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Small amounts of beeswax have food and flavoring applications, and are edible in the sense of having similar toxicity to undigestable plant waxes. However, the wax monoesters in beeswax are poorly hydrolysed in the guts of humans and mammals, so are of not considered a significant food value. Some birds, such as honeyguides, can digest beeswax.
The wax is formed by sexless worker bees, which secrete it from eight wax-producing mirror glands on the inner sides of the sternites (the ventral shield or plate of each segment of the body) on abdominal segments 4 to 7. The sizes of these wax glands depend on the age of the worker, and after daily flights, these glands begin to gradually atrophy. The new wax scales are initially glass-clear and colourless, becoming opaque after mastication by the worker bee. The wax of honeycomb is nearly white, but becomes progressively more yellow or brown by incorporation of pollen oils and propolis. The wax scales are about 3 mm (0.12 in) across and 0.1 mm (0.0039 in) thick, and about 1,100 are required to make a gram of wax.
Honey bees use the beeswax to build honeycomb cells in which their young are raised with honey and pollen cells being capped for storage. For the wax-making bees to secrete wax, the ambient temperature in the hive must be 33 to 36 °C (91 to 97 °F).
The amount of honey sacrificed to wax production is presently disputed. Current thinking suggests a correlation between the amount of honey used to produce its equivalent weight in wax and the amount of wax used to store its equivalent weight in honey. It is believed that by multiplying these figures together, that it should be possible to provide a figure for the amount of honey sacrificed to build storage comb and visa versa.
According to Whitcomb's 1946 experiment, 6.66 to 8.80 pounds of honey yields 1 pound of wax. Les Crowder's study of five Langstroth hives, which re-use comb after honey extraction, and five top bar hives, which extract honey by crushing the comb, concluded 75%-80% as much honey production and 600% as much beeswax production in the top bar hives, which suggest 24-30 pounds of wax per 1 pound of honey. These studies only measured honey production versus comb production; they did not account fully for bees' feeding in a closed environment.
Various sources specify anywhere from 20 to 400 pounds of honey stored per pound of wax. The book, Beeswax Production, Harvesting, Processing and Products, suggests 1 pound beeswax to store 22 pounds honey.
When beekeepers extract the honey, they cut off the wax caps from each honeycomb cell with an uncapping knife or machine. Its color varies from nearly white to brownish, but most often a shade of yellow, depending on purity and the type of flowers gathered by the bees. Wax from the brood comb of the honey bee hive tends to be darker than wax from the honeycomb. Impurities accumulate more quickly in the brood comb. Due to the impurities, the wax must be rendered before further use. The leftovers are called slumgum.
The wax may further be clarified by heating in water. As with petroleum waxes, it may be softened by dilution with vegetable oil to make it more workable at room temperature.
|Wax content type||Percentage|
|Free fatty acids||12%|
|Free fatty alcohols||1%|
An approximate chemical formula for beeswax is C15H31COOC30H61. Its main components are palmitate, palmitoleate, and oleate esters of long-chain (30–32 carbons) aliphatic alcohols, with the ratio of triacontanyl palmitate CH3(CH2)29O-CO-(CH2)14CH3 to cerotic acid CH3(CH2)24COOH, the two principal components, being 6:1. Beeswax can be classified generally into European and Oriental types. The saponification value is lower (3–5) for European beeswax, and higher (8–9) for Oriental types.
Beeswax has a relatively low melting point range of 62 to 64 °C (144 to 147 °F). If beeswax is heated above 85 °C (185 °F) discoloration occurs. The flash point of beeswax is 204.4 °C (400 °F). Density at 15 °C is 958 to 970 kg/m³.
Natural beeswax: "When cold it is brittle; at ordinary temperatures it is tenacious; its fracture is dry and granular. The sp. gr. at 15°[C] is from 0.958 to 0.975, that of melted wax at 98° – 99° compared with water at 15.5° is 0.822. It softens when held in the hand, and melts at 62° – 66°; it solidifies at 60.5° – 63°[C]."
Beeswax has many and varied uses. Primarily, it is used by the bees in making their honeycomb foundations. Apart from this use by bees, the use of beeswax has become widespread and varied. Purified and bleached beeswax is used in the production of food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. The three main types of beeswax products are yellow, white, and beeswax absolute. Yellow beeswax is the crude product obtained from the honeycomb, white beeswax is bleached yellow beeswax, and beeswax absolute is yellow beeswax treated with alcohol. In food preparation, it is used as a coating for cheese; by sealing out the air, protection is given against spoilage (mold growth). Beeswax may also be used as a food additive E901, in small quantities acting as a (glazing agent), which serves to prevent water loss, or used to provide surface protection for some fruits. Soft gelatin capsules and tablet coatings may also use E901. Beeswax is also a common ingredient of natural chewing gum.
Use of beeswax in skin care and cosmetics has been increasing. A German study found beeswax to be superior to similar barrier creams (usually mineral oil-based creams such as petroleum jelly), when used according to its protocol. Beeswax is used in lip balm, lip gloss, hand creams, and moisturizers; and in cosmetics such as eye shadow, blush, and eye liner. Beeswax is an important ingredient in moustache wax and hair pomades, which make hair look sleek and shiny.
Candle-making has long involved the use of beeswax, which is highly flammable, and this material traditionally was prescribed (in large part), for the making of the Paschal candle or "Easter candle". It is further recommended for the making of other candles used in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. Beeswax is also the candle constituent of choice in the Orthodox Church.
From a relatively small production of about 10,000 tons a year, a number of different niches are served: beeswax is an ingredient in surgical bone wax, which is used during surgery to control bleeding from bone surfaces; shoe polish and furniture polish can both use beeswax as a component, dissolved in turpentine or sometimes blended with linseed oil or tung oil; modeling waxes can also use beeswax as a component; pure beeswax can also be used as an organic surfboard wax. Beeswax blended with pine rosin, can serve as an adhesive to attach reed plates to the structure inside a squeezebox. It can also be used to make Cutler's resin, an adhesive used to glue handles onto cutlery knives. It is used in Eastern Europe in egg decoration; it is used for writing, via resist dyeing, on batik eggs (as in pysanky) and for making beaded eggs. Beeswax is used by percussionists to make a surface on tambourines for thumb rolls. It can also be used as a metal injection moulding binder component along with other polymeric binder materials. Beeswax was formerly used in the manufacture of phonograph cylinders. It may still be used to seal formal legal or Royal decree and in relation to academic parchments such as placing an awarding stamp imprimatur of the university : on the completion of the award of Masters or a PhD.
Beeswax was the among the first plastics to be used, alongside other natural polymers such as gutta-percha, horn, tortoiseshell, and shellac. For thousands of years, beeswax has had a wide variety of applications; it has been found in the tombs of Egypt, in wrecked Viking ships, and in Roman ruins. Beeswax never goes bad and can be heated and reused. Historically, it has been used:
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