Bee pollen

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Honeybee with pollen baskets
A pollen trap
Fresh bee pollen
Frozen bee pollen, a human food supplement
Bee bread: the bee pollen stored in the combs

Bee pollen, also known as bee bread and ambrosia,[1] 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. Bee pollen is stored in brood cells, mixed with saliva, and sealed with a drop of honey.[2] Bee pollen is harvested as food for humans and marketed as having various, but yet unproven, health benefits.[3]


Vertical dissection of cells from a comb, showing the packing of different types of pollen over time

In honeybees (Apis species) pollen is stored in the chambers of the hives. It differs from field-gathered pollen as honeybee secretions induce a fermentation process, where biochemical transformations break down the walls of flower pollen grains and render the nutrients more readily available.[4]

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 honeybee 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, signalling the start of the lactic fermentation process.[5] Bee pollen is the primary source of protein for the hive.[6]

Bees other than Apis typically form pollen into balls; these are primarily ground-nesting bees or twig-nesting bees, most of which are solitary, such as leafcutter bees.[7] With the leafcutter bee, as in most such bees, when the pollen ball is complete, the female lays an egg on top of the pollen ball, and seals the brood cell. The egg hatches and the larva consumes the pollen directly; the pollen is not stored separately from the brood.[8] This method of pollen usage can also be seen in the wood-nesting bee species Xylocopa sulcatipes[9] and Xylocopa sonorina.


Like honey and propolis, other well-known honeybee products that are gathered rather than secreted (i.e., in contrast to royal jelly and beeswax), the exact chemical composition depends on the plants from which the worker bees gather the pollen, 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 being 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.[10][11] Bee bread is a niche for yeasts and bacteria, including lactic acid bacteria, Bifidobacterium, Bacillus spp., and others.[12][13][14] A study of bee pollen samples showed that they may contain 188 kinds of fungi and 29 kinds of bacteria.[15] Despite this microbial diversity, stored pollen is a preservation environment similar to honey, and contains consistently low microbial biomass.[16]

Use as a health supplement[edit]

Bee pollen has been touted by herbalists as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions. Bee bread is rich in micronutrients, minerals, and phenolic compounds.[17]

Potential risks of consuming bee pollen include contamination by fungal mycotoxins, pesticides, or toxic metals.[3] 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).[18] Bee pollen is not safe for pregnant women and should not be used during breastfeeding.[18] 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.[19][20]

Alternative diets for honeybees[edit]

There are several artificial pollen diets available for honeybees that incorporate a variety of ingredients like soy, corn gluten, yeast, egg, or milk protein, but they often fail to provide the essential macronutrients (such as lipids and proteins), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and antioxidants needed by honeybees to thrive.[21]


  1. ^ Oxford Canadian Dictionary
  2. ^ Gilliam, Martha (1979). "Microbiology of pollen and bee bread: the yeasts". Apidologie. 10: 45–53. doi:10.1051/apido:19790106.
  3. ^ 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. Bibcode:2016JSFA...96.4303D. doi:10.1002/jsfa.7729. ISSN 1097-0010. PMID 27013064.
  4. ^ 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 978-90-8573-028-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-04-04. Retrieved 2018-04-03.
  5. ^ Bogdanov, Stefan (2017) [2011]. "Chapter 2:Pollen: Nutrition, Functional Properties, Health". The Pollen Book. Vol. 2. Bee Product Science. pp. 1–31. Archived from the original on 2019-07-19. Retrieved 2022-04-04.
  6. ^ Sammataro, Diana; Avitabile, Alphonse (1998). The Beekeeper's Handbook. Cornell University Press. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-8014-8503-9. Archived from the original on 2020-06-25. Retrieved 2018-04-03.
  7. ^ "Examination of "pollen Balls" in the nests of the Alfalfa Leafcutting Bee, Megachile rotundata". United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. Archived from the original on 9 February 2012. Retrieved 10 September 2011.
  8. ^ Thorp, Robbin W. (5 March 2013). "Vernal pool flowers and their specialist bee pollinators". California Vernal Pools. Archived from the original on 7 October 2018. Retrieved 5 October 2012.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Mohammad, Salma Malihah; Mahmud-Ab-Rashid, Nor-Khaizura; Zawawi, Norhasnida (2020). "Botanical Origin and Nutritional Values of Bee Bread of Stingless Bee (Heterotrigona itama) from Malaysia". Journal of Food Quality. 2020: 1–12. doi:10.1155/2020/2845757.
  11. ^ Staff writer (September 2011). "What Is Bee Bread?". Archived from the original on 2016-07-11. Retrieved 2011-10-07.
  12. ^ Mohammad, Salma Malihah; Mahmud-Ab-Rashid, Nor-Khaizura; Zawawi, Norhasnida (2020-08-25). "Probiotic properties of bacteria isolated from bee bread of stingless bee Heterotrigona itama" (PDF). Journal of Apicultural Research. 60: 172–187. doi:10.1080/00218839.2020.1801152. ISSN 0021-8839. S2CID 225208290.
  13. ^ Gilliam, Martha (1979). "Microbiology of Pollen and Bee Bread: The Genus Bacillus". Apidologie. 10 (3): 269–274. doi:10.1051/apido:19790304. ISSN 0044-8435.
  14. ^ Gilliam, Martha (1979). "Microbiology of Pollen and Bee Bread: The Yeasts". Apidologie. 10 (1): 43–53. doi:10.1051/apido:19790106. ISSN 0044-8435.
  15. ^ Black, Jacquelyn G. (2004). Microbiology. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-0-471-42084-2.
  16. ^ 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. Bibcode:2014MolEc..23.5904A. doi:10.1111/mec.12966. PMC 4285803. PMID 25319366.
  17. ^ Mohammad, Salma Malihah; Mahmud-Ab-Rashid, Nor-Khaizura; Zawawi, Norhasnida (2021-10-12). "Stingless Bee-Collected Pollen (Bee Bread): Chemical and Microbiology Properties and Health Benefits". Molecules. 26 (4): 957. doi:10.3390/molecules26040957. PMC 7917892. PMID 33670262.
  18. ^ a b "Bee Pollen Benefits and Side Effects". WebMD. Archived from the original on April 16, 2014. 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
  19. ^ "Public Notification: "Zi Xiu Tang Bee Pollen Capsules" Contains Hidden Drug Ingredient". Food and Drug Administration. October 24, 2012. Archived from the original on April 16, 2014. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  20. ^ "FDA warns consumers not to use Zi Xiu Tang Bee Pollen capsules". Food and Drug Administration. April 7, 2014. Archived from the original on January 28, 2017. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  21. ^ Jiang, Georgia (2021), Microalgae is the Bee's Knees, USDA Agricultural Research Service, retrieved 16 August 2021

External links[edit]