Honey Helped Create Our Big Brains

September 1, 2019

Did you know that honey is considered a "superfood?" Superfoods are typically raw or unprocessed foods rich in compounds that are good for one’s health. Other superfoods include blueberries, salmon, kale, broccoli, and acai fruit. Honey, along with other flavonoid-rich foods like berries, teas, red grapes, red wine, citrus fruit, onions, parsley, legumes, and dark chocolate can help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease by boosting cellular antioxidant defenses. Flavonoids may also contribute to the maintenance of brain function. Raw honey also has another advantage in that it has antibacterial and antiviral properties that can help boost immune systems and fight sickness.

So it may not come as much surprise to you that some anthropologists speculate that honey may have had a critical role in shaping humans’ brain development. Around, 2.5 million years ago, early species of Homo were the first hominids with brains bigger than an ape’s. These larger brains required more energy-dense foods to maintain. Scientists believe that meat—supported by the archeological record of stone tools for hunting and butchering—likely fueled this brain expansion. Recent evidence also suggests that ancient tubers and honey may have also contributed to early brain development. In addition to being a superfood, wild honey also contains traces of bee larvae, which adds necessary fat and protein to the already potent mix of its vitamins and minerals.

While the nutritional benefits of honey are evident, there is no prehistoric fossil record that suggests that early hominids ate honey. The oldest known evidence of people using honey dates back only 8,500 years to residue remaining in Neolithic pottery found in Asia Minor. Nonetheless anthropologists who study ancient civilizations point out that honey is an important dietary staple for indigenous populations around the world. Additionally, a variety of different primates have learned to harvest honey, which is an important component of their diet. It is entirely plausible that early hominids were as capable as monkeys and apes in collecting honey and maybe were even more successful, if they used the stone tools they made to do so.