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Bee Product Science, www.bee-hexagon.net , April 2016 1
The honeybags steal from the humble-bees
And for wax tappers crop their waxen thighs
And light them at the fiery glow-worms’ eyes
To have my love to bed, and to arise
William Shakespeare, Midsummer Nights Dream, Act III
Be aware that this online book is only for private use and should not be copied and reprinted as
some of the images are not copyrighted.
I would appreciate your feedback at email@example.com
Stefan Bogdanov, Muehlethurnen, Switzerland
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Beeswax: Production, Properties
Composition and Control
BEES PRODUCE WAX
Bees need wax as construction material for their combs. They produce it in their wax glands, which are fully
developed in 12 to 18 days old workers. In older bees the wax glands diminish their activity. However in
emergency situations wax-synthesis can be reactivated. Greatest quantities of wax are produced during the
growth phase of bee colonies, under moderate climate conditions during April to June. A bibliography on
the synthesis of beeswax is given in the monograph of Hepburn
The main raw materials for wax formation are carbohydrates, i.e. the honey sugars fructose, glucose and
. The ratio of sugar to wax can vary from 3 to 30:1, a ratio of around 20:1 being typical for central
. The stronger the colony, the smaller the ratio, the more economical the wax production for the
colony. One Langstroth frame, containing only 100 g of wax can hold 2-4 kg of honey.
Wax production and comb construction activity in the bee colony are determined by following factors:
• Nectar flow: the greater the flow, the more combs are needed for storage.
• Brood rearing (egg laying): the more eggs are layed, the more comb cells are needed.
• The presence of a queen: only colonies with a queen build combs.
• Temperature: temperatures higher than 15° C favour comb building activity
• The presence of pollen as a protein source
Building of swarms is a good way to make bees produce new wax
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The wax economy of bees seems to function according to the supply-demand principle: there is no
unnecessary wax production!
Apis mellifera bees produce the wax in their specialized wax glands on the ventral side of the abdomen(right
photo). A bee has four pairs of glands. The liquid wax is delivered by these glands and cools down
immediately to fine, white wax scales (left). These scales are taken by the hind legs and processed with the
mouth tools. A wax scale weighs about 1 mg, so that 1 million of scales are needed to 1 comb. More details
on the biology of beeswax production in the bees are given elsewhere
The comb hexagon – an ideal form for the honey combs
A hexagonal shape of the combs cells are optimal regarding spent material
ensuring a maximum strength. One gram of wax will serve for the
construction of 20 cm
. Recently the mechanism of the building of combs has
. From a mathematical point of view it seems that bees
have also intuitively chosen the best possible form
. The comb is not only
the place for storage of honey, pollen ands the cradle and house of the larvae,
but it serves also as a communication net for the honey bee colony
Honey combs are built with amazing precision. Apis
mellifera worker cells are 5 to 6 millimeters in diameter and
are about 0.25 mm in thick. A singe cell of honey comb has
a hexagonal shape. There are mathematical arguments, why
the bees have chosen to build hexagon combs cells. The
diameter of Apis mellifera cells varies between 5.1 to 5.5
mm. Drone cells have a diameter varying between 6.2 and
6.9 cells. All European races accept foundation wax with
750 to 950 cells/dm2. The diameter of the cells of the
different bee races differs more. The nest of a honey bee
colony with about 30000 workers comprises an area of about
(double sided), weighing about 1.4 kg and containing
. A standard Langstroth deep frame can hold
1.8-3.8 kg of honey, the wax necessary to produce these
7100 cells weighing only 100 g
An individual beeswax
scale weights only 1.1 mg so that 910,000 are necessary for
1 kg of wax. About 1 billion of scales are necessary for the
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construction of the 2.5 m
combs surface present in the bee colony nest. The topic of cell building has been
extensively reviewed in chapter 9 of Hepburn´s book on beeswax
MANAGEMENT OF COMBS
Successful comb management is an important part of the beekeeping practice. Combs used for brood rearing
change in different respects. The comb colour turns from yellow to brown and black. The dark colour of old
combs is caused by larvae excrements, pupae skins and from propolis rests. The properties of the combs
change too: cells become smaller and thicker. These changes result in the production of smaller bees (see
table..). Apart from these changes old combs are sources of infections. Honey, stored in dark combs will also
get dark and dirt particles will contaminate it. Feed will also crystallise more readily in old combs, thus
making hibernating more difficult
Old combs contain less wax and more protein and will be more readily
attacked by the wax moth.
Changes in combs with increasing number (n) of bee colony generations , after
colour cell volume
mm cell diameter
mm bee mass
mg % wax
0-1 yellow 0.282 0.22 5.42 123 86-100
2-5 brown 0.269 0.40 5.26 120 60
6-10 dark-brown 0.255 0.73 5.24 118 49
13-15 black 0.249 1.08 5.21 106 46
Each year beekeepers should discard old combs out of the hive, thus stimulating bees to build new combs, by
giving at least 2-3 foundations per colony. Brood combs should be exchanged at an interval of about 2-3
The raw products for wax manufacture are old combs and capping. Thus, all old combs and pieces of wax
should be saved for rendering into wax blocks. Old combs should be rendered separately from newer ones
since the newer combs yield a higher quality wax. The price for old combs depends on the age of combs: the
darker the comb, the lower the wax content and the price. Cappings, containing almost exclusively pure wax,
achieve the highest prices. Dark combs contain propolis and cocoons which lower the quality of the wax.
Honey should be preferably removed from the stored combs, this will prevent eventual fermentation and
moulds. Old combs, free of sugar feed and honey should be packed in plastic bags and be given to wax
manufactures for recycling into pure wax as soon as possible. Thus the beekeeper can avoid problems with
the wax moth and with moulds, which arise often when storing combs. It is safer to recycle combs into raw
wax by a sun wax melter (see figure).
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Control of wax moths in stored combs, after
Method Details, remarks
Technical Sort comb
• Immediately melt old wax
• Storage in a cool, light and airy
Simple, no residues
Physical Cool storage (<15°C)
cellar or cool place, good air
circulation in comb stack
Effective, needs infrastructure; a long term method.
• Frost treatment
• 2 hours at -15°C or
• 3 hours at -12°C or
• 4.5 hours at - 7°C
Effective, kills all moth stages, needs expensive
• Heat treatment
• 80 minutes at 46°C
• 40 minutes at 49°C
good air circulation and accurate temperature control
necessary effective, kills all stages
needs infrastructure (warm air blower);risk of wax
Biological Bacillus thuringiensis:
Melonex, B-401 • Observe instructions and sell-by-date and
• No residues, long-term effect (2-3 months),
affects also the lesser wax
• labour intensive
Chemical Sulphur Burning
1 sulphur strip per 100 litres (about 3 DB supers); treat
every four weeks from above (SO
heavier than air);
do not breathe in vapours (respiratory and eye irritant).
controls moulds at pollen conservation
regular repeats necessary; ineffective against eggs;- fire
from spray can
• 1 second (=2.5g SO
) per honey super or
• 3-4 seconds per 100 litres hive volume
Acetic acid • Treatment from above with 200ml acetic acid (60-
80%) per 100 litres per hive volume (vapours
heavier than air); in summer repeat treatment 2
times with an interval of 2 weeks;
• effective, no problematic residues; kills all moth
stages; kills Nosema spores; attacks metal parts,
regular repeating necessary.
• do not breathe in vapours, avoid contact with skin
caution when handling.
Formic acid • Treatment from above with 80ml formic acid (85%)
per 100 litres hive volume, in summer, treatment
repeated 1-2 times with an interval of 2 weeks;
regular repeats necessary
• Effective; no problem residues, kills all moth
stages , attacks metal parts, caution when handling,
do not breathe in vapours, avoid contact with skin
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Storage of combs at warm temperatures results in damage by the wax moth (left)
Control of the wax moth
Combs but not pure beeswax, are highly susceptible to damage by the Greater wax moth Galleria
melonella L. In order to control it effectively, different measures can be used. Pesticide control, e.g.
with p-dichlorobenzene or naphthalene, should not be used because it leaves toxic residues in honey
. The different control measures are summarised in the table above
MANUFACTURE OF BEESWAX
Industrial wax production began in the 19
century. In 1857 Mehring from Germany started industrial
productions of comb foundations
.The industrial production, is extensively described elsewhere
we will show the principles of smaller scale productions units, as used in many European countries.
World-wide, beeswax is produced mainly by specialized beeswax manufacturers. Beekeepers provide either
old combs or crude wax.
The good quality of beeswax depends greatly on the production methods. There are two wax extraction
methods: melting and chemical extraction. Melting is the most frequently used procedure. Wax can be
melted by boiling water, by steam, or by electrical or solar power. Chemical extraction by solvents is feasible
only in a laboratory, where small scale wax production is needed. Good wax solvents are gasoline and
xylene. The disadvantage of this method is that all organic wax contaminants and constituents of the pupae,
propolis and pollen are dissolved. Thus the quality of wax can be impaired. This method is feasible only in a
laboratory, where small scale wax production is needed.
The wax recovery depends on the combs and on the method used. Generally, recovery from old combs are
around 50 %. If more cappings and new combs are used it could be higher. The comb debris or comb cake
left after separation of pure wax contains still some wax (about 30 %). This rest can be removed by solvents,
but this wax will not have the best quality. According to Temnov
beeswax in combs is in a free and bound
state. When heating combs in sun melters and at temperatures below 100
C only the free wax will be
liberated. The bound wax can be liberated only by pressing or extracted by solvents.
During the manufacturing of wax formation water emulsions can be often built. There are two emulsion
types: in the first one water particles are dispersed into wax, in the second one wax particles are dispersed
. These emulsions are built with the help of emulsifiers. Emulsifiers for the first type of
emulsions are proteins and dextrines, contained in honey, pollen and salts of wax fatty acids with sodium and
potassium. The second type of emulsion is caused by the salts of wax fatty acids with calcium, copper and
iron cations. Cations are contained in hard water, or diffuse out of the vessels, used for wax production. That
is why soft water should be used, together with vessels from stainless steel. If emulsions are formed, they can
be destroyed by letting wax for a longer time remain in the water bath at a temperature of 75-80°C.
Wax, produced by the comb cappings has the best quality, as far as general quality criteria are concerned.
However, this wax does not have less pesticide residues than normal beeswax
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Beekeepers can produce raw beeswax in a simple and cheap way. Combs are placed on the sun melter and
are melted directly by the sun heat. The melter should be directly towards the sun 2-3 times a day. This
method is efficient and the energy is “free of charge”. This method is preferable for the production of raw
wax, as comb storage can avoided.
Manufacturing methods for beeswax
Hot water extraction using forced immersion
The combs are placed in a tightly tied jute sack. Place sacks in a recipient with water and boil. As wax
is lighter than water, it will filter through the jute and rise to the surface. After all combs have all
melted, let the pot cool down. The wax solidifies as it cools, forming a block on the water surface.
Throw out waste left in the sack.
Extraction with boiling water and a wax press
The combs placed into a 120 litre container with 20 to 30 litres of boiling water and left to melt. When
all the wax has melted, remove the wiring and tip the contents into a jute-lined press, then start
Combined steam and press extraction
A metal basket of old combs is plunged into a tank of boiling water, closed with a watertight cover. A
piston, capable of exerting up to 15 T of pressure presses the combs, then tank is kept simmering for
about one hour. Wax runs to the top of the tank.
Combs with frames are placed into a container where vapour is introduced. The trester is sieved, wax
flows into the lower part of the container and can be collected. There are different commercial devices
Combs are meted in boiling water and boiling mixture is poured into baskets of a centrifugal wax
extractor, spinning at more than 1500 rpm, kept at temperatures over 65°C to prevent the wax from
setting. Pure wax runs out of through an opening from the extractor. Method used for bigger
manufacturing units, due to expensive installation.
Heat extraction with electric elements
Press combs or frames between two electrically heated metal plates. Plates are pushed together, the wax
melting into a recipient.
Old combs are melted into wax blocks by a sun melter, an effective way of avoiding wax moth losses.
The melted wax must be then further purified by specialized wax producers.
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Wax defects and how to prevent them
• Wax darkening
- Do not heat at too high temperatures and for a too long time may damage the wax and darken its
- Wax should not be heated in containers made of iron, zinc brass or copper vessels because these
metals make the wax turn dark. Do not use lead containers because of contamination. Stainless steel
or aluminium, is suitable, but can be attacked by oxalic acid. Wooden containers can be suitable, if
acid treatment is involved.
• Wax off odour
Do not melt combs containing fermented honey
• Contamination by Paenibacillus larvae larvae
heat-resistant spores of Paenibacillus larvae larvae are not killed by boiling of wax in water. Only
heating under pressure (1400 hPa) at 120°C for 30 minutes kills all spores
• Water-wax emulsions
1. the wax-water appears milky, due to the presence of calcium or iron in the water
Use 2-3 g of oxalic acid per kg wax and 1 l of water to bind calcium, prevent emulsion and to
brighten wax at the same time.
2. wax absorbs a greater amount of water: heat wax at 105
C to remove water.
• Wax has a crummy structure
This is due to saponification of wax. The process can be reverted by boiling wax with sulfuric or
oxalic acid. Use soft water to prevent this, e.g. rain water. Water with a low mineral content should
be used if such problems arise. However, in some cases, water/wax emulsions can occur, even with
soft water. In such cases, raw molten wax in contact with water should be kept below 90°C.
• Incorporation of water.
Water is often incorporated in the process of wax manufacture. Surplus water can be removed by
heating at about 105
C. Prevent foam building by defoaming agents (e.g. silicon). When no more
bubbles rise, the wax is free of water.
• Impure wax
After melting the wax is not pure enough. For additional cleaning heatable water tanks from high-
grade steel are suitable. The wax should remain for longer time in the water bath at a temperature of
75-80°C (best over night). Since wax is lighter than water, it floats. The dirt sinking at the lower
part of the wax must be scraped off after cooling. Under industrial conditions liquid wax can be
cleaned by filtration with heated chamber filters. Wax can also be purified by hot filtration.
ATTENTION: When using chemicals of the kind described above, use protecting gloves and goggles,
as well as protective clothing.
Dark wax (right) which was bleached by boiling the wax with diluted oxalic acid: boil 1 kg wax, 1 l water
and 2-3 g of oxalic acid anhydride
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Wax brightening and bleaching
Acids will bind a part of the iron which is responsible for wax darkening. Also they help breaking of
emulsions and help the settling of impurities.
e.g. add 2-3 g concentrated citric acid or oxalic acid, or 1 ml concentrated sulfuric acid to 1 l of water per
kg wax and (add acid to water and not vice-versa!).
Hydrogen peroxide solution
Add concentrated hydrogen peroxide solution (about 35 % in basic milieu) to hot wax (100
C). It is
essential that the peroxide is used up in the bleaching process. Excess peroxide could cause problems in the
manufacture of creams and ointments
Bleaching in a solar extractor will lighten the colour of the wax. In order to achieve bleaching, the wax
should be exposed to the sun for several days.
Heat wax at about 90
C for 30 minutes in 0.01 % potassium permanganate in slightly acidic milieu.
Exchange solution with water.
Do not use complexing agents because they are problematic from ecological point of view
Small scale wax producing units:
Combs with frames are placed into a container where vapour is introduced.
The trester is sieved, wax flows into the lower part of the container and can be
collected. In this device up to 36 combs with frames can be melted within 20
minutes. The generator already produces steam after 30 seconds steam.
For industrial purposes beeswax will be purified by filtration and centrifugation. A plate and frame press is
suitable. Tightly woven cotton cloth, canvas or paper filters can be used. Paper filters can be disposed of
after usage. Filtration is carried out under pressure. Filtration is extensively described elsewhere
Wax purification in small scale production
After melting the wax is not pure enough. For additional cleaning heatable water tanks from high-grade steel
are suitable. The wax should remain for longer time in the water bath at a temperature of 75-80°C (best over
night). Since wax is lighter than water, it floats. The dirt sinking at the lower part of the wax must be
scraped off after cooling and only the pure upper layer of wax should be kept. Let the wax cool down as
slowly as possible and to avoid all movement of the container during cooling.
Wax blocks are dried and stored in a dark and cool place. They can be stored in wrapping paper, placed on
shelves or in containers made of stainless steel, glass or plastic, for best preservation of colour and aroma.
This will keep of building of “dust”, which is supposed to be a salt of wax fatty acids
. This dust will be
eliminated by liquefying the beeswax or storage in a warm room.
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The hardness and the rigidity of beeswax increases upon storage.
Within a storage time the coefficient of
hardness increases by 61 to 74 %
Upon a longer storage beeswax is covered by a whitish layer soluble in organic solvents, probably a
salt of unsaturated organic acids with a melting point of
according to another Russian
author Chudakov this product has hydrocarbon-like properties
Production of comb foundations
Combs are produced basically by two methods: by sheeting and by casting (milling).
Sheeting of beeswax was the first method used in
production of foundations. In a first stage wax
sheets are produced and in a second the
foundations are produced by calendering. The
wax sheet is run through a foundation mill, which
will print the foundations. Foundations produced
by sheeting and milling is today the preferred
Casting or Milling of wax will produce foundations that
are more brittle in the cold than milled sheets. Cast
foundations are produced mainly by beekeepers, as this
method is easy to perform in small beekeeping units.
Photos courtesy G. Ratia
PROPERTIES AND COMPOSITION
Beeswaxes from different honeybees
Publications on the physical constants for the comb waxes of Asian and European beeswaxes first appeared a
century ago. It was soon shown that carbon chain length was, on average, shorter in the Asian beeswaxes
than in A. mellifera, which explains the lower melting points of the former. The Asian waxes are more
similar to one another than to A. mellifera. In Asian beeswaxes, the amounts of C31 and C33 in the pool of
free fatty acids are reduced, but C25 hydrocarbons are increased compared to that of A. mellifera. The major
compound families in beeswax are alkanes, alkenes, free fatty acids, monoesters, diesters and
hydroxymonoesters, while fatty alcohols and hydroxydiesters are minor constituents. There are notable
species-specific differences in the beeswaxes among honeybee species, but all share a complex mixture of
homologous neutral lipids
The wax produced by different species of Apis mellifera, and also of African adansoni wax, have the same
composition but some components are in a different proportion
. The waxes of Asian bees Apis florae,
Apis dorsata and Apis cerana, are called Ghedda. The composition of wax from Asian honeybee species is
much simpler and contains fewer compounds in different proportions
The different Ghedda waxes
resemble each other much more, than any of them to the Mellifera waxes
. Thus, Ghedda waxes cannot be
used as substitutes for Apis mellifera wax. Ghedda waxes from the Asian honeybee species are described as
softer and more plastic, but do not have a significantly different melting point
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The beeswax composition seems to vary also within the bee hive. There are different subtypes of beeswaxes
in the bee colony serving as cues for bees to recognise bases, sexes and comb age
Besides beeswax there are other ones, the most frequent are:
Jojoba, produced from the jojoba plant; carnauba: made from the leaves of the carnauba plant; lanolin,
made of lamb wool. Beeswax has generally a melting point which is about 10-20
C lower than other waxes.
According to Tulloch this difference is due to the large number of different compounds found in beeswax
This property permits the bees to use a softened material in the beehive and is also very useful in the uses in
The colour of the freshly produced beeswax is white, later it turns to yellow. The typical yellow colour
originates from propolis and pollen colorants. However, depending on the relative amounts of different
pollen and propolis pigments, wax colour can vary (see for review
. Beeswax has a typical odour,
originating from bees, honey, propolis and pollen.
The colour of newly made beeswax is white and it changes with the length of use to yellow, dark yellow and
brownish. The yellow colour is due to colourants originating from propolis and pollen, while the brown
colour is due to the pigments of the larval excrements. The taste of beeswax is normally pleasant and is not
specific – any unpleasant taste is a sign of quality deterioration due to foreign matter.
The structure of beeswax is crystalline. The crystallisation of beeswax depends on the the storage. The
crystallisation process increases upon storage of wax until 3-4 months, while at the same time, its stiffness
and elasticity increase. The mechanical properties of wax are important in connection with its use as “the
house of the bees”. Fresh “scale wax has a greater strength and extend to greater extent upon strain than and
is less stiff than comb wax, differences are due to the different physical structure and also of the chemical
composition of these two types, see p. 84-88 of Hepburn’s Wax Book
. The hardness of beeswax is an
important quality factor – the harder the wax, the better the wax quality.
Beeswax is an inert material with high plasticity at a relatively low temperature (around 32
C). By contrast,
at this temperature most plant waxes are much harder and of crystalline structure. Upon heating the physical
properties of wax change. At 30-35 °C it becomes plastic, at 46-47°C the structure of a hard body is
destroyed and between 60 to 70°C it begins to melt. Heating to 95-105
C leads to formation of surface foam,
while at 140°C the volatile fractions begin to evaporate. After cooling down beeswax shrinks by about 10 %
Heating at 120°C for at least 30 minutes causes an increase of hardness due to the removal of the remaining
water. The above information is taken from page 91 of a Bulgarian book on bee products
Beeswax is also insoluble in water and resistant to many acids. It is soluble in most organic solvents such as
acetone, ether, benzene, xylol, toluene, benzene, chloroform, tetrachlormethane. However in at room
temperature it does not fully dissolve in any of these solvents, but upon heating above the wax melting point
it is readily soluble in all of them, and also in ethanol.
Sensory properties of beeswax:
Colour yellow to yellow-brown
Odour heat wax , odour should be pleasant and honey-like.
Chewing test wax should not stick to teeth
Breakage test upon breaking should have a fine-granular, blunt, not crystalline structure
Cutting test wax should not stick to the knife
Splinters test scratch wax with nail or knife. Splinters should have a spiral form
Kneading test kneading for 10 minutes, wax should be plastic
Consistency should not stick upon cutting
Beeswax is an extremely complex material containing over 300 different substances
. It consists mainly of
esters of higher fatty acids and alcohols. Apart from esters, beeswax contains small quantities of
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hydrocarbons, acids and other substances. In addition, approx. 50 aroma components have been identified
The ratio of ester values to acids, a character used by the various pharmacopoeias to describe pure beeswax
is changed significantly by prolonged or excessive heating. Heating at 100
C for 24 hours changes the ratio
of ester to acid beyond the limits set for pure beeswax. Longer heating or higher temperatures lead to greater
degradation and loss of esters
. These changes also influence the physical characteristics of the wax. Thus,
excessive heating during rendering or further processing changes the wax structurally and alters the
beneficial characteristics of many of its minor compounds, not only the aromatic and volatile compounds.
Besides the lipophylic substances of which wax is composed, there are also some proteins, which are added
by the bees
. However, the ratio is not mentioned in the new 2008 European Pharmacopoeia.
Composition of wax, after
Number of components in
Quantity % Major Minor
Monoesters 35 10 10
Diesters 14 6 24
Triesters 3 5 20
Hydroxy monoesters 4 6 20
Hydroxy polyesters 8 5 20
Acid esters 1 7 20
Acid polyesters 2 5 20
Hydrocarbons 14 10 66
Free acids 12 8 10
Alcohols 1 5 ?
others 6 7 ?
total 100 74 210
With the collaboration of Hansjoachim Roth, www.ceralyse.de
The quality control of beeswax requires a great amount of specific knowledge and experience. The
Ceralyse laboratory in Bremen, Germany, is the only laboratory in the world, speciliazed on the
analysis and quality determination of beeswax.
Beeswax is specified in the Pharmacopoeia of different countries. Two types of wax are mentioned: white
(cera alba) and yellow (cera flava), white beeswax - being defined as bleached yellow wax. Bleached wax
has lost the colourants of normal beeswax and has not its pleasant odour. Beeswax is a natural product and
no additives are permitted.
The quality control can be divided into 4 steps:
Physico-chemical testing after the Pharmacopeia
Analysis of wax components by Gas Chromatography
Analysis of residues
The sensory properties, described on p. 10 are tested
Physico-chemical testing after the Pharmacopeia
There are different national Pharmacopeia, which have only small differences. Official wax control is based
mainly on the European and the American Pharmacopeia. The International Honey Commission has
proposed following criteria:
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Quality criteria for routine beeswax testing
Quality Criteria Value Method
Water content < 1% DGF-M-V-2*
Refractive index, 75o C 1.4398-1.4451 EP**
Melting point 61-65
Acid Number 17-22 EP
Ester Number 70-90 EP
Ester/Acid ratio 3.3-4.3
Saponification Number 87-102 EP
Mechanical impurities, additives absent DGF-M-V-3
Glycerols, polyols, fatty acids fats absent EP
Hydrocarbons max. 14.5 %* DGF-M-V-6
DGV, V2,3,6 – Methods of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Fettwissenschaft
EP - European Pharmacopoeia 7
- Edition, 2008
*- wax from African and Africanized bees: max. 13.8%
Physical properties of beeswax and artificial waxes, used as adulterants after
25, 32, 49
C Density Acidic number Saponification
Beeswax 61-65 0.950-0.965 17 – 24 87-100 15
Ceresin 65-80 0.91-0.92 0 0
Paraffin 45-70 0.88-0.91 0 0
Stearin 52-55 0.89 205-209 -207-210
Bayberry-myrtle 48-50 -0.875-0.980 4-30 205--217 7.5
Candelilla 65-69 0.97-0.99 -1-19 45-65 1.5
Caranday 82-85 0.99-1.00 3-10 62-80 1
Carnauba .82-86 0.99-1.00 .2-11 -78-88 1
Castor bean wax 86 0.98-0.99 2 17 2
Esparto grass wax 78 0.99 24 70 1.5
Japan wax 50-56 0.97-0.99 6-20 217.237
Montan crude wax 76-86 0.99-1.00 25-48 88-112 8
Ouricury 85 0.97-1.06 8-20 70-100 1
Retamo ceri nimbi 76-78 0.98-0.99 45-50 88 2
Shellac wax 72-86 0.97-0.98 2.25 45-85 2
Spermaceti 45-49 0.94-0.95 1 116-125 16
Sugar cane wax 75-79 0.98-0.99 6-10 25-35 3
Wool lanoline 31-42 0.92-0.96 1-40 80-140
ASTM D-5 – standard penetration test, see www.astm.org/Standards/D5.htm
Bee wax can be classified generally into European and Asian types. The ester/acid ratio is lower (3.3-4.3-)
for European beeswax, and higher (8-9) in Asian beeswax. However, the quantity of Asian beeswax has
decreased in recent years.
Determination of the sensory and physico-chemical characteristics according to the Pharmacopeia is not a
safe adulteration proof but in some cases can give hints on possible adulteration. If the values obtained are
outside the limits, further analysis by gas and column-chromatography, should be carried out.
The ratio of ester values to acids, a parameter determined in the pharmacopoeia gives information whether
pure natural beeswax is changed significantly by prolonged or excessive heating. When heating wax at
100°C for 24 hours the ratio of ester to acid is changed beyond the limits set for pure beeswax. Longer
heating or higher temperatures lead to greater degradation and loss of esters
. These changes also influence
the physical characteristics of the wax. Thus, excessive heating during rendering or further wax processing
changes the structure of wax and alters the beneficial characteristics of many of its minor compounds, not
only the aromatic and volatile compounds.
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Determining the saponification cloud point is an easy, sensitive method for determining adulteration with
The method is limited to detecting quantities greater than 1 % of high melting (80-85 °C)
paraffin waxes, or more than 4-5 % of low melting (50-55 °C) paraffins. If the solution becomes clear at or
C, the wax is probably unadulterated with paraffin. If it is adulterated, the solution will turn clear
only at a higher temperature. Some of the details of this test are described by Tulloch
. The saponification
cloud point is not suited to detect adulteration with carnauba wax, but gas liquid chromatography (GLC) can
detect the 6% of free C-32 alcohols (an alcohol with 32 carbon atoms) contained in Carnauba wax. Beeswax
only contains very little of these alcohols
Gas Chromatography and other modern methods
The current quality criteria for pure beeswax according the pharmacopoeia i.e. acid value, ester
value, saponification value, drop point, tests for paraffin and other waxes as well as for glycerol and
other polyols, summerised in table 1. are inadequate for it’s reliable determination but are still used
today because they are easy to carry out
. Today, adulteration can be detected very sensitively by
gas chromatographic determination of wax components. Unambiguous detection of beeswax
adulteration should be carried out by gas chromatography, best combined with MS detection
24, 36, 40, 41
All beeswax hydrocarbons are of uneven C-number. The presence of hydrocarbon adulterants, like
paraffin and ceresin, containing even numbered hydrocarbons can thus be easily detected.
The most common sources are:
• Hydrocarbons from paraffins and microwaxes
• Triglycerides from palm, fat and hardened beef tallow
• industrially produced fatty acids (palmitic, stearic acid); long chain alcohols (C16-C18) and
C32-C36 synthetic esters
The Ceralyse laboratory has developed a GC method for the detection of all adulterants.
High-temperature gas chromatography and subsequent chemometric analysis was found to have a
superior discriminative power than GC alone
A novel, direct, reagent-free method for the detection of beeswax adulteration by paraffin,
microcrystalline wax, tallow and stearic acid using single-reflection attenuated total reflectance
mid-infrared spectroscopy was developed, allowing the detection of a minimum of 5%
paraffin/microcrystalline wax and tallow adulteration and 0.5% stearic acid adulteration of beeswax
to be detected. The upper and lower critical limits for beeswax authenticity were established from
the analysis of virgin beeswax and were validated by independent analysis of real sheet and comb
beeswax samples using high-temperature gas chromatography with flame-ionization detection. In
addition to its simplicity with respect to sample handling, the amount of sample and the time needed
are far less than those required in previously described methods, which are based on chemical
analysis and chromatographic techniques
FTIR-ATR can be successfully used in paraffin oil adulteration testing
Beeswax may contain fat-soluble pollutants. Only traces of different enviromental pesticides are
generally detected. Beeswax is contaminated mainly by lipophylic acaricides applied in beekeeping.
Residue levels of different acaricides in the range between 0.5 and 10 mg/kg are found in
For its use in cosmetics and pharmaceutics, beeswax should contain minimal amounts of
contaminants. For uses as a food additive there are no specific wax specifications the same MRL as
the ones valid for honey should theoretically apply.
Other fat-soluble substances used in beekeeping, such as p-dichlorobenzene, used, against wax
moths can also contaminate beeswax
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Another potential problem for the quality of beeswax, used for beekeeping is the content of
Penibacillus larvae spores. Indeed, only heating of wax at 140
C for 30 minutes will destroy the
. Heating of pure wax at such high temperatures might cause overheating. Heating under
pressure of water-wax mixtures in pressure pots is another possibility to sterilize wax for small
scale wax production. In practice only very few wax manufacturers sterilise wax by this procedure.
On the other hand, experiments have shown, that only very high contamination with spores might
cause American Foul Brood (AFB). In this work it was concluded, that normal contamination with
spores of commercial beeswax is not likely to cause AFB
Preventive measures against contamination
Acaricides cannot be removed from wax by chemical means because of their different chemical
structure. The best strategy to improve wax quality is to use non toxic natural organic acids in
alternative varroa control
. It has been found that residues of synthetic acaricides can be reduced
rapidly below the detection limits by exchanging the old contaminated foundations by residue free
The contaminants, used for the control of wax moths (e.g. p-dichlorobenzene and
naphthaline) can be avoided by using alternative control measures (see table on p. 4). Contaminant
free beeswax can be obtained only in organic beekeeping and in countries where bee diseases are
not treated with chemicals (e.g. Africa).
Further reading on beeswax:
11, 15, 32, 51
1. AICHHOLZ, R; LORBEER, E (2000) Investigation of combwax of honeybees with high-temperature gas
chromatography and high-temperature gas chromatography-chemical ionization mass spectrometry,
II: Chemical ionization mass spectrometry. Journal of Chromatography.A 883 (1/2): 75-88.
2. BERNAL, J L; JIMENEZ, J J; DEL NOZAL, M J; TORIBIO, L; MARTIN, M T (2005) Physico-chemical
parameters for the characterization of pure beeswax and detection of adulterations. EUROPEAN
JOURNAL OF LIPID SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY 107 (3): 158-166.
3. BEVERLY, M B; KAY, P T; VOORHEES, K J (1995) Principal component analysis of the pyrolysismass
spectra from African, Africanized hybrid, and European beeswax. J.Anal.Appl.Pyrolysis 34: 251-263.
4. BOGDANOV, S; IMDORF, A; KILCHENMANN, V; GERIG, L (1990) Rückstände von Fluvalinat in
Bienenwachs, Futter und Honig. Schweizerische Bienen-Zeitung 113 (3): 130-134.
5. BOGDANOV, S; KILCHENMANN, V; SEILER, K; PFEFFERLI, H; FREY, T; ROUX, B; WENK, P;
NOSER, J (2004) Residues of p-dichlorobenzene in honey and beeswax. Journal of Apicultural
Research 43 (1): 14-16.
6. BOSELLI, E; CABONI, M F; LERCKER, G; MARCAZZAN, L P; SABATINI, A G; BAGGIO, A;
PRANDIN, L (2002) Valutazione di produzioni apistiche: gelatina reale e cera, In Sabatini, A G;
Bolchi Serrini, G; Frilli, F; Porrini, C (eds) Il ruolo della ricerca in apicoltura, Litosei; Bologna; pp
Beeswax Book, Chapter 1
Bee Product Science, www.bee-hexagon.net , April 2016 16
7. BRAND-GARNYS, E E; SPRENGER, J (1988) Bienenwachs - Neue Aspekte eines klassischen Kosmetik-
Rohstoffes. Z.Körperpflegemittel-, Parfümerie-, Riechstoff- und Aerosol-Industrie 61 (14): 547-552.
8. BRÜSCHWEILER, H; FELBER, H; SCHWAGER, F (1989) Bienenwachs - Zusammensetzung und
Beurteilung der Reinheit durch gaschromatographische Analyse. Fat science technology 91 (2): 73-
9. CHARRIÈRE, J D; IMDORF, A (1997) Schutz der Waben vor Mottenschäden. Weiterbildungskurs für
Berater. Mitteilung des Schweizerischen Zentrums Bienenforschung (24): 1-14.
10. CHUDAKOV, V (1965) Technology of beeswax (in Russian). Mosovksi rabochij Moscow
11. COGGSHALL, W L; MORSE, R A (1984) Beeswax. Production, harvesting and products. Wicwas Press New
York New York
12. FERBER, C E M; NURSTEN, H E (1977) The aroma of wax. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture
13. FROHLICH, B; RIEDERER, M; TAUTZ, J (2001) Honeybees discriminate cuticular waxes based on esters
and polar components. Apidologie 32 (3): 265-274.
14. FRÖHLICH, B; TAUTZ, J; RIEDERER, M (2000) Chemometric classification of comb and cuticular waxes
of the honeybee Apis mellifera carnica. Journal of Chemical Ecology 26 (1): 123-137.
15. HEPBURN, H R (1986) Honeybees and wax, an experimental natural history. Springer-Verlag, Berlin Berlin
16. HEPBURN, H R; PIRK, C W W; DUANGPHAKDEE, O (2014) The Chemistry of Beeswax Honeybee Nests,
Springer; pp 319-339.
17. IMDORF, A; BOGDANOV, S; KILCHENMAN, V (2004) Wachsumstellung im Rahmen der Bioimkerei.
Schweizerische Bienen-Zeitung 127 (11): 15-18.
18. IMDORF, A; CHARRIÈRE, J D; MAQUELIN, C; KILCHENMANN, V; BACHOFEN, B (1996) Alternative
Varroa control. American Bee Journal 136 (3): 189-193.
19. IMDORF, A; KILCHENMANN, V; KUHN, R; BOGDANOV, S (2002) Wachsumstellung in der Bio-Imkerei.
Kontaminationsgefahr durch Rückstände auf den Kastenwänden ? Mitteilung des Schweizerischen
Zentrums Bienenforschung 49: 1-5.
20. JIMENEZ, J J; BERNAL, J L; AUMENTE, S; DEL NOZAL, J; MARTIN, T; BERNAL, J JR (2004) Quality
assurance of commercial beeswax. Part I. Gas chromatography-electron impact ionization mass
spectrometry of hydrocarbons and monoesters. Journal of Chromatography A 1024: 147-154.
21. JIMENEZ, J J; BERNAL, J L; AUMENTE, S; TORIBIO, L; BERNAL, J (2003) Quality assurance of
commercial beeswax - II. Gas chromatography-electron impact ionization mass spectrometry of
alcohols and acids. Journal of Chromatography.A 1007 (1-2): 101-116.
22. JIMENEZ, J J; BERNAL, J L; DEL NOZAL, M J; MARTIN, M T; BERNAL, J (2006) Sample preparation
methods for beeswax characterization by gas chromatography with flame ionization detection.
Journal of Chromatography.A 1129 (2): 262-272.
23. JIMENEZ, J J; BERNAL, J L; DEL NOZAL, M J; MARTIN, M T; TORIBIO, L (2009) Identification of
adulterants added to beeswax: Estimation of detectable minimum percentages. EUROPEAN
JOURNAL OF LIPID SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY 111 (9): 902-911.
24. JIMENEZ, J J; BERNAL, J L; DEL NOZAL, M J; TORIBIO, L; BERNAL, J (2007) Detection of beeswax
adulterations using concentration guide-values. EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF LIPID SCIENCE AND
TECHNOLOGY 109 (7): 682-690.
25. KIRK-OTHMER (2007) Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. John Willey and Sons (5th.
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Bee Product Science, www.bee-hexagon.net , April 2016 17
26. KRELL, R (1996) Value-added products from beekeeping. FAO Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations Roma; 409 pp
27. KRIVTSOV, N; LEBEDEV, V (1995) The bee products (In Russian). Editing House, Niwa Niwa, Russia
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30. MAIA, M; BARROS, A I; NUNES, F M (2013) A novel, direct, reagent-free method for the detection of
beeswax adulteration by single-reflection attenuated total reflectance mid-infrared spectroscopy.
Talanta 107: 74-80.
31. MAIA, M; NUNES, F M (2013) Authentication of beeswax (Apis mellifera) by high-temperature gas
chromatography and chemometric analysis. Food Chemistry 136 (2): 961-968.
32. MCLOUD, E S Waxes. Wattle Bark 22: 156-173.
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47. TAUTZ, J; LINDAUER, M (1997) Honeybees establish specific sites on the comb for their waggle dances.
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