Bees Snacking on M&M’s Produce Multi-Colored Honey

If you are feeling a bit blue, there’s nothing like a little honey to cheer you up. What do you do if the honey itself is blue?

Blue honey is causing some French beekeepers to see red. In August of 2012, beekeepers near Ribeauville in northeastern France began to notice a peculiar and troubling thing about their honey. It was turning colors. Instead of the golden color everyone associates with the delicious foodstuff, the honey coming out of their hives was blue, green, and brown.

Obviously concerned about what could be causing the peculiar development, beekeepers began an investigation. Their search led them to a nearby waste processing facility. One of its biggest customers was a Mars chocolate factory in Strasbourg that produces M&M candy. The bees had been supplementing their diets with the leftover multi-colored shells of M&M’s.

Three shades of honey, caused by candy dyes.

There are times when beekeepers intentionally influence the color of honey. They do this by infusing the honey with dried fruit powder or when making flavored creamed honey or honey sticks. Otherwise, the quality of natural honey is assessed by its color. The M&M-influenced colored honey may have tasted the same as its naturally-colored counterpart, but it was unsellable.

A similar situation happened in Brooklyn, New York in 2010 when bees started producing garishly bright honey. The culprit that time turned out to be Red Dye No. 40 from the Dell’s Maraschino Cherries Company.

In reporting the Brooklyn incident, the New York Times article asked, “Could the tastiest nectar, even close by the hives, compete with the charms of a liquid so abundant, so vibrant and so cloyingly sweet? Perhaps the conundrum raises another disturbing question: If the bees cannot resist those three qualities, what hope do the rest of us have?”

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