Is Comb Honey the Same as Honeycomb?

Sort of, but I’m going to say no.

So what’s the difference between honeycomb and comb honey? Why do beekeepers call it “comb honey” when everyone else calls it honeycomb?

Well, for one thing, honeycomb refers to a type of comb, whereas comb honey refers to a type of honey.

A frame of empty comb, what most beekeepers call “drawn comb.” The bees can fill this comb with pollen, nectar (which becomes honey) or the queen might eggs in the comb.

Comb full of pollen.

At first glance, this frame might look like “honeycomb,” but closer examination shows some brood in the middle of all that honey. Click the images for a better view.

Comb honey. Nothing but honey and beeswax.

Honey bees produce wax. From that wax they build a variety of comb. Think of comb as rows and rows of Mason jars, but made of beeswax instead of glass, and lids or caps not made of metal but from beeswax too. What the bees decide to put in those jars — those honeycomb-shaped jars — determines what we call them. Sort of.

When a beekeeper looks at a frame of comb, it’s helpful to know what’s inside the comb. Some things that are found inside the comb are eggs (which grow into brood or baby bees), pollen, nectar, honey, and often a combination of all of the above.

Honey on the outside, a thin ring of pollen that’s hard to see, and capped brood in the middle of the comb. Would you call this honeycomb? I wouldn’t.

For the sake of argument, let’s just say we find two things in the comb, either brood or honey.

Brood comb. In this case, drone (or male) brood comb.

We call it brood comb when it’s full of brood. We call it honeycomb when it’s full of honey.

Comb full of honey, often called a honey frame, and sometimes called honeycomb.

When we want to harvest honey, we make sure to pull out the frames of honeycomb, not brood comb. We don’t want to be eating baby bees.

Baby bees, or their pupae.

Then we’ve got two types of honey (again, for sake of argument). We have liquid honey that most people think of as just honey — honey that we find in the grocery store in squeezable bottles shaped like bears. Then there’s honey that’s still in the comb. That’s the stuff we call comb honey.

Partially drawn comb honey.

Most people would just call it honeycomb because what difference does it make to most people? But beekeepers need to know the difference between:

Honeycomb — comb full of honey.
Brood comb — comb full of brood / baby bees.

Comb honey — honey that’s still in the comb.
Liquid honey — honey that’s been removed from the comb.

Comb with freshly-laid eggs. It could have become honeycomb if the cells had been filled with nectar, but the queen laid eggs in the cells, so now it’s brood comb.

To the casual observer, comb honey and honeycomb may look the same, but beekeepers need to be more precise.

Freshly-capped brood comb (the light stuff) surrounded by cells full of pupae with a grub-like appearance on their way to becoming baby bees. A few cells in the middle contain nectar.

And yup, there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the simple (yet roundabout) answer. Honestly, all of this simple. The success most beekeepers experience during their first few years is largely a result of good weather and dumb luck. Beekeeping isn’t the rocket surgery some people make it out to be. You don’t need to commune with nature to understand it and get good at it. You just have to play close attention. Writing and reading about beekeeping can make it seem more complicated. For instance — and this is where you should stop reading:

Many beekeepers use plastic foundation in their hives.

Comb just beginning to be drawn out on plastic foundation.

The bees build comb on the plastic foundation. Some of the comb gets used for making brood. Some of it gets used for making honey. But none of that comb can ever become comb honey — because it has a piece of plastic foundation in the middle of it. Plastic isn’t edible. Comb honey might look exactly the same, but it’s made from a wax foundation, usually a wax foundation that the bees have drawn out themselves.

So just to muddy up the waters even more, the bees can build honey comb on plastic or wax foundation, but comb honey can only be built on wax foundation.

That’s the other difference between honeycomb and comb honey.

And this is going to blow your mind: Personally, I never use the word honeycomb. I don’t know any beekeepers who do. I refer to frames of honey; frames of brood; and comb honey. “Honeycomb” isn’t even a part of my vocabulary, though I do often refer to “brood comb,” which is basically a frame of brood.

I told you stop reading earlier and you didn’t listen to me.

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