Most people think that all honey is the same, a natural product that’s made by bees, collected by beekeepers and bottled. But the honey industry is awash with fakes, counterfeit and adulteration. There isn’t much protection or information to stop customers from buying something that’s very different from what they expected and to eat it in blissful ignorance.
Here’s what Larry Olmsted says about honey in his book Real Food, Fake Food:
Foods that can’t be differentiated by sight will often be faked, and honey fills the bill. But honey has other problems as well, with the pirates on one side and regulators on the other. For starters, while we know for sure there is plenty of obviously fake honey, no one agrees on what the real thing is….
My own definition of honey is clear – bees make the honey and you don’t mess around with it. Apart from simple filtration methods (to remove any debris), we bottle it and we give it to our customers in its raw state…no messing.
Olmsted also writes:
The American Beekeeping Federation is the industry group representing U.S. producers of non-ultrafiltered honey. They petitioned the FDA to create a “standard of identity” for honey (basically, a detailed definition that sets legal standards). As with similar appeals for an olive oil standard, the FDA summarily denied this request. While it told the federation that it shared their “concerns about adulterated and misbranded honey,” regulators chose to defer to Webster’s, literally, citing the dictionary’s definition as adequate: “a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs.”
The problem with this definition is that it doesn’t allude to the condition of the honey; it only describes the taste and palate, not the methodology of gaining this superfood. Gently filtered raw honey conforms to this description, but if you say it’s sweet, does that mean you can add sugar? If it’s syrupy does it mean you can pasteurize it? This transforms a natural product into something else entirely.
My ideal definition would include how it’s sourced and produced.
The article helps raise awareness on how important honey is as a food group and how adulterated in many of its guises. It is a commodity, so it can be exploited and people go to great lengths to fake it.
It’s also interesting to note that honey isn’t regulated as such, the governing bodies only respond when there are complaints.
Do we know the difference between a processed honey and raw?
In order to get more honey, some beekeepers feed the bees sugar water instead of leaving some of their own stores for them to eat. In the past, beekeepers didn’t remove all the honey from the hives. They left the bees enough honey to survive through winter when there aren’t any buds or flowers, which I agree with. Sugar water also affects the quality of the honey. I believe strongly that this beautiful product should be kept natural as possible with minimal interference from man. Mass production and consumerism puts pressure on the system and in the end affects the purity of the product.
In an article by the Independent in 2014, New Zealand’s leading Manuka Association reported that 1,800 tonnes a year of the honey are now consumed in the UK each year, out of an estimated 10,000 tonnes globally. Yet production of genuine Manuka is just 1,700 tonnes, or the equivalent of more than three million small jars. Unless Britain has somehow managed to secure all of it, there’s a lot of fake Manuka on the shelves of UK supermarkets.
How to spot adulterated honey
Here are a couple of tips:
- Acacia honey is more liquid, clear and transparent in its natural state. If it starts to crystallize you know there has been some manipulation (often added sugar).
- Manuka honey will naturally start to crystallize when stored for a while. If it remains liquid then something is wrong, it may have been blended with honeydew for instance.
So how do you know that the honey you buy is genuine? We’ll be looking into what to look for, reading labels, understanding your honey and where to buy it from in other articles here.
Any questions? Want to share your thoughts or experience on honey, buying it, tasting it, loving it? Get in touch and I will get back to you.