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Mustar, S.;  Ibrahim, N. Honey Bees/Honey as Probiotic and Prebiotic Products. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 22 June 2024).
Mustar S,  Ibrahim N. Honey Bees/Honey as Probiotic and Prebiotic Products. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 22, 2024.
Mustar, Suraiami, Nurliayana Ibrahim. "Honey Bees/Honey as Probiotic and Prebiotic Products" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 22, 2024).
Mustar, S., & Ibrahim, N. (2022, August 19). Honey Bees/Honey as Probiotic and Prebiotic Products. In Encyclopedia.
Mustar, Suraiami and Nurliayana Ibrahim. "Honey Bees/Honey as Probiotic and Prebiotic Products." Encyclopedia. Web. 19 August, 2022.
Honey Bees/Honey as Probiotic and Prebiotic Products

Honey bees come from the family of Apidae and the genus Apis. A. dorsata, A. mellifera, A. cerana, A. laboriosa, A. florea, A. andreniformis, A. koschevnikovi, and A. nigrocincta are eight known species that can be found around the world. Honey bees are significant pollinators for cultivating crops for food production, ensuring the continuity of almost all life in this world. The honey bee’s gut contains many microorganisms as its normal microbiota. Most are probiotics, made up of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and Bifidobacterium, which are widely distributed in their digestive tract system. Probiotics were first described in 2013 by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”. The scientific definition has been extensively applied around the globe. Probiotics enhance intestinal health and increase immune reaction by producing biological antimicrobial substances that can inhibit pathogens which caused digestive system imbalances in humans and animals.

probiotic prebiotic honey bee honey

1. Introduction

Many products produced by honey bees are useful to humans, including honey, [1][2] which is the most important and widely consumed bee product worldwide. Honey, a “natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera L. bees from the nectar of plants, secretions of living parts of plants, or excretions of plant-sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in the honeycomb to ripen and mature” [3], comes in two varieties namely: blossom/nectar honey and honeydew honey. Blossom honey is made from flowering plant nectar, whereas honeydew honey is manufactured from honeydew collected from various parts of a plant or other sap-producing plants and insects [4]. Honey can be divided into two categories: unifloral (monofloral) and polyfloral (multifloral). Unifloral honey is made primarily from one type of plant nectar and is identified through pollen analysis, which reveals dominant pollen from a single plant species. Polyfloral honey does not have dominant pollen from one plant species but has a mixture of pollen from several plants [5]. Due to its refined, one-of-a-kind, and distinct flavor, unifloral honey typically commands a higher market price than polyfloral honey. The premium quality of unifloral honey mostly depends on the exclusive geographical area or the special plant species, for example, the Manuka honey from New Zealand [6]. Honey may contain probiotics that have been transmitted from the guts of honey bees during the process of making honey and may remain alive for a certain period [7]. Thus, both honey bees and honey may provide potential probiotics for future use. The health benefits of honey concerning its probiotic bacteria are that the probiotics will help to revitalize and strengthen the immune system of the host against harmful environmental factors and pathogens, aid in digestion, detoxify harmful substances and provide essential nutrients [8].
Honey is mostly made up of sugars or carbohydrates such as fructose (32–44%), glucose (23–38%), and some other complex sugars (5–15%) including sucrose, maltose, lactose, raffinose, trehalose, erlose, gentiobiose, turanose, panose, melezitose, and kojibiose amongst others [9]. Besides carbohydrates, the quality and health advantages of honey are also ascribed to the various components it possesses, such as protein, organic acids, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and polyphenols [10]. Different varieties of honey may vary in their content due to the different sources derived, such as geographical area, botanical origin, and bee species [9]. Blossom or nectar honey can be distinguished from honeydew honey by analyzing its carbohydrate concentration. Blossom honey contains higher concentrations of monosaccharides but is lower in trisaccharides (mainly melezitose, erlose, raffinose, and maltotriose) and other oligosaccharides compared to honeydew honey [11]. The honey’s prebiotic properties are known to come from its indestructible carbohydrates that cannot be fermented by digestive enzymes in humans and are not taken up in the upper intestinal tract system. They are capable of improving and enhancing health in general and intestinal health in particular by stimulating the development and promoting metabolic activity of the typical residents of the colon [12]. Honey’s prebiotic qualities can help probiotic microorganisms to flourish by supplying adequate nutrients. An increased number of probiotics may help to alleviate the total surface area for nutrient absorption, thus improving the health of the digestive system and enhancing resistance to pathogen infections [13]. These findings have sparked some ideas for conducting studies for further research on the natural microbiota of the bees’ gut with probiotic properties as a disease defense mechanism to be used as prophylaxis to treat not only bees themselves but also other animals and humans [8].

2. Probiotic Properties of Honey Bees and Honey

Table 1 highlights the studies that have been performed in several countries on honey bees’ guts and honey as the origin of potential probiotics. The majority of honey bee probiotics have been identified from A. mellifera spp., with a few from the A. cerana spp., and A. dorsata spp. Probiotics isolated from the honey bee gut were composed of diverse microorganisms including Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria (LAB), as well as Fructophilic lactic acid bacteria (FLAB) which is a subgroup of LAB, yeasts, and other types of bacteria such as the Bacillus spp.

Table 1. Potential probiotics in the bees’ gut and honey.
Probiotic Source Origin/Country Reference
Bifidobacterium spp. Apis cerana japonica gut Tsukuba, Japan [14]
Bifidobacterium spp.,
Lactobacillus spp.,
Bacillus spp.
Apis cerana indica gut Samut-Songkhram, and Chumphon, Thailand [15]
Lactobacillus spp. Apis cerana indica gut Karnataka, India [16]
Lactobacillus plantarum,
Lactobacillus pentosus,
Lactobacillus fermentum
Apis dorsata gut Terengganu, Malaysia [17]
Lactobacillus kunkeei strains Yigilca honey bee gut Duzce, Turkey [18]
Lactobacillus plantarum,
Lactobacillus paraplantarum,
Lactobacillus plantarum strains
Apis mellifera gut Menoua, Cameroon [19]
Lactobacillus plantarum strains Apis cerana indica gut Kerala, India [21]
Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB) genera:
Apis cerana indica Fabricius,
Apis mellifera Linnaeus,
Apis florea Fabricius,
& Apis dorsata Fabricius guts and honey
Tamil Nadu, India [22]
Enterococcus faecalis strains,
Lactobacillus brevis,
Lactobacillus casei
Apis mellifera gut Cairo, Egypt [23]
Fructobacillus fructossus strains,
Lactobacillus kunkeei strains
Apis mellifera mellifera,
Apis mellifera ligustica and
hybridized bee guts,
larvae and honey
Aland Island, Finland [24]
Lactobacillus kunkeei strains (sixty-six strains),
Lactobacillus casei (one strain),
Lactobacillus spp. (five unidentified strains),
Fructobacillus fructosus strains (eight strains),
Enterococcus (five strains),
Bifidobacterium asteroids
Apis mellifera gut The Caucasus Mountains, and Kolkheti Valley, Georgia [25]
Lactobacillus kunkeei strains,
Lactobacillus fructosus strains
Apis mellifera gut Lublin, Poland [26]
Lactobacillus kunkeei strains,
Fructobacillus fructossus strains
Apis mellifera Linnaeus gut Pulawy, Poland [27]
Fructobacillus fructossus,
Proteus mirabilis,
Bacillus subtilis,
Bacillus licheniformis,
Lactobacillus kunkeei,
Enterobacter kobei,
Morganella morganii
Apis mellifera jemenitica gut Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [28]
Apilactobacillus kunkeei strains Apis mellifera Linnaeus gut N/A [29]
Bacillus spp. Apis cerana japonica gut Tsukuba, Japan [30]
Bacillus subtilis strains Honey bee gut and honey N/A [31]
Bacillus licheniformis,
Paenibacillus polymyxa
(Bacillus polymyxa),
Wickerhamomyces anomalus,
Lachancea thermotolerans,
Zygosaccharomyces mellis,
Apis mellifera carnica gut
Apis mellifera ligustica gut
Giza, Egypt [32]
Lactobacillus kunkeei strains,
Lactobacillus spp.
(Apis dorsata)
Kedah, Malaysia [33]
Leuconostoc mesenteroides strains Honey
(Apis mellifera)
Algeria [34]
Lactic Acid Bacteria
(Species and subspecies not mentioned)
(Apis mellifera)
Indonesia [35]
Bacillus spp. Commercial honey
(Libya, Saudi Arabia and Egypt)
N/A [36]
Bacillus subtilis,
Brevibacillus brevis,
Bacillus megaterium strains,
Lactobacillus acidophilus
Local honey Iran [37]
Bacillus subtilis strains
Bacillus endophyticus
Mountain honey
Persimmon honey (commercial)
Bacillus spp. Honey China [39]
Bacillus subtilis,
Bacillus mycoides,
Bacillus thuringiensis,
Bacillus amyloliquefaciens,
Bacillus velezensis
Raw honey
Romania [40]
Gluconobacter oxydans Honey
(Apis cerana indica)
Tamil Nadu, India [41]
Saccharomyces cerevisiae strains,
Meyerozyma guilliermondiii
Raw honey
(Apis dorsata fabricius)
Ratchaburi, Thailand [42]
N/A = not available.
Bifidobacterium was less commonly discovered in the honey bees’ gut compared to the LAB. One study has shown the isolation of several Bifidobacterium species from the Japanese honey bee (Apis cerana japonica) gut. The isolates were shown to be strongly linked to bifidobacteria obtained from the European honey bees, implying that these bacteria are peculiar to the honey bee species.
LAB is the most common probiotic isolated from the guts of honey bees, as shown in many studies conducted earlier (refer to Table 1). Various strains of LAB were harvested from the guts of A. mellifera, A. cerana, A. dorsata, and A. florea species. In most of the studies, the microorganisms were identified using the PCR technique with gene sequencing. Lactobacillus spp. was recovered from the digestive tract of A. cerana indica in various Karnataka locales [16]. Other Lactobacillus species such as L. plantarum, L. pentosus, and L. fermentum were prevalent within the gut of Apis dorsata with L. plantarum accounting for 51.02%. The study was the first to highlight the presence of Lactobacillus spp. in the Malaysian wild honey bees’ gut (A. dorsata). The quantity of LAB microbiota members discovered in the honey bee gut was found to be dependent on the season, origin, and volume of nectar [17].
There have also been findings of the presence of Bacillus sp., in honey. Earlier in 2012, Esawy and colleagues [36] isolated Bacillus spp. from spores found in honey from three Gulf countries (Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt). They exhibited good tolerance to pH 3 and pH 9 for up to 6 h with varying degrees of viability, resistance to 0.3% bile and pancreatic enzyme (except for one isolate), and negative results for hemolytic testing. The isolates also demonstrated antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, suggesting that they could flourish in the intestinal tract and function as potential antibiotic producers [36].
A. cerana indica honey becomes a carrier for Gluconobacter oxydans, a gram-negative bacterium from the Acetobacteraceae family which exhibits a probiotic quality [41]. G. oxydans isolated from freshly harvested honey was found to possess siderophorogenic potential and non-hemolytic activity which assure security as a possible probiotic microorganism. The probiotic’s capability to persist in the adverse conditions of the human gastrointestinal tract is revealed by its acid and bile tolerance characteristics of which the G. oxydans manage to endure a 2% bile salt concentration. The percentage of isolates that are auto-aggregated was found to be linearly related to incubation time, with notable % adherence to xylene being more than to ethyl acetate and chloroform.

3. Prebiotic Properties of Honey

Earlier research indicated that the prebiotic properties of honey are mainly due to the oligosaccharides and low molecular weight polysaccharides attached by the β-glycosidic linkages [12]. Prebiotics are hydrolyzed by the native intestinal microflora as human digestive enzymes do not possess β-glycosidases. Inulin, fructose-oligosaccharides (FOS), pyrodextrins, lactulose, and xylooligosaccharide are among the well-known prebiotics [43]. Several investigations into the possible prebiotic characteristics of honey have been undertaken in various regions of the world. Table 2 summarizes the different types of honey as a source of prebiotics and their effects on probiotics commonly found in the human intestinal system.

Table 2. Prebiotic potential of honey.
Probiotic Sources of Prebiotic Country Key Findings Reference
Lactobacillusacidophilus strains Honey India
Honey enhanced the coaggregation of E. coli with L. acidophilus NCDC 291 more than with L. acidophilus NCDC 13.
Both strains showed a higher capability of autoaggregation and hydrophobicity, and reduced autolytic activity with inulin compared to honey.
Lactobacillus acidophilus,
Bifidobacterium bifidum
Sesame honey (Sesamum indicum) India
Sesame honey (5%) exhibited selective and significant growth-supporting properties of the probiotics.
Lactobacillus acidophilus,
Lactobacillus rhamnosus
Chestnut honey Turkey
Chestnut honey has positively impacted probiotic bacteria by increasing growth and modulating probiotic properties such as auto-aggregation and surface hydrophobia.
Lactobacillus plantarum strain Wild honey (Polyfloral) Cameroon
L. plantarum 29 V can survive for 28 days at 4 °C and 25 °C due to their ability to resist lower pH and the presence of oligosaccharides (fructo- and gluco-oligosaccharides) in honey recognized as prebiotics.
Hypercholesterolemic rats treated with honey containing L. plantarum 29 V showed an increase in HDL-cholesterol level and lowers total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides and atherosclerosis index in serum.
Lactobacillus acidophilus,
Lactobacillus gasseri,
Lacticaseibacillus casei,
Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus,
Lactiplantibacillus plantarum
Fir, strawberry tree, ivy, tree of heaven, sulla, cardoon, rhododendron honey
(Commercial, organic, monofloral honey)
Fir, ivy, and sulla honey (1% and 2%) stimulate the growth of all the probiotics tested with various actions compared to more specific cardoon honey.
Bifidobacterium longum strains,
Bifidobacterium breve,
Bifidobacterium bifidum
Agmark grade honey India
Honey showed a prebiotic effect on all isolates, especially on B. longum at 3% and 5% honey.
Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacilli Clover honey
(Unprocessed and sterilised)
Increased B. bifidum colony counts were observed in all honey-supplied group (Group A-5 g, B-10 g, and C-15 g honey), with group B, showing a significant rise in comparison with the control.
Bifidobacteria Buckwheat honey China
Buckwheat honey assists in propagating native Bifidobacteria and prohibits the growth of the pathogenic bacterium in the gut system.
N/A Manuka honey (MGO™) Ireland
Honey-containing oligosaccharides inhibited P. aeruginosa (52%), E. coli O157:H7 (40%) and S. aureus (30%) in the cancer cells.
Microbiota of the mice gut Jarrah honey China
Honey helps to retain more water in the faecal and relieves constipation and suppresses the growth of Desulfovibri.
N/A Giant Willow Aphid honeydew honey
(Tuberolachnus salignus)
New Zealand
A high concentration of melezitose can act as a prebiotic for the human digestive system since it is not hydrolysed by acid and is only partially hydrolysed by α-glucosidase.
Limosilactobacillus reuteri Manuka honey
(Drapac DrKiwi AMF5, AMF10, AMF15 and AMF20)
New Zealand
High sugar and oligosaccharides contributed to higher probiotic cell biomass of AMF20, but no obvious pattern in biomass with a decrease in AMF concentration.
N/A = not available.
The probiotic ability to co-aggregate with the pathogens increased with the addition of honey, while the self-digestion reaction was greatly reduced when inulin was present. Co-aggregation capabilities allow probiotics to create a barrier that stops colonization by pathogens. Cell surface hydrophobicity is the probiotics’ capacity to attach to the gut endothelium. Inulin significantly increased cell membrane hydrophobicity in comparison to honey. Autolysis occurs when bacteria cell naturally deteriorates due to maturity or adverse biological factors, causing the autolysin enzymes to hydrolyse the cell wall peptidoglycan. It was found that L. acidophilus showed better attributes in prebiotics inulin than honey [44]. The viable count of L. acidophilus and B. bifidum were much higher when cultured in carbohydrate-free MRS broth fortified with sesame honey compared to the unfortified broth. At the same time, sesame honey also promotes antibacterial activity against several pathogens such as E. coli, V. cholerae, E. coli, S. typhi, and S. typhimurium with the lowest minimum inhibitory concentration (12.5%) toward S. typhi and S. typhimurium [45]. Chestnut honey was discovered to promote the flourishing of L. acidophilus LA-5 and L. rhamnosus GG, displaying probiotic features such as autoaggregation and surface hydrophobicity. Furthermore, as compared to probiotics or honey alone, probiotics grown with honey were more cytotoxic to cancer cell types [46].
Both types of honey, either monofloral or polyfloral, can serve as good prebiotic sources in foods. Honey is combined with dairy products derived from the fresh milk of cows [56][57][58][59][60], goats [61][62], camels [57], and buffalos [63] to produce yogurt. Some researchers also utilized skimmed milk powder to produce yogurt [64][65][66]. As for the non-dairy products, kefir [67], soy milk [68][69], and hydrolyzed soybean extract [67] were chosen to replace the animal’s milk. The most common starter culture probiotics used to produce yogurt are the S. thermophilus and L. delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus. The findings of numerous investigations revealed that the number of probiotics in honey-containing foods is significantly enhanced. Monofloral honey (chestnut, acacia, lime honey) and polyfloral honey (eucalyptus, greenbrier) in yogurt were found to be good prebiotic sources for cultivating Bifidobacteria strains of diverse subspecies [64][68]. Saudi Arabian raw honey [56], black locust honey [57], Kerala natural honey [58], African commercial honey [66], marjoram honey [62], and pine honey [59] were all found to be suitable for cultivating Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species in the dairy and non-dairy goods. It was revealed in 2020 that Manuka honey of the brand AMF™ 15+ fortified in yogurt significantly increased the viable count of L. reuteri surpassing the recommended value of 7 log CFU/mL compared to the other brands tested (Manuka Blend and UMF™ 18+) [60]. A clinical trial in postmenopausal women treated with L. plantarum-fermented soymilk-honey for 90 days disclosed a notable reduction in the levels of osteocalcin in the participants’ blood serum, implying that honey as a source of prebiotics can assist probiotics in surviving longer for treatment purposes [69].


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