Latreille)(Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology. Smithsonian Institution Press.
  9. ^ Staff writer (September 2011). "What Is Bee Bread?". Archived from the original on 11 July 2016. 
  10. ^ Black, Jacquelyn G. (2004). Microbiology. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0-471-42084-0. 
  11. ^ Anderson, Kirk E.; Carroll, Mark J.; Sheehan, Tim; Lanan, Michele C.; Mott, Brendon M.; Maes, Patrick; Corby-Harris, Vanessa (5 November 2014). "Hive-stored pollen of honey bees: many lines of evidence are consistent with pollen preservation, not nutrient conversion". Molecular Ecology. 23 (23): 5904–5917. doi:10.1111/mec.12966. PMC 4285803Freely accessible. PMID 25319366. 
  12. ^ Yang, Kai; Wu, Dan; Ye, Xingqian; Liu, Donghong; Chen, Jianchu; Sun, Peilong (2013-01-23). "Characterization of Chemical Composition of Bee Pollen in China". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 61 (3): 708–718. doi:10.1021/jf304056b. ISSN 0021-8561. 
  13. ^ a b c "Bee Pollen Benefits and Side Effects". WebMD. Retrieved April 16, 2014. after years of research, scientists still cannot confirm that bee pollen has any health benefits", "medical research has not shown that bee pollen is effective for any of these health concerns 
  14. ^ a b Denisow, Bożena; Denisow-Pietrzyk, Marta (2016-10-01). "Biological and therapeutic properties of bee pollen: a review". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 96 (13): 4303–4309. doi:10.1002/jsfa.7729. ISSN 1097-0010. PMID 27013064. 
  15. ^ "Public Notification: "Zi Xiu Tang Bee Pollen Capsules" Contains Hidden Drug Ingredient". Food and Drug Administration. October 24, 2012. Retrieved April 16, 2014. 
  16. ^ "FDA warns consumers not to use Zi Xiu Tang Bee Pollen capsules". Food and Drug Administration. April 7, 2014. Retrieved April 16, 2014. 

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