The many shades of beeswax
Posted by Laura Butler on
Want to invest in beeswax candles but interested in other colours? You’re in luck because beeswax does actually come in many different colours, which are explained in this article. Now you can choose the best beeswax products that benefit your health and the environment whilst having a natural, interesting colour.
What is beeswax?
We all know the iconic honeycomb shape associated with honey, but exactly what is beeswax?
Beeswax is a natural wax material that is a by-product of the honey industry. It is made by the bees themselves, to store honey in their hives and where the queen lays her eggs. It takes an estimated 33 million flowers for bees to make 1 pound of wax.
The beeswax forms the home and the food storage for the hive. Therefore, beeswax is one of the most important elements of a bee’s life cycle and the honey making process.
How does the beeswax become coloured?
The wax is first secreted by the bees as completely colourless, thin flakes. This substance is then handed down through a chain of bees, where it is shaped and moulded by the bees. Once it is at the right temperature and consistency, it is used to construct the honeycomb.
This process allows tiny particles of nectar, propolis and pollen that is in the hive and eaten by the bees to be added to the wax. As a result, the colour of the wax can vary substantially depending on what the bees are harvesting and foraging on.
The weather conditions, the types of flowers and pollen that the bees are harvesting, and cleanliness can all affect the colour of beeswax.
This natural process makes the colour very unpredictable as it is not made in a factory like paraffin candles. No two hives will have the same colour, which makes it a unique and special material. For example, the beeswax of bees that harvest clover is typically much lighter in colour than those that visit wheat.
What colours of beeswax can you find?
Light, pale yellow or ivory
This wax is specially filtered multiple times in order to achieve a cleaner colour. The lighter the colour the purer the wax usually is, as the impurities are either removed or not present in the first place. As a result of their pure form, lighter coloured beeswax candles are often regarded as the highest quality.
A lighter colour can occur in the following instances:
- new wax that is freshly made by the bees.
- In the capping wax used to seal the honey inside the combs, as it is not reused and can retain the natural scent of the honey.
- When the bees are not foraging or there is very low pollen such as during transportation, this is where the wax stays its natural white colour.
Filtering also removes impurities in the wax including some of the pollen and particles that give the wax its yellow colour. This process can be done in various ways, including boiling over water so the dirt particles rest at the bottom. Alternatively, beeswax can be boiled in the water so that the impurities rise to the top and can be skimmed off.
Finally, beeswax can be filtered with natural additives such as charcoal. The charcoal absorbs the impurities, making them far easier to remove, leaving a much cleaner beeswax.
Mid and golden yellows
Mid and golden yellows are more common colours of beeswax. Yet still after processing, tones, hues and depth of colour can still vary significantly. This can mostly be determined by the pollen particles in the wax itself. See one first hand example below:
‘Cotton honey wax came in tan or brown, but would filter out very white. Eucalyptus or Montana sweet clover, on the other hand, cannot be made white by ordinary filtration’
So, although lighter coloured waxes are sometimes considered to be better quality, yellow or golden wax does not indicate poor quality wax. Usually, it just means that it is not processed as much, and so it retains some of its original pollen particles and scent.
Darkest yellow and browns
As is with the light yellow and ivory coloured beeswax, there are several types of wax and reasons why it can very dark yellow and sometimes even brown. One reason could be that the wax was overheated during the filtration process, causing the wax to darken in colour, change texture and potentially lose its scent.
However, dark colours can also indicate the age of the beeswax, as it is subjected to more pollen and nectar particles over time. Alternatively, it can sometimes be that this wax formed the ‘brood comb’, the part of the nest where eggs are laid and larva matures. Darker beeswax is often associated with a very strong, more musky smell.
Final thoughts on shades of beeswax
Fortunately, the colour of beeswax can be very revealing about its attributes. When purchasing your beeswax cosmetics, or candles, the colour of the beeswax can be very useful in indicating the quality of the product. But, do not be deterred by golden shades of yellow beeswax. This colour can simply be a result of the pollen used, and can still be excellent quality beeswax. Natural yellow and golden colour beeswax can make great candles with great burning qualities and beautiful scents.