Honey is one of nature’s sweetest gifts—literally. It’s been called liquid gold! It is also one of nature’s purest foods. Nutritionists call it a “functional food” meaning it is all natural and has numerous health benefits.
In fact, raw (unpasteurized, or never heated beyond the temperature of the beehive) honey contains a whopping 22 amino acids, 27 minerals including calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and even selenium. It is full of vitamins as well like vitamin B6, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and niacin.
And if you are looking for some nutritional live digestive enzymes, honey has many including diastase, invertase, catalase, glucose oxidase, acid phosphatase and inulase. (1) Honey is also high in antioxidants. (2)
Sounds perfect, right? Well, not really. Not all honey is the same.
In fact, most of the honey you buy at your local supermarket is not any healthier than white sugar, especially cheap honey. And much of it is likely manufactured in China where regulations on health and safety are lax and in many cases, non-existent.
Honey is an ancient delicacy. It has been around for centuries as both a sweetener and a healing agent. There are over 4,000 years of recorded use of honey as a medicinal agent.
The ancient philosophers Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) and Aristoxenus (320 BC) even touted the benefits of this golden treat. Aristoxenus claimed that “anyone who eats honey, spring onions and bread for his daily breakfast will be free from all diseases throughout his lifetime.” (3)
Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, also used honey as the foundation for the majority of his medicinals. St. Ambrose claimed that “The fruit of the Bees is desired of all, and is equally sweet to Kings and Beggars and it is not only pleasing but profitable and healthful, it sweetens their mouths, cures their wounds and convales remedies to inward Ulcers.”
As the healing properties became more widely known, the production of honey also grew in places like ancient Greece and Sicily. It was even used on the battlefield in World War I in a medicinal wound cleaner (Dakin’s Solution) invented by the chemist Henry Drysdale Dakin. (4)
The history of honey for healing is long and includes use among people of all cultures and regions, the rich and the poor. But as the popularity of honey soared, so did the ways in which it was manufactured. Today, after over processing and pasteurization, little, if any healing value is left in our supermarket variety honeys.
According to the FDA, the food safety divisions of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission (EU) as well as numerous other regulating bodies, in order for honey to be considered “real,” it must contain pollen.
Without the presence of pollen (and thus the flower strain it comes from) the FDA cannot determine whether the honey is from legitimate and/or safe sources. (5)
And most, if not all, of the commercial honeys sold in supermarkets are ultra-filtered, a process that involves heating the honey to high temperatures that kills off any beneficial nutrients and enzymes, adding water to dilute it, and then filtering it using high pressure technology to remove any pollen.
This is a technique that mirrors the manufacturing practices of the Chinese and East Indians, who export literally tons of tainted honey, which leaves officials unable to track its origins. (6)
Vaughn Bryant, a professor at Texas A&M University, who is also a renowned melissopalynologist (the study of pollen contained in honey), tested 60 brands of honey from 10 states and the District of Columbia. (7)
His findings, which were reported by Food Safety News, showed that 76 percent of the honeys from supermarkets had all of the pollen removed, again leaving their exact origins untraceable.
Even worse, 100 percent of the honeys sold at drugstores and those packaged in the single serving portions served at restaurants, had no pollen at all.
Bryant also determined that 77 percent of the honey tested from big-box stores like Costco and Walmart was lacking pollen. The study did show that if you choose to buy an organic brand from your local supermarket, only 29 percent of these are lacking pollen so it is a much safer bet, but it is still a gamble.
According to Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, any ultra-filtered honey is suspect. “In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law.”
The only reason to filter out the pollen is to hide where it initially comes from. And according to reputable honey manufacturers, most of the “laundered honey” comes from China.
From 2009- 2011, the US alone imported 208 million pounds of honey. According to Food Safety News 60 percent of this honey came from Asian countries that are traditional laundering points for Chinese honey.
In fact, 45 million pounds came from India alone. They also claim that there are still websites where companies can hire illegal brokers to transship honey and countless other banned and tariff-protected goods from China to the US.
And often these so-called honeys are made from a concoction of cane, corn or beet sugar, rice syrup or countless other sweetening agents because it is easier, faster and cheaper than real honey.
To get a better idea of where the fake honeys are coming from, the study also analyzed honey packaged in Italy, Hungary, Greece, Tasmania and New Zealand. It was determined that honey from all of these countries, excluding Greece, contained plenty of beneficial pollen.
For the average consumer, however, buying honey can be confusing because we have been led to believe honey is good. And in the case of raw honey that still holds true but the “fake” honey lining the supermarket shelves is anything but good. Luckily, there are some easy ways to avoid spending your money on this counterfeit honey.
How to Recognize Cheap, Knock-Off Honey: (8)
- Always read the label. If it contains added glucose or high fructose corn syrup, it is not real honey.
- Taste your honey. If you can taste things like flowers or herbs it’s real honey. Fake honey is just sweet, with a smidgen of “honey-like” flavor.
- Put a small drop of your honey on your thumb. If it spreads it is not pure since pure honey will stay in one place.
- Add a few drops of vinegar into a mixture of water and honey. If it foams up, your honey has been adulterated with plaster!
- If your honey does not “crystallize” over time, it is likely ultra-filtered since pure honey will crystallize when you keep in your fridge or over time.
- Add a few drops of iodine to a glass of water and then add some honey. If your honey turns blue, it has been combined with corn starch and is not real honey.
- Place a dab of honey on the end of a matchstick and light it. If it ignites, it is pure.
- Place a spoon of honey in a glass of water. If it dissolves it is fake. Pure honey will not dissolve in water and will sink to the bottom of the glass.
There are other ways to test honey, but the above should give you a pretty good idea of whether the honey you have been buying is actually real. To give you a little more insight, below are the results of honey brands that failed the pollen test and should be avoided. (9)
Honeys that Tested Positive for Ultra-Filtration
- Testing on these honeys revealed they have no pollen.
- American Choice Clover Honey
- Archer Farms Orange Blossom Honey
- Archer Farms Organic Classic Honey
- Busy Bee Organic Honey
- Busy Bee, Pure Clover Honey
- CVS Honey
- Fred Meyer Clover Honey
- Full Circle Pure Honey
- Giant Eagle Clover Honey
- GE Clover Honey
- Great Value, Clover Honey
- Haggen Honey, Natural & Pure
- HT Traders Tupelo Honey
- Kroger Pure Clover Honey
- Market Pantry Pure Honey
- Mel-o 100 % Pure Honey
- Natural Sue Bee Clover Honey
- Naturally Preferred Fireweed Honey
- Rite Aid Honey
- Safeway Clover Honey
- Silver Bow Pure Honey
- Stop and Shop Clove Honey
- Sue Bee Clover Honey
- Thrifty Bee Honey
- Valutime Honey
- Walgreen MEL-O honey
- Western Family Clover Honey
- Wegman Clover Honey
- Winnie the Pooh, Pure Clover