Under the microscope
Comments 24

Checking out honey pollen under the microscope

The yellow ovate object is, I suspect, a grain of pollen in my honey sample

Under the microscope logo

This week I’m working on an article about honey. Did you know that much of the honey sold in the United States may not be honey at all? No one knows for sure because many manufacturers filter out the pollen and other microscopic bits that help scientists identify honey as the sticky gooey stuff that comes from bees.

You will see that article here on YayYay’s Kitchen soon. In the meantime, I’ve spent way too many hours staring at microscopically crazy stuff in a sample of the “Pure, unfiltered, 100% North Coast Wildflower” honey we buy. Totally rock-out fun! Am I a nerd or what?

Suspected pollen grains in unfiltered wildflower honey

Suspected pollen grains in unfiltered wildflower honey

Now, I’m no biologist, and I’m still learning how to use this microscope and its camera. To find out what I’m seeing through my microscope’s camera lens, I hunted down some images of pollen. This Pollen Image Library, published by a site called Science and Plants for Schools, links to hundreds of microscopic pollen photographs.

I gazed at dozens of them before I got cross-eyed, long enough to be fairly certain that I’ve got at a least a few pollen grains in my honey. Not as many as I’d have thought, but some. The photos above include fairly typical specimens in my sample. They look a little like the pollen samples from Lobularia maritima in the Pollen Image Library, but I didn’t find any that were a likely match.

Here’s a slide show of several more images taken from my sample.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you run through some of the images in the pollen library referenced above, you will see as I did that many pollens have similar characteristics, while others are extremely different. Some are round, some ovate, some roughly triangular, some rather amoeba-like in shape. Some are horny, some thorny, some smooth. Some have ridges and valleys. Some have pores. Many have combinations of these features.

As you can see, this little granny is no where near ready to attempt to identify the pollens in my sample. I surely would like to know what some of those other geegaws are, too. I wondered if the crystal-shaped objects might be sugar crystals. So much to learn!

In the meantime, watch for my upcoming article on the honey in our kitchens. Is it the real thing? Or is that plastic bear filled with corn syrup and sugar water?

♥  ♥  ♥

This post is shared at Simply Natural Sunday of 5/28/16.


  1. Joe Smith says

    CN you share how you prepared the slides? We are beekeepers and our son is hoping to compare our honey wirh Store night for pollen content. But what we are realizing is that the slide prep process that Texas A&M Bee Lab uses is COMPLEX!!! We just need to figure out a simple at home way to check out our honey. Any help you could provide would be amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Joe. What a cool project your son is doing! The microscope was brand new then, and I remembered nothing from high school (decades ago) about preparing slides, so I smeared some honey extremely thinly on a new slide, put a little cover over it and stuck it under the lens. Since then, I bought a beginner’s book on basic microscope use and have played around with preparing slides, but nothing that would approach scientific work. I’m sorry I can’t be more help to you.


  2. Did you ever figure out what the six-sided crystal plates are? I am seeing them in raw honey from our farm in Virginia. They don’t seem to grow when the honey cools, but they may be glucose or fructose, I just don’t know. I’ve never looked at honey microscopically before. Thanks for your post. Yours are the only images of the crystals I have been able to find!

    Liked by 1 person

    • C Ambers, first please accept my apology for missing your question until now. It’s been a crazy summer. I’ve been away from my kitchens, virtual and literal, far too much.

      I have, from time to time, tried to learn more about those crystal shapes, but so far am unable to find anything that clearly identifies what’s in my microscope photos. I do know that honey sugars crystallize. I’ve seen that in real honey (as opposed to the syrupy stuff many stores sell as honey these days) all my life. But what I’m seeing microscopically, well, I have yet to find an image that matches mine and identifies them.


  3. Jessee says

    Have you determined what the black round spots are that look like eyes I to have these in my honey been trying to find out what they are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good question! One I share. Hunting for answers about another microscopic project, I ran across an article in which a school teacher referred to similar objects as bubbles. I have not been able to verify them as such, but it might explain their uniformity.


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  5. We buy local wildflower honey from beekeepers at our local farmers’ market. They have it with or without the honeycomb. It is delicious both ways. Thanks so much for passing on this useful info. I had no idea this was going on, but shouldn’t be surprised.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. I thnk there is too much honey on our shelves to be real honey…. I go into a supermarket here and there are rows and rows of honey, multiply it by xxxx locally, then go worldwide…. you are right, it’s not real honey, it’s manufactured. Here, I only buy specialised honey now, I will try to do a post one day on honey here as there are counters selling exclusive honey, the prize is Socotran honey, you need a mortgage to buy it!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kathryn Grace, I love this post! I nerd out about all things life science (I was a biology major in college), so I found this completely fascinating. I especially love your slide show. I think I missed the post where you said this (my schedule has been completely off lately), but what kind of microscope do you have? I want to put it on my wish list! I actually bought a microscope that would download images to my computer about 5 years ago, but wow, has technology changed since then—your images looks great. (The ones I created? Not so much…)

    Can’t wait to see more tiny things! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You didn’t miss it, Lee. Last year I published a few images on my Sourdough Journals blog, where I may have mentioned the make, but this is the first post on YYK. It’s an Omax 40x-2500x trinocular microscope. I later learned, after purchasing, that anything over 100x was probably shimsham, but I haven’t tried going up that far with it yet. I’m still trying to learn to make slides, focus and maneuver!


  9. Sharon L. Grace says

    I love this post! It’s such a great idea to examine our food more closely. I had no idea that the honey we eat may not be honey at sll, which is a bit scary. I look forward to the next installment of the honey saga!


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