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What is royal jelly?
Royal jelly is the food given to larvae developing into queen honeybees. A larva developing into a queen consumes much royal jelly and her weight increases 1300 times over a period of six days.
How is it made?
Royal jelly is secreted from glands in the heads of young worker bees, and' some sugars and proteins are also added from the worker bees' stomachs.
What does it contain?
Royal jelly has many different components including proteins, sugars, fats, minerals and vitamins.
What does it look like?
A white, thick liquid, a bit like fresh yoghurt or curds.
How is royal jelly harvested by beekeepers?
Under natural conditions a larva destined to become a queen bee develops in an especially large wax cell or cup, and inside this cell worker bees place lavish amounts of royal jelly. Honeybee colonies being used to produce royal jelly for harvest are manipulated by the beekeeper to start producing great numbers of queens, perhaps 50 or more. Worker bees therefore produce vast amounts of royal jelly (extra feeding of the colony is needed to achieve this) and place it in the queen cells. However instead of the larvae feeding on this and developing into queen bees, the larvae are removed and the royal jelly is harvested by the beekeeper.
Why is it valued so highly by humans?
Worker bees and queen bees start life as identical eggs laid by the parent queen. Whether an egg develops into a worker or a queen is determined by the way it is fed Royal jelly differs from the food given to worker bee larvae. Subsequently adult queen bees differ in many respects from adult worker bees: the queen alone is fertile, will mate and will lay eggs, very prolifically.
She will live much longer than her sister worker bees. Royal jelly is therefore a potent food as far as developing honeybees are concerned.
Is royal jelly good for humans?
Mammals are very different from insects! Substances which have dramatic effects on honeybees may have no effect whatsoever on mammals and vice versa.
Royal jelly does have antibacterial properties: this is probably important in protecting larvae from infection by bacteria within the brood nest.
Some people credit royal jelly with remarkable powers for humans and other animals too however opinions differ and there is no scientific support. Certainly royal jelly is a concentrated source of many nutrients.
What resources are needed for royal jelly harvest?
Royal jelly production requires a plentiful supply of honeybee colonies, much skilled labour, technical know-how and rigorous time-keeping in the manipulation of colonies. Royal jelly must be harvested under hygienic conditions and rapidly refrigerated, frozen or freeze-dried.
Which countries harvest royal jelly?
The main countries harvesting royal jelly commercially are China, Taiwan and Thailand.
Which countries import royal jelly?
Mainly Japan, with relatively small amounts imported also by other industrialised countries.
[Bees for Development Journal #28]