Monday, August 19, 2013

The Honey Heresy–How Honey Producers Are Ripping You Off

Other than the clarity or purity of the honey, is there any real difference between the main brand honeys you find in major grocery or pharmacy stores and the “unfiltered” style of honey that you might buy at a farmer’s market?  Apparently, lots. 

As you might guess, one difference is the spoon-for-spoon health value.  But new research has revealed some murky politics going on in honey imports that not only threatens the finances of U.S. beekeepers but may also endanger your health.  August 17 is National Honey Bee Day – the right time to learn more about this problem and to increase your knowledge on the different kinds of honey.

Is all honey alike?

There are differences you should be aware of when choosing honey.  Here are the main types of honey and what you should know about each.

Whole comb honey
Whole-comb honey and raw, unfiltered honey
Whole-comb honey and raw honey are about as close as you can get to buying honey in its natural state. 
  • Whole-comb honey is not just the honey but also the honeycomb from the bee hive which it came.  If you want your honey completely unprocessed, buy it this way. 
  • Raw, unfiltered honey is the kind of honey you often find at a local farmer’s market or possibly in a heath food store. It’s out of the comb and into a jar, but is still raw (not heated or treated).
Many of the benefits of buying honey in the comb are the same as the benefits of buying raw honey.  With either:
  • Being raw, these kinds of honey still contain live nutrients and the maximum amount of vitamins in their most natural state.
  • Expect a healthy dose of potassium, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc.
  • Heal a wound with raw honey.  Honey can kill microbes and dry up a wound.
Any downsides or risks with raw honey or honeycomb? A couple, yes. 
  • First, if you and your children are used to the purified style of honey, such as those you find in a plastic honeybee-shaped squeeze bottle, it may take some mental adjusting to buying honey that has been unfiltered, as it will appear cloudy and often with specs in it. 
  • If you can get past the cloudiness, the other downside of raw honey is the possibility of Clostridium botulinum spores.  The risks are minute, but substantial enough for infants under 12 months that the CDC recommends against giving them raw honey (in fact, infants under 12 months should avoid all foods containing honey).  Once a child’s digestive tract has matured beyond the first 12 months, their systems are able to prevent botulism spores from growing.
Raw unfiltered honeyIf you buy either form of raw honey, in the comb or in a jar, you can benefit even more by buying it from a local beekeeper.  Raw honey contains pollens from your area that, when introduced to your system gradually through honey consumption, can help you build up protective tolerances against plant allergens.
Filtered honey
Filtered honey is a bit more refined than raw honey, as it has been heated beyond the point where it can be called raw.  The heating is done to enable filtering of small particles or impurities.  The vitamin content and healthy pollens remain essentially intact.  Being filtered, this honey is more pure and a bit cleaner.
The main downside to filtered honey is that, because of the heating process, filtered honey will no longer contain any live  nutrients.
Pure honey or liquid honey
Pure honey is by far the predominant kind of honey sold in the U.S..  If you get a honey packet at a restaurant, or buy honey in a plastic bee-shaped container, odds are that you’re consuming pure honey.  Advantages:
  • Pure honey is usually a lighter color and flavor.
  • Pure honey is more crystallization-resistant than raw honey or filtered honey.
  • Pure honey stores longer than other kinds of honey.
  • Because pure honey has been heated to high temperatures, it is the type of honey least likely to contain any microorganisms.
While all that purity sounds like a good thing, it often is the result of ultra-filtering.  If honey is ultra-filtered, then what you’re getting is not real honey, as defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  According to FDA standards, honey must contain pollen to be considered honey.  But any bee product that has been ultra-filtered will no longer contain pollen. 

Pure liquid honey

One problem with honey that has been ultra-filtered is that most of the nutrients have been cooked out. But the biggest problem is that, with the pollens removed from the honey, it is no longer possible to identify where the honey came from.  The source is important to know for two reasons:
  • China has a glut of honey and has been dumping its honey surplus on the world market, which results in severe undercutting of honey prices, effectively pricing American beekeepers out of the honey market.
  • The health standards for honey production in other countries – most notably China – are much less stringent.  Thus, any of these unregulated and untested pure honeys may contain harmful substances, such as antibiotics and heavy metals.
You can read up on the honey ultra-processing downsides and risks at, Huffington Post, or
Spun honey
Spun honey, also known as crystallized honey, has had some of the honey’s moisture content removed, turning it from a liquid into creamy paste.  It is popular with those who like to spread honey on bread or toast.  It’s biggest disadvantage is that it is even more processed than pure honey, which means that the vitamin content is likely gone.

Celebrate National Honey Bee Day

If you like honey as much as most Americans, you can still make plans for the 2013 National Honey Day.  Spread the honey, yes, and even spread the word about National Honey Bee Day with a National Honey Bee Day Bumper Sticker.  Make the day fun for the whole family with this music video about honey bees
Have a honey of day!

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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