Brooklyn Bees Now Producing Honey With Red Dye No. 40

Honey bees are the epitome of DIY all-natual wholesome food goodness. But don’t try to tell that to beekeepers in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn whose bees have been putting out a glowing red secretion, complete with Red Dye No. 40.

The beekeepers began noticing the bright red honey, which apparently has a metallic, overly sweet taste, earlier this summer. It’s believed that the bees are picking it up from a local maraschino cherry factory, where the buzzers are feasting on run-off from the HFCS-filled (and Red Dye No. 4 containing) syrup for the packed cherries.

“Bees will forage from any sweet liquid in their flight path for up to three miles,” a bee expert called in by the cherry factory folks tells the NY Times. He adds that keeping the bees at bay might be as simple as “putting up some screens, or providing a closer source of sweet nectar.”

Well, even if the red honey tastes bad, one beekeeper says it looks pretty rad: “When the sun is a bit down, they glow red in the evenings… They were slightly fluorescent. And it was beautiful.”

For pics of the cherry red honey, go to NYTimes.com.

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  1. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I see a new sweetener hitting the market soon.

  2. tinmanx says:

    They should sell the “natural organic” red honey.

  3. Cameraman says:

    Rule #424523 for surviving Brooklyn: don’t eat anything that glows in the dark and comes out the back of an insect.

  4. Suisei says:

    Wonder what the safety level is from such an ‘unnatural’ source?

  5. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    If bees looked like the one in that photo, I don’t think I’d squeal and run away every time I see one.

  6. DanRydell says:

    Cool starry bra

  7. McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:

    Maraschino cherry honey?
    That frankly sounds pretty good to me.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      The metallic taste turns me off… if it were pure cherry goop instead of run-off goop it probably would be pretty amazing.

      • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

        I find it hard to believe that this run off is just flowing out in the open and not attracting wasps/flies.

  8. Red Cat Linux says:

    I wonder if a bee processing HFCS undoes all the freakiness that is done to corn to produce HFCS?

    • maubs says:

      Um, no. Honey from bees fed HFCS is poison to the corn-allergic.

    • minjche says:

      Not likely.

      Keeping it simple, HFCS is made by mixing corn with an enzyme called amylase. Amylase can be found in your saliva (though that obviously isn’t the HFCS maker’s source), and is capable of breaking down starches into sugars (hence why if you stick a saltine cracker in your mouth, don’t chew it, and let it soak in your spit for about a minute, when you finally do chew the gummy mess, it will taste sweet).

      The result of the reaction is a corn syrup mixture of fructose and glucose (the two sugars that make up sucrose, “table sugar”) which IIRC is about 45% fructose. That concentration is lower than the usual 50/50 mix in sucrose, so the corn syrup mixture is distilled to produce somewhere around 90/10 mix of fructose and glucose. That mix is then diluted with some other batch of the 45/55 original corn syrup to make 55/45 fructose/glucose, or what we know as HFCS.

      Pound for pound it’s sweeter than sucrose, so less is required to achieve the same sweetness (so less $$$ spent). It’s also easier to dissolve HFCS into a mixture than sucrose, which to any good chemical engineer is happy news.

      At its core, though, is a series of chemical reactions like any of the billions that occur in your body every second, but the difference here is that it’s a reaction with an artificial cause (huge tanks of corn and amylase don’t spontaneously appear and mix themselves). It’s up to you to decide if you think this manipulation of corn into sugar is “freakiness” or not.

      What’s interesting, though, is that the artificial manufacture of honey is quite similar to the way HFCS is made. It involves a bug (for honey: a bee, for HFCS: a kind of bacteria) breaking down a raw material (for honey: a part of a plant, for HFCS: a part of a plant) using a set of chemical reactions (for honey and HFCS: a biological reaction brought about by a “bug”).

      My vote is against the use of HFCS, but also against calling its manufacture as “freakiness” while at the same time treating honey making as if it were any more natural.

      TL;DR: Making honey is just as freaky as making HFCS.

      • Red Cat Linux says:

        Heh – I’ll stand by my ‘freaky’ label. There are not one, but three enzymes used to process corn into HFCS, two of which are genetically altered for this purpose. I’m still on the fence about genetically altered food sources, but one beekeeper indicated that some apiaries supplement bees’ diets with HFCS intentionally. I assume without the Red Dye #40, but I mistrust this practice anyway.

        The beekeeper objected to this because HFCS can make bees sick. Do bees use enzymes to process sugars into honey? Of course, but they are built for doing so.

        • minjche says:

          Yes, there are three enzymes used, but as I stated in my original comment, I was “keeping it simple”. Add to this that two of the three enzymes are types of amylase, and it really feels like you’re misrepresenting the facts.

          Then you go on about bees being “built” to make honey. If you turn off the “all natural” blinders for a second, isn’t a genetically modified organism capable of producing a specific enzyme “built” to do so, as well? The difference is in who (or what) built it, of course.

          Couldn’t you also consider that manipulating bees in such a way as they are to make honey differs mainly by physical scale from the manipulation of a bacterium to make an enzyme? One is microscopic, one is macroscopic, but in both cases you have human intervention to pull an organism from nature and modify it in a lucrative way.

          Bees don’t naturally and spontaneously assemble wooden boxes to streamline their honey production any more than a bacterium naturally modifies itself to streamline its enzyme production. There is no moral distinction between the two processes.

          Some even consider any action of man to be “natural” because they consider man as part of nature, and so GMO would be as “natural” as hunting a wild boar with a pointy stick.

          • Red Cat Linux says:

            Since I have no ‘all natural blinders’ but you have presumed that I have based solely on this (very limited) exchange, it rather indicates bias on your part. Scale of anything is indeed a valid difference.

            You can’t lump everything together under a common label and call it the same. That’s disingenuous, at best. Comparing a beehive to genetic mods… no, really?

            Have I read that correctly…that you presumed a moral objection on my part based on… well… nothing? Nature is without morals, as are the mechanics of science. Morals are only necessary to protect mankind from it’s own hubris. Like implying that genetically modifying bacteria requires no greater contemplation for long term ramifications than building a wooden box for honeybees. ;)

            If you ever do decide to go after wild boars with a pointy stick, by all means take pictures. Accepting one benefit of science, such as refrigerated supermarkets where I’ll be getting my pork, does not sign me up carte blanche to believe that all of it is a good idea, well thought out, or wise.

  9. Slave For Turtles says:

    If it weren’t for the cherry factory, I’d wonder if the bees are getting syrup from hummingbird feeders. The syrup in those is colored with red 40.

    • HungryGal says:

      WHY would hummingbird food be dyed red? Do the hummingbirds care what color it is? Is this simply to make it easier to tell from the comfort of your kitchen window if your feeder needs to be refilled?

      I’m extremely skeptical of added dyes in general. WHY does toothpaste have to be dyed green? Laundry detergent blue? Etc. I always buy the dye and perfume free stuff.

      • MikeM_inMD says:

        Humming birds are attracted to red sources of nectar. But it is much more effective to have red parts at the mouth of the feeder rather than dying the sugar water. People still do it, though.

  10. Arcaeris says:

    Well of course bees like HFCS, it’s the same sugar composition and proportion as honey. The article makes it sound like a mystery, but that’s well-known and common sense.

    Sucks about the Red #40 though.

    • OnePumpChump says:
      • minjche says:

        +1 for citing sources and stomping on pulled-out-of-butt facts :-)

        • Zowzers says:

          heheh, honey industry using old names for sugars to disguise what they are…
          “Honey is essentially a highly concentrated water solution of two sugars, dextrose and levulose, with small amounts of at least 22 other more complex sugars.”

          Dextrose, AKA D-Glucose, the most common form of Glucose (the same as the one found in HFCS)

          levulose, AKA D-Fructose, the most common form of Fructose & also the same one found in HFCS.

          Seems like the Honey industry doesn’t want you to make the connection between the sugar content of Honey and the sugar content of HFCS.

      • Arcaeris says:

        Thanks for the link.

        It was an article on here, where they mentioned about people “cutting” honey with HFCS, where someone posted a link (or maybe just a comment) about how they can pull it off because they’re the same composition.

        Guess I was misinformed.

    • ludwigk says:

      You are half correct. A certain HFCS has approximately the same ratio of glucose/fructose as Honey, but honey is composed of something like 80% glucose/fructose, and 19% other sugars and 1% wacky flower stuff.

      So, you can cut honey with the right HFCS with very little change in flavor, and it’s hard to detect.

  11. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    Wow.

  12. BoroughBees says:

    I was the ‘fellow beekeeper’ from the NYT article who sent the samples in for testing. The state apiculturalist joked that we should use it to sweeten our Manhattans.

    If y’all are interested, I’ve posted the first part of my experience with the red “honey” on my blog at http://www.boroughbees.com

    I’ll be posting the second half and a bunch more pictures later.

  13. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    I wonder if the taste is a psychosomatic thing. Also, is there a chance someone has a large amount of hummingbird feeders out? IIRC, they usually use a red dyed sugar liquid.

    Here is my problem. If they are putting out a run off that is sweet, bees are the least of their problems. They would have a HUGE fly/wasp problem, a fly/wasp problem that would have attracted attention years ago. Also, why is the bees honey JUST turning red this year. Did millions of bees never notice this sweetness before, even by mistake, and upon one getting lost in May, sent out an email to all these other hives that made them make a beeline to the plant?

    • CrankyOwl says:

      Bees don’t use email. They use beemail.

    • thebees says:

      Beekeeping just became legal in NYC this year so it may be that the hive didn’t exist before. Red hook is a gross wasteland so if there was a fly/wasp/rat problem no one cares. And I’m sure that there are very few hummingbird feeders in the neighborhood.

  14. Snowblind says:

    I for one welcome our red honey producing overlords!

  15. Hungry Dog says:

    Any food that glows radioactive like is OK in my book.

  16. Draw2much says:

    I dunno why, but this is possibly one of the best articles I’ve read on Consumerist.

  17. skitzogreg says:

    If anyone’s interested, there might be a Donkey Kong kill screen coming up.

    • skitzogreg says:

      I’m an idiot. I pasted this in the wrong comment box when I reloaded my browser. This was supposed to be a Kotaku comment. Carry on.

  18. yessongs says:

    Hey their from Brooklyn waddu expect? Long Island Bees will be making green honey next, but I heard don’t go near the Staten Island honey, tastes too much like Jersey

  19. quoterageous says:

    My friend and I were talking about all the problems that could happen with the Red Hook honey bees a few weeks ago. This is not one of the problems we imagined, but it is a pretty funny on. I can’t wait to see what the next issue will be for the Red Hook Bee Association, maybe cardboard box hives.

    I knew this was a bad idea a long time ago, but I wish them well.

  20. haggis for the soul says:

    Wow. HFCS really IS in everything.

  21. psm321 says:

    I completely misjudged the contents of this article based on the headline :) (thought it was a sarcastic headline about a company putting dye in their honey themselves)

    • psm321 says:

      I should say, based on the headline and he first “before the jump” paragraph, which could be interpretted as sarcastic

  22. xnihilx says:

    So, the cherry company is dumping HFCS with Red 40 in it into the environment?

  23. lucky13 says:

    So, these flourescent red bees from hell make bad-tasting honey…what we really want to know is the HFCS making the bees fat?