Harvesting and Processing of Royal Jelly

Harvesting and Processing of Royal Jelly

Royal jelly is a very specific bee product that not every beekeeper offers. Getting it is a real challenge and requires a great deal of knowledge of bees and a lot of skill. However, thanks to the high interest in royal jelly, its worldwide production increases every year. Over 4,000 tonnes of royal jelly are processed annually, with China being the largest producer.

Royal jelly is a natural pharmacy for human health

If we have captured your interest, please refer to more detailed information on royal jelly.

The miraculous bee product has been of interest to man since time immemorial, but in recent decades it has been in the field of view of scientists and physicians all over the world, as well as customers who are increasingly asking for royal jelly. Thanks to the great attention, royal jelly has become the object of many scientific studies. The largest study has been conducted in Japan, where for one month, 1 gram a day was administered to 3,500 people under the tongue, i.e., sublingually.

The conclusions of the research attracted the attention of both the professional and lay public. Royal jelly has shown an incredibly positive effect on blood formation, improvement of heart and respiratory problems, increase in vitality, sexual activity in men, regularisation of the menstrual cycle and improvement of menstrual problems in women, and helped both groups to sleep better. The results of the study clearly demonstrated that royal jelly increases physical fitness and encourages higher performance.1 However, beekeepers had known this already long before this study was carried out.

The process of harvesting royal jelly

This activity is carried out by beekeepers who specialise in the production of royal jelly - not every ordinary beekeeper harvests and offers royal jelly in this way.

Demandingness of obtaining royal jelly

Bees do not store royal jelly anywhere for a long time in larger quantities, therefore obtaining it is rather demanding compared to other bee products. Royal jelly is collected from the queen cell when the larva is approximately 50 to 60 hours old. It is just during this period that the supply of royal jelly in the queen cell is the largest, approximately 200 mg. A normal bee colony will raise approximately 5 to 20 queen cells for the whole year. Logically, such a low number of queen cells would not be enough to produce royal jelly, which is why biotechnology is used which is similar to the serial breeding of mother bees.

One of the methods of obtaining royal jelly is the method during the permanent absence of the queen bee in the hive. In a selected bee colony, beekeepers intentionally create a situation leading to the building of queen cells and the breeding of queens. In such a case, we talk about the so-called "breeding mood". The beekeeper removes the colony's queen bee, the bees feel orphaned and start breeding a replacement mother bee. The beekeeper takes advantage of this moment and inserts a prepared series of vertically oriented wax or plastic bowls with pre-inserted larvae of several hours to one day into the bee colony. He can insert up to 60 such bowls into one bee colony, and every third day he collects their content and inserts newly larvaed bowls into the bee colony.

Matečníky na plástu, Pleva
Queen cells in a honeycomb

In-depth knowledge of beekeeping is necessary for the success of this activity. The beekeeper must carefully observe in which bee colony royal jelly can be obtained in this way – it should on the one hand have enough young bees capable of producing royal jelly and on the other hand it should be a bee colony that is in a breeding mood. The beekeeper keeps the bee colony in a breeding mood by feeding it a sugar solution (if there is not honey flow), to which he also adds a little honey. He also gives pollen to the bees and that in the form of a pollen cake (pollen pellets are diluted with water to a doughy consistency). In the absence of the queen bee in the hive, the beekeeper can repeat the insertion of frames in three to five series. If he decided to do more repetitions, the number of queen cells accepted would drop because there would be insufficient bee recovery.

Detail matečníku, Pleva
Detail of a queen cell

Other options are obtaining royal jelly in the presence of the queen bee in the hive or in a combined way - by creating part of the bee colony without the queen. When using these methods of harvesting royal jelly, it is possible to insert series throughout the main beekeeping season (from the end of May until July). However, these methods are more laborious and time-consuming.

Collection of royal jelly

mateří kašička v matečnících
Queen cells with royal jelly

The royal jelly is collected on the third day after the frame series is placed in the colony. Previously, royal jelly was transferred into earthenware or glass containers. Today, the royal jelly is sucked out of the cells.

Royal jelly must never be picked up with metal objects or stored in the presence of metal objects, as it would be deteriorated. In this way, the beekeeper also gets a tiny amount of wax into the royal jelly.

This is why beekeepers suck out the royal jelly using a vacuum device, which is much faster and makes it easier to get royal jelly. Out of four to six queen cells, the beekeeper obtains 1 gram of native royal jelly. In our circumstances, this amounts to 200 grams per year per bee colony.

When harvesting royal jelly and handling it, hygiene must be scrupulously observed. Mechanical and microbial contamination worsens the storability of royal jelly, so beekeepers must thoroughly wash all tools.

Royal jelly cannot be harvested continuously

A beekeeper cannot demand continuous production of royal jelly from one colony. After several series, they must give the bee colony a break and, for example, replace the production colonies. Too much pressure on royal jelly production would weaken the bees and reduce their resistance to various diseases.

Processing and storage of royal jelly

Fresh royal jelly is stored in a cool and dark environment of a refrigerator at a temperature of 3 to 5 °C; the temperature should not drop below the freezing point. Under these conditions, its shelf life is a maximum of half a year. Preserved in honey or in freeze-dried form lasts 1 year. However, we always recommend consuming pure royal jelly and royal jelly in honey as soon as possible. The shelf life of royal jelly can be extended by freezing at ideal temperatures of -15 to -20 °C; then it lasts 2 years in the freezer. Do not refreeze once thawed. The fact that frozen royal jelly retains its properties is confirmed by the finding that “with the help of deep-frozen royal jelly (below -20 °C), kept for seven years, it was possible to raise new queen bees”.2

Sale and price of royal jelly

Mateří kašička v medu, Pleva
Royal jelly in honey

Royal jelly is sold in several forms – raw (chilled, frozen), in honey, or lyophilized. While most customers consume it in raw form or use it as part of meals, many cosmetic companies use it in their preparations and products.

No wonder the price of royal jelly is rather high. It reflects the considerable difficulty of obtaining it, the necessity of very careful handling of royal jelly and the high demands of its storage, as well as the ever-increasing demand for this product. As with any exceptional product, there have been a number of royal jelly sellers who have tried to adulterate the product or sold royal jelly which did not have the value.

As regards Czech legislation, the quality of royal jelly is not examined in any way and is not subject to any special requirements. Its standard composition has not yet been determined. So, if you want to use royal jelly, you better check its source thoroughly before buying.

Lyophilization (freeze drying)

Lyofilizovaná mateří kašička, pleva
Lyophilisiertes Gelee Royale

It is a method used to dry a variety of moist materials. It is used to dry food, but also to save books or documents. Lyophilization is common in the pharmaceutical and food industries.

The principle of lyophilization is based on sublimation of frozen water at low pressure and temperature. Thanks to this, there is no direct transition of water from liquid to gaseous state, which in many cases damages the raw material. Lyophilization is suitable particularly for products that do not tolerate higher temperatures, such as royal jelly.

The greatest advantage of this processing method compared to others is the preservation of royal jelly active ingredients, which are gradually lost in the refrigerator or anywhere else.

It might seem that the price of royal jelly is relatively high, but from a historical point of view, it is not. On the contrary, we are in a period of stable royal jelly prices, which are almost the lowest in the last decades. In 1972, royal jelly was a very expensive commodity – 4-6 times the current price was paid for it. At that time, royal jelly helped in the treatment of the Pope Pius XII.3, which is why there was such interest in it, and with the wave of interest, its price also increased. In 1993, the price of royal jelly was twice what it is today. The high price today, as in the past, reflects many of the factors described in the previous paragraphs.

China as the world's largest producer of royal jelly

Although we have no support in official statistics, the uncrowned king of the royal jelly market is China. It is the largest producer and importer of royal jelly in the world. How did China get this monopoly? Simply – the price of royal jelly from China is up to 30 times lower than in the case of France, from which China took over the sceptre of the largest producer. France even held the primacy for several decades.4 We can only speculate if cheaper labour is the cause, as there are no official studies on the subject.

Mateří kašička
Photo: Wikimedia Commons author: Waugsberg, CC BY-SA 4.0;

The foundation of the Chinese boom was laid by the breeding of bee lines with a high production of royal jelly from imported Italian honeybees. And it didn't just stop at breeding. Breeding technologies and techniques for harvesting royal jelly have also undergone rapid development. Also, the climatic conditions of the southern Chinese provinces allow the production of royal jelly from March to November, and this is also one of the important factors contributing to the high annual royal jelly yield.5 However, the fundamental fact is that Chinese royal jelly has the same quality characteristics as that from France. The only advantage of European royal jelly is that it is produced closer.

It is mainly imported to Japan, Europe, and the USA. With such volumes of royal jelly, China accounts for 60% of the world production of this bee miracle. Other important producers include Vietnam, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. In Europe, most royal jelly is produced in the eastern part of the continent, France, and Italy. Mexico is also one of the larger producers of royal jelly.

“The production of royal jelly has truly increased in an incredible way in the last twenty years. In 2012, the yield was more than 4,000 tonnes. Historically, for example, China harvested 450 tonnes of royal jelly in 1984, while in 2012 it was already 3,500 tonnes. It is similar in Vietnam – 20 tonnes in 1984 and 100 tonnes in 2012.“6

Use and purchase of royal jelly

Royal jelly should be taken continuously for 2-4 weeks. Then there should be a 2-3-month break, after which you can repeat the procedure again. However, you should only apply royal jelly at these intervals three to five times a year – after all, bees do not produce it all year round either.

In the ideal case, you can get royal jelly from your beekeeper - however, not each beekeeper is engaged in its production, which is why there is very little original Czech royal jelly on our market. Although royal jelly does not have to be subject to any specific requirements for its properties according to legislation, the quality of our bee products is crucial for us. Therefore, we carry out analyses of our royal jelly to verify its quality and authenticity.

Crème with Royal Jelly 4-in-1

Elixir of youth with royal jelly

1 Czech publication: KŘENKOVÁ, E.: Mateří kašička; Časopis Včelařství, ročník 62 (143), Český svaz včelařů, Praha, str. 68-69 Back

2 Czech publication: kolektiv autorů: Mateří kašička a propolis; Bratislava, Eugenika, 2017, str. 14, ISBN 978-80-8100-519-0. Back

3 CLARKE, M., MCDONALD, P.: Australian Royal Jelly - Market Opportunity Assessment based on production that uses new labour saving technology [online]. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, 2017 [cit. 8. 7. 2019]. Dostupné z: https://www.agrifutures.com.au/wp-content/uploads/publications/17-017.pdf. Back

4 HUBAČ, R.: Dech včely. (Lecture at the Bee Breath conference in Brno); Brno: Masarykova univerzita, 27.-29. 5. 2015. Back

5 Czech publication: PETR, Jaroslav: Čínské chovy včel s vysokou produkcí mateří kašičky; Moderní včelař, České Budějovice: PSNV-CZ, z. s., 19.2.2018, 2/2018, str. 15 – 17, ISSN 1214-5793. Back

6 CLARKE, M., MCDONALD, P.: Australian Royal Jelly - Market Opportunity Assessment based on production that uses new labour saving technology [online]. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, 2017 [cit. 8. 7. 2019]. Dostupné z: https://www.agrifutures.com.au/wp-content/uploads/publications/17-017.pdf, str. 4. Back

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