Honey is an extensively utilized sweetener containing sugars and water, together with small quantities of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and proteins. Naturally produced by honeybees (Apis mellifera) from floral nectar, honey is increasingly sold as a health food product due to its nutritious features. Certain honeys are retailed as premium, trendy products. Honeybees are regarded as environmental monitors, but few reports examine the impact of environment on Australian honey trace elements and minerals. In higher density urban and industrial environments, heavy metals can be common, while minerals and trace elements can have ubiquitous presence in both agricultural and urban areas. Honey hives are traditionally placed in rural and forested areas, but increasingly the trend is to keep hives in more urban areas. This study aimed to determine the levels of 26 minerals and trace elements and assess elemental differences between honeys from various regional Queensland and Australian sources. Honey samples (n = 212) were acquired from markets, shops and supermarkets in Queensland while urban honeys were purchased online. The honey samples were classified into four groups according to their regional sources: urban, rural, peri-urban and blend honey. Elemental analyses of honey were performed using ICP-MS and ICP-OES after microwave and hot block digestion. Considerable variations of essential trace elements (Co, Cu, Cr, Fe, Mn, Mo and Zn) and mineral levels (Ca, K, Mg, Na and P) were found in honeys surveyed. There were significant differences (p < 0.05) between urban and rural honey samples for B, Na, P, Mn, K, Ca and Cu. Significant differences (p < 0.05) were also found between blend and urban honey samples for K, Cu, P, Mn, Sr, Ni, B and Na. Peri-urban versus urban honeys showed significant differences in P, K and Mn. For rural and peri-urban honeys, the only significant difference (p < 0.05) was for Na. Toxic heavy metals were detected at relatively low levels in honey products. The study revealed that the Queensland/Australian honey studied is a good source of K and Zn and would constitute a good nutritional source of these elements.
Keywords: Apis mellifera; Australia; Queensland; heavy metals; honey; minerals; trace metals.