Stingless bee-collected pollen (bee bread) is a mixture of bee pollen, bee salivary enzymes, and regurgitated honey, fermented by indigenous microbes during storage in the cerumen pot. Current literature data for bee bread is overshadowed by bee pollen, particularly of honeybee Apis.
In regions such as Mexico, South America, Australia, and Southeast Asia, information on Stingless bee bee bread is mainly sought to promote the meliponiculture industry for socioeconomic development.
Bees have a unique social life. In a social bee community, the queen dominates the reproduction and has a morphology different from other bees. The colonies live for many years (perennial).
Stingless bee is an example of social bees alongside honeybee and bumblebee. It contains more than 50 genera and 600 species worldwide.
Stingless bee is different from other bee species. As its name implies, stingless bee′s sting is significantly reduced and is not an effective mechanism for nest protection, but it can still bite to protect its hive from threats.
Bee products are crucial for bee survival, and it is acquired for medicine, offering cosmetic, and everyday uses since 8000 BC. Stingless bees are widely distributed in countries such as Mexico, South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia, prompting ventures of stingless bee beekeeping industry in these local regions for socioeconomic development and biodiversity conservation.
Bee bread is one the bee by-products made from pollen collected by the bee added with nectar and bee salivary enzymes before it undergoes lactic acid fermentation in beehives. Bee bread is also referred to as fermented pollen, pot-pollen, stored pollen, or ambrosia.
Occasionally, among researchers, it is used interchangeably with bee pollen. In this article, the term bee bread is used and strictly referred to as stored pollen collected from inside of the beehives.
Consumer interest and demand for natural products have influenced in-depth research for bee bread nutritional properties. Bee bread is rich in carbohydrate, protein, and lipids and contain other micronutrients such as minerals, vitamins, phenolic compounds, and essential amino acids.
It possesses therapeutic values such as anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidant properties, antimicrobial properties, antitumor activity, and antihypertensive activity. Bee bread nutritional values are varied as factors such as botanical origin, geographical location, climatic conditions, soil type, beekeeper activities, and bee species contribute towards its chemical composition.
Research on bee pollen from European honeybee (Apis spp.) has been continuously reported overshadowing what bee bread can offer. One of the reasons is the difficulty in acquiring honeybee bee bread from the honeycomb. This consequently influenced researchers′ preference to study on bee pollen. However, bee pollen is biochemically different to bee bread as the latter is a product of fermentation. This makes research on bee bread essential to distinguish between these bee products for the development of meliponiculture industry.
The nutrient richness of bee bread simultaneously promotes the growth of microbes. For the bee, microbes are essential to protect bee colonies against pathogens and provide nutrients for bee growth. There is plenty of studies reported on isolation and identification of bee bread microbes with profound interest on lactic acid bacteria because of its significant status as an industrially important group of bacteria.
For instance, recent discoveries have identified bacteria from stingless bee bee bread as probiotic and source of antimicrobial compounds and industrial enzymes signifying the potential use of bee bread microbes in the food industry.
A single stingless bee colony could produce up to 6 kg of bee bread per year depending on the species.
Because stingless bee′s bee bread is stored in cerumen pot, its acquisition is different from those of honeybee. Honeybee bee bread is acquired either through manual extraction or usage of a specialised bee bread harvester for large scale production. However, the current method to acquire stingless bee′s bee bread is using forceps, tweezers, or spatula. This imposes challenges especially towards mass production of bee bread for commercialisation.
The most abundant mineral in stingless bee bee bread is potassium followed by phosphorus. From the studies conducted, potassium was in the range of 2222.5–13,366.6 mg/kg. Similarly, it is also the most prevalent mineral in stingless bee honey. Other minerals such as boron, rubidium, and strontium have been found in trace amounts in bee bread of Tetragonula biroi.
There has been a tremendous report published on bee pollen as it is shown to possess therapeutic properties such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-fungicidal, hepatoprotective, and anti-atherosclerotic activities. In contrast, only a few publications have been reported on stingless bee bee bread’s biological properties:
Bee bread extract contains phenolic compounds, which can be attributed to its antimicrobial properties. Therefore, its importance as an antimicrobial agent has to be acknowledged not only towards bacteria but also towards yeast and parasite.
Phenolic compounds are one the most important natural antioxidants, which can be found in fruits, vegetables, tea, herbs, and essential oils. Antioxidant removes overproduced free radicals or reactive oxygen species (ROS), which cause molecular damages on DNA, protein, and lipid. Consequently, it has been linked with onset of diseases such as cancer and inflammation. Stingless bee bee bread contains antioxidant compounds such as phenolic compounds and vitamin C. Therefore, it has been explored for its ability to remove free radicals.
Obesity is a public health concern. According to World Health Organisation, in 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults (18 years and above) were overweight with 650 million obese. A wide array of natural products has been assessed for their ability to combat obesity and that includes bee bread.
Some studies also suggest bee bread extract’s ability to reduce inflammation. Melipona fasciculata and Scaptotrigona affinis postica ethanolic bee bread extracts were administered in induced-oedema mice model in two separate studies. The anti-inflammatory responses were time and dose independent. After 5 h, the bee bread treatments were able to reduce the paw volume equivalent to the drug treatment of indomethacin (anti-inflammatory) and cyproheptadine (antihistamine).
Bee bread extract has the ability to block pain detection through its antinociceptive activity. In vivo studies were conducted on pain-induced mice administered with bee bread ethanolic extract of two different species—Melipona fasciculata and Scaptotrigona affinis postica. Upon investigation, Melipona fasciculata bee bread extract (500 mg/kg) reduced the abdominal contort in mice suffering from acetic acid exposure better than indomethacin. Meanwhile, the formalin test showed bee bread extract efficiency similar to those of indomethacin in reducing biting/licking time in mice.
Bee pollen conversion into bee bread via lactic acid fermentation is linked with microbial action. Bee bread has been assumed to undergo microbial fermentation to increase its nutritional value.