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Honey of Stingless Bees

Chemists Find Biologically Active Sugar in Honey of Stingless Bees

An unusual bioactive disaccharide called trehalulose is a major component of stingless bee honeys from Malaysia, Australia and Brazil, according to a new study led by researchers from the University of Queensland and the Universiti Putra Malaysia.

Tetragonula carbonaria. Image credit: Tim Heard.

Tetragonula carbonaria. Image credit: Tim Heard.

Stingless bees (tribe Meliponini) are a large group of bees (about 500 species) found in most tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Like the more well-recognized honeybees (Apis mellifera), these bees live in permanent colonies made up of a single queen and workers, who collect pollen and nectar to feed larvae within the colony and likewise store honey in the hive for this purpose.

Honey produced by stingless bees is known by various names such as Meliponine honey, pot-honey, sugarbag honey (in Australia), and Kelulut honey (in Malaysia).

Under these and other names, stingless bee honey has a long history of traditional indigenous use with a range of purported therapeutic properties, including antidiabetic and antioxidant activity.

“Keeping native stingless bees is gaining in popularity in Australia, for their role as pollinators as well as for their unique honey,” said Dr. Mary Fletcher, an organic chemist at the University of Queensland.

“As well as having health benefits, stingless bee honey is valued for its flavor and is in high demand from chefs.”

Dr. Fletcher and colleagues tested honey from Tetragonula carbonaria and Tetragonula hockingsi stingless bees in Australia, from Geniotrigona thoracica and Heterotrigona itama in Malaysia and from Tetragonisca angustula in Brazil.

The researchers found that up to 85% of their sugar is trehalulose, not maltose as previously thought.

“Trehalulose is a rare sugar with a low glycaemic index (GI), and not found as a major component in any other foods,” Dr. Fletcher said.

“Traditionally it has been thought that stingless bee honey was good for diabetes and now we know why — having a lower GI means it takes longer for the sugar to be absorbed into the blood stream, so there is not a spike in glucose that you get from other sugars.”

“Interestingly trehalulose is also acariogenic, which means it doesn’t cause tooth decay.”

The findings would strengthen the stingless bee honey market and create new opportunities.

“People have patented ways of making trehalulose synthetically with enzymes and bacteria, but our research shows stingless bee honey can be used as a wholefood on its own or in other food to get the same health benefits,” Dr. Fletcher said.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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M.T. Fletcher et al. 2020. Stingless bee honey, a novel source of trehalulose: a biologically active disaccharide with health benefits. Sci Rep 10, 12128; doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-68940-0

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