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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator
There is a general rule that anything excreted by a non-kosher animal is, itself, non-kosher. For example, horses are not kosher; therefore, horse’s milk is also not kosher. Honey is an exception to that rule, in that it is produced by (non-kosher) bees but yet it is kosher. In order to understand why that is true, we must first understand a bit about how honey is formed.
Sucrose is a disaccharide containing one glucose and one fructose molecule, and in nature one example is the nectar produced by flowers. Bees collect and swallow nectar and bring it to the beehive, where they spit it out together with some of their saliva, which contains the invertase and glucose oxidase enzymes. This mixture is deposited into the honeycomb where other bees fan it with their wings to help evaporate the water from the mixture. While in the honeycomb, the enzymes split the sucrose into its individual components (glucose and fructose) and convert the glucose into gluconic acid. The combination of low water-level and the presence of gluconic acid make the honey not hospitable for microorganisms, and this serves to preserve the honey.
Armed with this information, we can understand the two answers which the Gemara (Bechoros 7b) gives to explain why honey is kosher. One approach is that honey is not considered an excretion of the bee; rather, the bee temporarily swallows kosher nectar and then spits it out into the beehive where it changes form. Although the nectar temporarily passes through the bee’s body and even contains some of the bee’s saliva, that is considered unimportant. Essentially, the bee is viewed as just transporting kosher nectar to its hive, so the honey remains kosher.
The second approach understands that honey is an excretion of the bee. [Presumably this is because the honey’s final form is directly influenced by its time in the bee’s body, where it became mixed with saliva.] Nonetheless, honey is permitted, because the Torah contains verses which specifically note that honey is kosher. Thus, the Torah which dictates that the excretions of a non-kosher animal (or insect) are generally not kosher also says that this is an exception to that rule, and we may eat it.
This explains the general permissibility of honey. See https://consumer.crckosher.org/publications/milk-and-honey/ for details on the kosher requirements for retail honey.