This summer, a group of beekeepers in Brooklyn noticed their bees were flying home with honey bellies glowing like red bulbs, and filling around 10 hives with an incandescent red substance that didn't look like honey. Were the bees foraging sumac? Or gathering from hummingbird feeders? Or from antifreeze from the nearby bus yard? The beekeepers sent a sample to a state lab for testing, and the results came back: Red Dye No. 40.
A block away from the most affected hives in the Red Hook neighborhood is Dell's Maraschino Cherries Company.
Honey is seen as something pure and natural, but bees are foragers whose guiding principle is "The sweeter the better"—even if that means making the untraditional choice of gathering artificial sugars from the urban landscape. According to New York State apiarist Paul Cappy (yes, New York has an official state apiarist), a Long Island beekeeper who lived next to a candy factory once saw his bees make their hive a rainbow of high-fructose corn syrup, in red, blue, and green. Another beekeeper, according to apiarist lore, lived near a candy factory in Syracuse, and his bees produced a lovely, delicate spearmint- and winter mint-flavored honey.