Unraveling the Buzz: Natural and Farmed Beeswax Compared
We talk about "beeswax", and see it listed it as a product ingredient, as if it is a standard, homogenous, always-the-same product.
Beeswax, with its numerous uses in various industries, has garnered significant attention in recent years. However, not all beeswax is created equal. Two prominent sources of beeswax are natural, wild beeswax and farmed beeswax. And they're vastly different in several ways.
Quality and Nutritional Value
Arguably the biggest factor that distinguishes natural and farmed beeswax is the diet of the bees. Wild bees have access to diverse pollen sources, which results in a more varied and complex nutrient composition in their beeswax and honey. On the other hand, farmed bees are often provided with sugar water as a supplementary food source. You can actually SEE the difference in colour, and smell it.
Research suggests that the nutrient profile of beeswax and honey derived from wild bees is generally richer and more diverse in healing proteins and enzymes. Wild beeswax tends to contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, reflecting the broad array of plant sources the bees have foraged from. In contrast, farmed beeswax may exhibit a less healing composition, albeit it often with a more consistent colour, due to the limited dietary options provided.
Agro-Pesticides and Residue
The use of agro-pesticides in modern agriculture raises concerns about the potential presence of harmful residues in farmed beeswax. Bees, as pollinators, may come into contact with pesticide-laden plants during foraging in commercial farming areas. While farmed beeswax is more susceptible to pesticide exposure due to its proximity to agricultural areas, the extent of residue buildup depends on multiple factors and is not researched with much vigour.
According to studies, the presence of pesticide residue in beeswax is influenced by the surrounding environment, crop types, and pesticide application methods. Common sense tells us the weather is also a big factor - regular rain to remove surface pesticides will reduce the bees' chemical exposure. It is important to note that conscious beekeepers often implement measures to minimize exposure to pesticides, such as careful hive placement and responsible pesticide application practices. But that is not a given.
Fat Soluble Pesticides
Bees collect pollen. Although pollen itself is not a significant source of fats, bees may collect nectar from flowers, which can contain small amounts of lipids or oils produced by the plant, and it is through this that farm pesticides can transfer into farmed beeswax.
There are several common farm pesticides that are known to be fat-soluble.
- Organochlorine Pesticides: Some organochlorine pesticides, such as DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and chlordane, are fat-soluble. These pesticides were widely used in the past but have been banned or heavily restricted due to their persistence in the environment and potential health risks. They are still to be found in some parts of the developing world.
- Organophosphate Pesticides: While not all organophosphate pesticides are fat-soluble, some members of this pesticide class exhibit fat solubility to some extent. Examples include chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion.
- Pyrethroid Pesticides: Pyrethroid pesticides, which are commonly used in agricultural and residential applications, can have varying degrees of fat solubility. Examples of pyrethroids include cypermethrin, deltamethrin, and permethrin.
- Neonicotinoid Pesticides: Neonicotinoids, a widely used class of systemic insecticides, have different solubility properties depending on the specific compound. Some neonicotinoids, such as imidacloprid, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam, have moderate fat solubility.
The fat solubility of pesticides impacts their behavior in the environment, potential for bioaccumulation, and the potential risks to organisms, including humans.
In the Thai mountains, it's common to see bees on the move as the dry season starts to bite and the local food sources for the bees diminish. The bees leave behind their old hive hanging on the trees. It is these discarded, natural hives that we gather to clarify and extract the beeswax we use in our products. No bees are harmed or killed - by the time we collect the discarded natural hive, it's empty contains only the shells of the pupae which have matured and journeyed on. It's part of the natural process. Next season, when the rains and the flowers return, the next generation of bees will create a new hive, and the natural cycle will continue.
Which is a very different story to farmed, boxed bees, fed sugar water and carted around from orchard to orchard, to serve our function of mass pollination. The faster they fill the frames, the faster it is taken. A whole lot more like little rats on a production wheel and definitely not how the natural cycle is supposed to work.
Every vegan person who confronts me about the 'cruelty' of beeswax gets this chat from me; and it's because there is so little understood about the differences between natural, wild beeswax and farmed beeswax that I decided to pen this blog post.
In conclusion, natural and farmed beeswax differ in terms of quality, nutritional value, and potential pesticide residue. Not to mention sustainability and the cruelty free factor. Natural, wild beeswax tends to possess a much riche healing and nutrient profile due to the varied pollen sources available to wild bees. Farmed beeswax has a higher risk of pesticide exposure.
Remember, when purchasing beeswax products, it's essential to choose from reputable sources that prioritize the well-being of bees and maintain strict quality standards.
Carreck, N. L., & Ratnieks, F. L. (2010). The role of nutritional quality in the dances of the honeybee, Apis mellifera. Animal Behaviour, 79(3), 675-679.
Alippi, A. M., & Reynaldi, F. J. (2006). Pesticide residues in honeybees, honey and bee pollen by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part B, 41(3), 585-592.
European Food Safety Authority. (2013). Guidance on the risk assessment of plant protection products on bees (Apis mellifera, Bombus spp., and solitary bees). EFSA Journal, 11(7),