The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Do You Know Your Honey?

ehanner's picture

Do You Know Your Honey?

Many of us go to some amount of trouble to source the best ingredients possible to use in our family foods. The Organic movement is well established in most parts of the World and I think most of us genuinely strive to avoid unwanted products in the food we eat. I have friends in the Honey business here in Wisconsin. They aren't the largest producer but the nectar they sell is wonderful and--PURE HONEY. If you are of the mind that when you go to the market and buy honey that says "pure honey" and doesn't admit to being sourced in China, that you are getting real honey, you need to read this story. For the last 40 years the FDA has been promising to establish federal guidelines to determine what honey contains and does not contain, and what can be done to it and still call it "Honey".

Food Safety News did tests on samples that show a shocking amount (77%) of product had been ultra filtered to remove all traces of pollen. The conclusion is that most of the product labeled as honey has been processed, diluted, thinned or modified by Chinese manufactures. Take the time to read the story and find yourself a local bee keeper. If that's not possible and you don't have a farmers market or Trader Joes around, buy Organic.

This is a forum with Global reach. I make an effort to avoid pointing  a finger of suspicion at any one country when it comes to food safety policies. In this instance China has a reputation for dumping all manner of chemicals on the world market, denying and covering it up to the detriment of consumers. In the case of honey, the major food sellers like Kroger, Sams Club, Wal-Mart Costco and basically all other major chains are aiding this cover up of the source and turning a blind eye to the issue of fraudulent labeling of products. This should not be.


PaddyL's picture

The honey I buy is from a local supplier and is unprocessed.  In Quebec.

linder's picture

We get honey from a farm not far from home.  In California.

tananaBrian's picture

I think I'll pay closer attention to what honey we buy... ultra-filtered Chinese honey that may contain antibiotics and heavy metals doesn't sound very healthy to me.  :(




SylviaH's picture

at the corner farmstand, local markets, very lucky to live in CA.  Almost had the bees making honey in my attic.  I noticed several bees the 'scouts' arrive and the next afternoon the whole hive arrived.  What an interestng site to see.  Good thing I called the bee guys early.  


FoodFascist's picture

I can add to your story. I think it's a fair bet to say that most honey that is mass-produced, sold in a chain store or has anything to do with corporate food market is not honey. I suppose the same goes for many - most? - other foods including bread.

Most of us, spoilt by the refined foods that have been fed to us for decades by mass producers, will instinctively shy away from products that show signs of "deterioration", like non-homogenised milk with a cream plug at the top of the bottle, butter that smells strongly of raw milk, or, in case of honey, one that has crystallised. BIG MISTAKE.

ALL natural h0ney that hasn't been tampered with (with very rare exceptions like very thick viscous honeys, ones that contain royal jelly, acacia and heather honey) will get cloudy and eventually crystallise. I say eventually - most honeys stored at room temperatures will begin crystallising within 2-4 weeks of being harvested. In a cold or temperate climate, the last local honey will be harvested around September-October, so by the end of October there can be no honey on the market that hasn't crystallised (or at the very least isn't cloudy). Crystallisation is a natural process and does not affect the quality of honey in any way whatsoever. That said, I hear many people say that honey in a tightly sealed jar (which will always be the case with store-purchased products) won't begin to crystallise until opened. I don't buy enough honey to verify this opinion, but it sounds plausible to me.

Crystallisation can be slowed down - or prevented - in only two ways (that I know of) - by refrigerating (which is fine) or heating to above 40 C. Now, when honey is heated it loses its beneficial properties and becomes nothing more but a syrup. For that reason, I don't use quality honey in bread baking - there's no point really. For the same reason, don't expect that a mug of steaming hot lemon and honey tea (or hot milk with honey, or any other hot honey drinks) will clear your cough/cold any better than a scarf around your throat - there'll be little left in the honey after you've stirred it into hot tea.

Now I don't know what locally sourced honey looks like in the US, but here in the UK I struggle to find any honey - whether organic, labelled untreated, crystal pure or whatsoever kind - that will crystallise within 2-3 weeks of being opened. I must say though there isn't a local farmer's market in my town and last time I went elsewhere (must have been a good 4-5 months ag0) they didn't have a honey stall. This one, a cheapy Ocado own brand, has earned a few bad reviews because it does crystallise and people unknowingly attributed that to poor quality! Next time I buy honey I'll try that one.

BTW honey that is made wholly or partly - by bees - from sugar syrup, caramel, fruit or veg juices, is NOT natural honey and will not have any health benefits. How do you tell it is is or isn't? I don't know, perhaps someone else can shed light on this one.

In my native Russia, honey is a bit of an obsession with seasonal markets, small local stalls and even some church shops all specialising in it. There are hovewer many fakes, so learning and mastering quality check tricks has become second nature to some people. My granny being one! Last time I took my family back there, she brought us along to one of these seasonal markets - my goodness I counted about 300 stalls before I gave up! Apart from honey in all shaped and colours from every corner of Russia and the former USSR, they sell pollen, beeswax, royal jelly, propolis, all sorts of bee-keeping by-products, honey-coated sweets, candles, you name it. My poor husband now cringes at the mention of Russian honey!

Yerffej's picture

I know the bee keeper, the bees, and the honey.  I try to at least be familar with the suppliers of my food if not actually knowing them firsthand.


yy's picture

Sigh. I was definitely not aware of this before reading the story on msnbc the other day. It really bothers me because for most less-than-ideal products at the supermarket, at least there's some measure of informed/implied consent. If I buy a loaf of wonderbread, I am aware that it is my decision to do so despite the chemical additives contained within. However, if I want to know what I'm about to ingest, at least I can read all the polysyllabic chemical names off the package. With honey, all I've ever seen in the ingredient list is "honey." 

I'll be buying local unfiltered honey from now on. No more Suebee for me. I wonder what else is in my pantry of unknown, undisclosed origin just waiting to be Upton Sinclaired in the media. Clearly, regulation of our food supply has a long way to go still.

ehanner's picture

yy, you expressed my own sentiments perfectly. The part I don't appreciate is that the big grocers are apparently aiding in the conspiracy to conceal the source and content of honey. Have they no shame at all? Knowing some of the details in this story is making the organic zealots look more and more interesting.This story reminds me that there were some syrup makers on the list of foods with cellulose added as filler. Who would know or even guess the food scientists could do that. I'm very disappointed in the FDA and entire food chain who just don't give a damn what they feed us.

It is nice to see that Trader Joe's got good results.


phxdog's picture

 I don't eat unfiltered honey, I don't think you can buy it anywhwere.

Growing up I helped my family in all aspects of honey production. We had dozens of hives. I've spent hour extracting and bottling honey.

All of our honey was filtered through a stainless steel mesh. Without this simple filtering, bits of bees wax, worker bees, and even brood (bee larvae) might end up in the jar. While none of these floaters cause any actual harm to the honey or whoever eats it, I seriously doubt that many would buy a jar containing these bits of ORGANIC matter. 

It is a simple process; rob the hives, uncap the supers, extract the honey, filter and bottle. No additives, no dilution. It is about as 'earthy' and organic as you can get. But honey definitely needs a simple filtering.



yy's picture

I apologize if my terminology is not correct, but I believe "unfiltered" is a term that many vendors use for their products. I'm not sure if this means the honey is literally unfiltered, or if "unfiltered" just refers to "minimally processed." 

Here's a description I found from a google search:

According to the article, there is no formal definition of raw and unfiltered, but empirically speaking, there are certain typical parameters. 

And here's an example of a company that produces raw, unfiltered honey:

bridgebum's picture

I've got to start by saying that I buy my honey locally, so this issue doesn't change my buying habits.  

But the suggestion that ultrafiltered honey might be some kind of conspiracy may be a bit overblown.  Keep in mind that "Food Safety News" is a product of Marler Clark, a law firm specializing in "representing victims of foodborne illness".  That's certainly not a bad thing, but that might preclude them from being completely objective about this topic. Secondly, ultrafiltration is preferred by supermarkets simply because the honey is clearer and crystallizes more slowly, giving it longer shelf life.

Just because the pollen is removed during filtration, that doesn't mean that something nefarious is necessarily going on. 

Ford's picture

I didn't know this was so pervasive.  I guess I have been naive in my purchases of honey.  I do like to buy local honey for the flavors, rather than commercial brands.  So maybe I have not been getting much of the adulterated stuff.


freerk's picture

What a horror story. We want our honey back! Just like we want our real bread back! Bread and hooney, this is getting biblical

Ever since an "encounter of the third kind" with bees, I'm hooked on them. My first school project was on honey bees. The keeper molded and stretched a dead worker bee for me, and put a bit of lacker on it's back, to make it look more like a queen bee. He then pinned it on the little piece of styrofoam that I brought, next to the dead worker bee and a drone. I've always appreciated that little cheat. I could hardly ask him to give up his real queen :-)

I try to get my honey local, but there's not a lot around.

Once a year I get lucky and get two big frescolita-bottles of amazon forest honey. My "local beekeeper" at the other end of the world, when we visit my better half's home town... It's wonderful stuff. I grew up around an area with a lot of heath, and always thought nothing could beat that taste, until I tasted the "miel frescolita" as it is known around our house. Any one who cooks with it when I'm around, will have to face hanging from the balcony head down until an oath is sworn never to come near that bottle again.

Alas... they are both empty again now. Better start planning the next trip soon!

flourgirl51's picture

I buy literally gallons of raw honey from a couple of  local producers to use in my baking. I am so thankful to be able to get this locally. I will pass on the story Eric as many people are so unaware of what is being done to their food.  Thanks for posting this. 

whosinthekitchen's picture

Honey enthusiasts check this out

Aussie Pete's picture
Aussie Pete

Hi there,

I too am fussy over unwanted chemicals, presertatives etc  etc in food. If your honey is placed in a cold environment ie the fridge it crystalises. This is good. If your honey has been tampered with like adding a glucose (as some manufactures have labelled as such) it will not crystalise. By placing your jar of crystalized honey  in a larger container of hot water (not boiling) the crystalised honey returns back to its natural runny self. There is no problem with eating crystalised honey. It's just the natural sugars in honey reacting to a cold environment. 

If your honey does not crystalise in a cold environment it has been tampered with and is not in it's natural form as nature intended. 

Here in Australia we know this as "candy honey" or the honey has gone candy. THIS IS means it is still in its natural form untouched by human chemical endeavours.

I envy anyone who can buy honey straight from a local farm gate producer.

All the best everyone..........Pete.

FoodFascist's picture

to my knowledge, storing honey at low temperatures, e.g in the fridge or wine sellar is a way to prevent it crystallising. Now how low the temperatures are may be crucial, one source I have to hand says that crystallisation peaks at around 13-14 C, whereas temperatures of around 10C and lower increase honey's viscosity sufficiently to stop sugars in it from forming into crystals. At above 14 C, crystallisation also slows down, but this time, because sugar crystals dissolve ever more quickly as temperatures increase, peaking at around 40 C when crystals can no longer form, but honey also loses most of its benefits, including any of its anti-bacterial properties. BTW any froth in the honey may be a sign that it had either undergone heat-treatment, or was stored in an overly warm environment as froth mostly forms when honey has begun to ferment (which basically means it's no longer bartericidal). APPARENTLY honey was used as a desinfectant agent under wound dressings during the 1st World War. Would be interesting if someone could verify this.

The same source says that another factor in crystallisation is the glucose-fructose ratio (and so far as I'm aware any natural honey will contain both) - the more glucose, the quicker honey will crystallise. Maaaaybe if there's too much glucose (i.e. honey's been turned into a sugary syrup) that will also prevent crystallisation? If someone could explain please do.

BettyR's picture

for posting the link to the Tupelo Honey. We go through around 3 to 4 pounds of honey a month and we have been using the local honey. I live in a farming community and the main purpose of the bee keepers is to take the bees to fields where they are needed to pollinate a crop. The production of the actual honey is just a after thought and as you can imagine it's honey but there is nothing all that great about it.

I decided to order some of the Tupelo honey and OMG it is sooooo good and even with shipping it's not that much more expensive than what I'm paying for the local stuff. I'm placing another order right now for a couple of gallons. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate the heads up!!!!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

with links to updated articles including the first link I posted


Yerffej's picture

The research implicating Monsanto in the death of honey bees around the world was quite interesting.  Even more fascinating was Monsanto then buying the research firm responsible for that information and suddenly we hear no more on that subject.  I did see that the bee keepers in Poland have successfully kept Monsanto out of their country...for now anyway.  At least one country knows where the core  problem lies.


ehanner's picture

Colony Collapse is a complicated issue. When one of the suspects purchases the testing company, well, what can I say. After all, it's only the world food supply they are messing with.


thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)


thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

At least the aliens who find the vault will still be able to grow heirloom watermelons.

ehanner's picture

That's interesting Mini. This is a very complex issue and I'm glad someone has seemingly discovered what the culprit is. My bee keeper friends have been struggling with this for years. The stakes are large.