Do Bears Really Love Honey?

ronniechua/iStock via Getty Images
ronniechua/iStock via Getty Images

If your experience with bears is largely limited to reading Winnie the Pooh as a kid, you might think that these fuzzy mammals will do anything to get their gigantic paws on a jar of honey. And you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Author A. A. Milne didn’t pull his depiction of bears as honey-craving maniacs out of thin air. But their culinary tastes go beyond the sweet stuff in the hive.

“Bears do love honey and are attracted to beehives,” Elizabeth Manning, an education specialist for the State of Alaska, wrote for Alaska Fish & Wildlife News. “But unlike in Winnie the Pooh, the bears eat more than just honey. They will also consume the bees and larvae inside the beehive, which are a good source of protein. Both brown and black bears will raid beehives.”

If you’re wondering: Wouldn’t attacking a beehive result in a lots of painful bee stings? The answer is yes. According to the North American Bear Center:

“Bears endure stings to get the prized pupae, larvae, and eggs in the brood comb of a hive. Protective adult bees sting bears’ faces and ears but have a hard time penetrating the fur on the rest of the body. After bears get the brood comb and perhaps some honey, they hurry away and shake bees out of their fur like they shake water.”

In other words: bears think the tradeoff is worth it, which has caused major problems for beekeepers all over the world. In just the first five months of 2018, bears damaged more than 370 beehives throughout Finland and parts of Estonia, forcing Finland's government to shell out $143,000 to farmers whose livelihoods had been destroyed along with their hives.

While many beekeepers incur the cost of surrounding their hives with electric fencing to keep the bears at bay, even the sting of an electric shock isn't enough to deter the most determined bears. Last year in Finland, according to the BBC, a brown bear made its way right past an electric fence to get to two beehives.

After years of being pestered by bears, Ibrahim Sedef—a beekeeper in Turkey—has adopted an if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em approach to dealing with the animals. Realizing that bears might be the most discerning honey-eaters around, he decided to turn the sweet-loving carnivores into voluntary taste testers. He set up four bowls, each one containing a different treat: flower honey, chestnut honey, Anzer honey, and cherry jam (as a decoy) to see if the bears sniffed out a particular favorite. Then he set up a camera and watched as they declared Anzer honey, which is one of the world’s most expensive honeys, to be the winner.

While Sedef estimates that his bear problem has cost him about $10,000 over the years, he can’t stay mad at these furry guys. “Despite all this, when I see the footage, I forget all the harm they have done to me, and love them,” Sedef told The Guardian.

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Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

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iStock

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

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What’s the Difference Between Crocheting and Knitting?

djedzura/iStock via Getty Images
djedzura/iStock via Getty Images

With blustery days officially upon us, the most pressing question about your sweaters, scarves, hats, and mittens is probably: “Are these keeping me warm?” If you’re a DIY enthusiast, or just a detail-oriented person in general, your next question might be: “Were these knitted or crocheted?”

Knitting and crocheting are both calming crafts that involve yarn, produce cozy garments and other items, and can even boost your mental well-being. Having said that, they do have a few specific differences.

To knit, you need needles. The size, material, and number of those needles depends on the project; though most traditional garments are made using two needles, it’s also possible to knit with just one needle, or as many as five. But regardless of the other variables, one or both ends of your knitting needles will always be pointed.

While crocheting calls for a similar long, thin tool that varies in size and material, it has a hooked end—and you only ever need one. According to The Spruce Crafts, even if you hear people refer to the tool as a crochet needle, they’re really talking about a crochet hook.

crotchet hook and garment
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Part of the reason you only use one hook brings us to the next difference between crocheting and knitting: When crocheting, there’s only one “active loop” on your hook at any given time, whereas knitting entails lining up loops down the length of your needles and passing them between needles. The blog Darn Good Yarn explains that since each loop is attached to a long row of stitches, accidentally “dropping” one off the end of your needle might unravel the entire row.

Of course, you have a better chance of avoiding that type of manual error if you’re using a knitting machine or loom, which both exist. Crocheting, on the other hand, has to be done by hand. Since machines can create garments with extremely small stitches, some knit clothes can be much more lightweight or close-fitting than anything you’d be able to crochet—and knitted clothes can also be mass-produced.

When it comes to what the items actually look like, crochet stitches characteristically look more like knots, while knit stitches seem flatter and less bulky. However, materials and techniques have come a long way over the years, and now there’s more crossover between what you’re able to knit and crochet. According to The Spruce Crafts, socks and T-shirts—traditionally both garments that would be knitted—can now technically be crocheted.

knitting needles and garment
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And, believe it or not, knitting and crocheting can even be used to depict complicated mathematical concepts: see what a crocheted hyperbolic plane, Lorenz manifold, and more look like here.

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