Beeswax (cera alba) is a natural wax produced by honey bees. The wax is formed into scales by eight wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments of worker bees, which discard it in or around the hive. The hive workers collect and use it to form cells for honey storage and larval and pupal protection within the beehive. Chemically, beeswax consists mainly of esters of fatty acids and various long-chain alcohols.
Beeswax has been used since prehistory as the first plastic, as a lubricant and waterproofing agent, in lost wax casting of metals and glass, as a polish for wood and leather and for making candles, as an ingredient in cosmetics and as an artistic medium in encaustic painting.
Beeswax is edible, having similar negligible toxicity to plant waxes, and is approved for food use in most countries.
The new wax is initially glass-clear and colourless, becoming opaque after chewing and being contaminated with pollen by the hive worker bees, becoming progressively yellower or browner by incorporation of pollen oils and propolis. The wax scales are about three millimetres across and 0.1 mm thick, and about 1100 are needed to make a gram of wax. Worker bees use the beeswax to build honeycomb cells. For the wax-making bees to secrete wax, the ambient temperature in the hive must be 33 to 36 °C
Honey in fat cells associated with wax glands are metabolized by bees into beeswax. The amount of honey used by bees to produce wax has not been accurately determined although it has been suggested that for every 1000 kgs of bulk honey produced, there is approximately 18 kgs of crude capping’s beeswax produced as a by-product.
When beekeepers extract the honey, they cut off the wax caps from each honeycomb cell with an uncapping knife or machine. Its colour varies from nearly white to brownish, but most often a shade of yellow, depending on purity, the region, and the type of flowers gathered by the bees.
Wax from the brood comb of the honey bee hive tends to be darker than wax from the honeycomb. Impurities accumulate more quickly in the brood comb. Due to the impurities, the wax must be rendered before further use. The leftovers are called slumgum.
The wax may be clarified further by heating in water. As with petroleum waxes, it may be softened by dilution with mineral oil or vegetable oil to make it more workable at room temperature.
Beeswax is a tough wax formed from a mixture of several chemical compounds. It has a relatively low melting point range of only 62 to 64 °C If beeswax is heated above 85 °C discolouration occurs.
When natural beeswax is cold it is brittle, and its fracture is dry and granular. At room temperature (conventionally taken as about 20 °C ) it is tenacious and it softens further at human body temperature (37 °C).
Reference Source: Medcraveonline; Tridge; Wikipedia; MPI New Zealand