Pollen: The Protein Source of Bees

Thursday 4 November 2021

Natural foods and health products has gained significant interest, especially over the past decade, as the link between good nutrition and good health has also gained interest in research studies. These studies help to provide a better understanding of the potential health benefits and applications of natural products, including various hive products. So far, in our ‘Hive Products for Human Health’ mini-series, we have discussed some health-related beneficial bioactivities and applications of honey, propolis, and beeswax. This week we are moving on to pollen; keep reading to learn about potential human health benefits of the protein source of bees: pollen.

What’s the Buzz with ATTTA Podcast Episode 10 is now available! Keep reading for a sneak peek of what this episode’s discussions are all about. 

We’ve began creating weekly “ATTTA Buzz” posts to share ATTTA news, announcements, and timely reminders intended for beekeepers in Atlantic Canada, but available to all others that are interested! We will be sharing these posts from our Twitter account (@beeatlantic) and through social media pages of some beekeepers’ associations and other beekeeping groups in our maritime region. Keep an eye out for the weekly ATTTA Buzz to stay up to date with what we’ve up to, we are glad to have you following along!

Pollen: The Protein Source of Bees

Pollen is collected by foraging worker bees and brought back to the hive to be made into bee bread used to feed larvae to provide essential proteins required for successful worker and drone brood production. A developing queen does not receive pollen in her diet. The pollen that is found stored within the hive is compositionally unique from its original form when it was produced by the flower from which it was collected. When bees collect pollen from a flower, they incorporate small amounts of nectar and a saliva-like substance that contains enzymes. This makes the pollen sticky enough to be packed neatly into a secure pellet in the worker bee’s ‘pollen basket’, located on her hindlegs. The composition of pollen itself is unique depending on the floral source, geographic location, and other environmental conditions; similar to honey and beeswax, as discussed earlier in this mini-series. Since foraging worker bees also add nectar and enzyme-containing saliva to the pollen to ready it for transport, compositional variation from these additions are also incorporated into the pollen. This is important to consider when discussing the composition and potential beneficial uses and therapeutic applications of honey bee collected pollen and pollen products (i.e., bee bread).

Antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of natural and fermented bee pollen *

Bee pollen is sold as a hive product for human health and nutrition in various forms including natural pollen pellets, capsules, powder, and also bee bread pellets and other forms of pollen that has undergone fermentation processes. Even if the same pollen source was used in a particular set of products, that include both pollen pellets and bee bread, the digestibility and bioactivities of the natural pollen and the fermented pollen tend to vary. Even between fermented pasteurized pollen and fermented natural pollen, the bioactivities of the product can vary. This study aimed to evaluate the bioactivities of both natural and pasteurized pollen that has undergone either spontaneous fermentation or fermentation through bacterial activity by two lactose related bacteria: Lactocoocus lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus. The results of this investigation indicate effective beneficial bioactivities and dietary values of various forms of pollen, for the purpose of consumption with the goal of improving of human health, including:

  • Fermentation = greater antioxidant activity
  • Antioxidant activity of fermented natural pollen > fermented pasteurized pollen
  • Antioxidant activity of bacteria fermented pollen > spontaneously fermented pollen
  • Fermentation = greater microbial activity; other microbial compounds are also produced by bacteria through the fermentation process
  • Fermentation = greater antifungal activity

Small variations and changes in the activities of all evaluated pollen were attributed to the botanical origin of the pollen itself and the type of fermentation process performed. This study concludes these findings with the idea that highlighting the improvement of bioactivities and health-benefitting potentials of bee pollen after fermentation has the potential to “open more applications of bee pollen in the food and pharmaceutical industries.”

* Kaskaniene, V., Adaskevicitue, V., Kaskonas, P., Mickene, R, and Maruska, A. 2020. Antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of natural and fermented bee pollen, Food Bioscience. Full text available ONLINE.


What’s the Buzz with ATTTA Podcast Episode 10

Dr Andony Melathopoulos is a researcher and beekeeper with direct ties to eastern Canada.  Having spent time at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University (AC campus) while undertaking his doctoral studies, Andony contributed in a positive, and long lasting way to our industry.  Through his research work and enthusiastic teaching Andony left a strong impression on those he met while in Nova Scotia.  Listen to our latest podcast to learn about Andony’s beekeeping journey from eastern Canada to his position on the faculty of Oregon State University.  Find out about his current research related to pollination and honey bee health! You will encounter few beekeepers who are as interested and energetic about honey bees as this months guest, so take a few minutes to meet or reacquaint yourself with this fascinating beekeeper. Listen from your choice of podcast streaming platforms HERE.

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