Science has validated Indigenous wisdom by identifying a rare, healthy sugar in native stingless bee honey that is not found in any other food. University of Queensland organic chemist Mary Fletcher said Indigenous peoples had long known that native stingless bee honey had special health properties. “We tested honey from two Australian native stingless bee species, two in Malaysia and one in Brazil and found that up to 85 per cent of their sugar is trehalulose, not maltose as previously thought,” she said. Dr Fletcher said trehalulose was a rare sugar with a low glycaemic index (GI), and not found as a major component in any other foods.
“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,” Dr Fletcher said. “Interestingly trehalulose is also acariogenic, which means it doesn’t cause tooth decay.”
Dr Fletcher said the findings would strengthen the stingless bee honey market and create new opportunities. “Stingless bee honey sells now for around $200 per kilogram,” she said. “The high commercial value also makes it a risk for substitution, where people could sell other honey as stingless bee honey, or dilute the product. “But due to this research, we can test for this novel sugar, which will help industry to set a food standard for stingless bee honey.
“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.”
The work of Dr Fletcher and the research team has led to a new project funded by AgriFutures Australia and supported by the Australian Native Bee Association. Working with Dr Natasha Hungerford from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation and Dr Tobias Smith from the School of Biological Sciences the new project will investigate storage and collection, to optimise the trehalulose content of Australian stingless bee honey.
The research by Dr Fletcher and her collaborator Dr Norhasnida Zawawi from the Universiti Putra Malaysia, and colleagues from UQ is published in Scientific Reports and is freely available online at www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-68940-0
The ANBA backed this proposal by pledging financial support and the honey samples for analysis. Our backing, as the industry representative body, was important in winning this grant, as it demonstrates that the industry considers this research to be important and a good investment. Our $5,000 cash financial support backs the $50,000 from Agrifutures Australia. Regarding honey samples, we will be putting out a call in the next few months for members to supply samples.