There is certain ambiguity surrounding the notion of "invert sugar", even among beekeepers. Quite often, when asked: “What is invert sugar?”, people give incomplete answers, such as: "Glucose and fructose – that’s what invert sugar is." Or: "Sucrose decomposed into glucose and fructose".
Well, but they both (sucrose and invert sugar) consist of glucose and fructose.
What is the difference between the two? And if, to cap it all, a novice beekeeper asks: "What if some crystal sugar is put in water (sucrose) and stirred until it dissolves – is that invert sugar?”, he would most probably receive diverse, incomplete and "intriguing" answers.
What counts here is the chemical structure of the two types of sugar, not the ingredients which are identical. As a result, however, there are two end products with different chemical and physical properties. The most obvious of them are that invert sugar is a sticky (imagine transparent honey) and hygroscopic (moisture absorbing) liquid, unlike sucrose (table sugar), which is in the form of crystals and does not absorb any moisture. Besides, invert sugar is sweeter than sucrose, because of which it is widely used in the confectionery industry. More pastry products could be produced with a certain amount of sucrose if it had been transformed into invert sugar.
Invert sugar is simpler in structure and it is easier for the bees to absorb it and process it.
Regular sugar is a disaccharide which consists of two interlinked monosaccharides – glucose and fructose.
Invert sugar consists of the same two monosaccharides – glucose and fructose – but they are not interlinked, i. e. it is a mixture of glucose and fructose.
In general, sucrose is naturally present in honey, coming from nectar, but its percentage is rather low - 1%-6%. The share of invert sugar in honey reaches up to 80%, and sometimes even more (see the detailed analysis of honey composition).
Bees decompose sucrose to invert sugar by the invertase enzyme, secreted by their glands. This enzyme keeps decomposing sucrose in honey long after it had been removed from the hive and stored in different containers. Despite the constant effect of invertase, the level of sucrose in honey can never reach 0.
When bees are being fed with regular sugar /picture 1/, they first decompose it to invert sugar /picture 2/ and only then they assimilate it and turn it into honey.
In order to complete the whole process of decomposing regular sugar into invert sugar, bees need extra time and energy. Respectively, this exhausts them and reduces the effect of their work. Not to mention that such honey is adulterated and inferior (when the purpose of feeding had been greater quantity and faster production during foraging).
It is quite logical to ask: „How could we prepare invert sugar by ourselves?”
This process, though seemingly simple in theory, is quite complicated in practice, since it has certain peculiarities and strict requirements so it might go well and lead to the desired result. Therefore special attention will be given to this topic in one of our upcoming posts.
If the linkage between glucose and fructose in the sucrose molecule is to be destroyed, a special technological process is needed, with a predetermined temperature, mechanical stirring and addition of special enzymes under certain conditions.
Hydrolysis is an interaction of complex substances with water whereby the substances decompose into simpler ones. Some novice beekeepers interpret that phrase literally, believing that they will come up with invert sugar by dissolving sugar in water. It is sugar solution, not invert sugar.
When sugar dissolves in water, the monolithic crystal structure of sugar is destroyed and it turns into sugar solution in which each sucrose molecule is surrounded by a number of water molecules, but the chemical structure of sucrose remains the same – intact.
Hydrolysis of sucrose is a chemical process of water molecule incorporation into the sucrose molecule.
Those two processes should not be confused. If it was so simple, it wouldn’t be needed to go through the entire technological process of hydrolyzing the regular sugar to invert sugar.