Organic acids in Australian native stingless bee honey

Natasha L. Hungerford, Hans S.A. Yates, Tobias J. Smith, Mary T. Fletcher
Get the full paper HERE.
Stingless bee (Meliponini) honey composition has recently been the subject of a surge in interest, especially in tropical and subtropical regions, owing to its unique sugar and its highly appreciated flavour, organoleptic and medicinal properties. Whilst many researchers have studied the physicochemical properties of stingless bee honeys, little is known about organic acids.

Organic acids in stingless bee honey are thought to contribute to the significant sour and tangy overtones in the taste profile of the honey, which are stronger than those observed in Apis mellifera honey. The quantity and composition of sugar and organic acid content in stingless bee honey likely contribute significantly to its taste/flavour profile.

The aliphatic organic acid content in 111 samples of stingless bee honey from five Australian stingless bee species (Tetragonula carbonaria, T. hockingsi, T. davenporti, Austroplebeia australis and A. cassiae) was examined, with honey sourced from both rural and urban sources. Gluconic acid was the predominant organic acid detected in all the stingless bee honeys, followed by acetic and lactic acids, with the latter dependent on the genera.

  • Both gluconic acid and malic acid were higher in A. australis honeys compared to T. hockingsi and T. carbonaria.
  • Acetic acid was lower in A. australis honeys compared to T. carbonaria and T. davenporti.
  • Lactic acid was significantly higher in all three species of Tetragonula honey samples compared to A. australis honey.
  • Tetragonula honeys varied in organic acid content according to honey botanical origin.

Honey sample request
Researchers are looking for 50mL samples of native bee honey, and Apis honey, collected in the same area, at the same time, on the same flowers, e.g., from macadamia orchards, where both species of bee are foraging on the same flowers. The samples could come from other situations including mixed floral environments as well.
Connie Locher, from the University of Western Australia and her student Mariana are looking at chemical “fingerprints” to differentiate the honey from honey bees (Apis mellifera) and native (Tetragonula) bees. These sorts of tests once developed will help prevent fraudulent and deceptive activities, such as passing off cheap Apis honey as native honey.
If you believe you have suitable honey samples, please get in touch with the ANBA honey committee by emailing Dean Haley at

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