When Honey Isn’t Honey

ChiloquinNews article 1/9/2012

I can’t remember how I got there but I recently stumbled across a very enlightening article on honey at this website http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/   It was interesting enough to me that I’ve condensed it down quite a bit and turned it into an article for the ChiloquinNews.


I’m a great fan of those industrious bees that make honey. Honey has a great taste, and unlike refined sugar, is infused with all sorts of good things like vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and pollen from the flowers where the bees collected it. Raw honey is thought to have many medicinal properties. Stomach ailments, anemia and allergies are just a few of the conditions that may be improved by eating unprocessed honey, and it is even used as a topical antibiotic.


There is enormous variety among honeys. They range in color from glass-clear to a dark mahogany and in consistency from a thin syrup to a crystallized solid. It’s the plants and flowers where the bees forage for nectar that determines the difference in the taste, smell and color of the honey. It is the processing that controls the texture. Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen. Honey has been valued by millions for centuries for its flavor and nutritional value and that is precisely what is completely removed by the ultra-filtration process.


The problem is that there is no way to tell if honey is really honey except by looking through a microscope at the pollen grains imbedded in it. And these highly nutritious grains are frequently filtered out of the final product leaving no way to determine whether it is really honey, or just a highly processed syrup which bears that name. It is for this reason that FDA rules state that any product that contains no pollen cannot be called honey. But the understaffed FDA isn’t checking.


Ultra filtration is a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey on the U.S. market for years. Not only is low cost Chinese honey forcing many American bee-keepers out of business, but the unregulated liquid is often heavily adulterated with high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners, as well as being tainted with chloramphenicol, heavy-metal toxins and a witches brew of agro-chemicals, including some illegal animal antibiotics. U.S. groceries have also been flooded with Indian honey banned in Europe as unsafe because of contamination with antibiotics, heavy metal and a total lack of pollen which prevented tracking its origin.


The group, Food Safety News, recently tested 60 brands of honey and their food scientists say that over three quarters of the honey sold in America may not be what the bees created, but a watered down, reconstituted hodge-podge of the real deal mixed with other cheaper, less savory, and often less safe, ingredients. The U.S. imported 208 million pounds of honey over the past 18 months. Almost 60 percent came from Asian countries – traditional laundering points for Chinese honey. This included 45 million pounds from India alone.


In many cases, consumers would have an easier time deciphering state secrets than pinning down where the honey they’re buying in groceries actually comes from, but the test results showed that


*     100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens and Rite-Aid had no pollen.

*    100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.

*     77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart and Target had the pollen filtered out.

*     76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, These were stores like Safeway, QFC, A&P, Stop & Shop.

*     Every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated amount of pollen as did most containers labeled as organic.

*    Foreign honey packaged in Italy, Hungary, Greece, Tasmania and New Zealand was tested to try to get a feeling for whether standards for pollen were being heeded overseas. The samples from every country but Greece were loaded with various types and amounts of pollen. Honey from Greece had none.


Why is this? Grocery stores claim that consumers want clear honey, and they also say it lasts longer on the shelves.


Florida developed the nation’s first standard for identification for honey in 2009. It’s since been followed by CA, WI and NC and it is somewhere in the state legislative or regulatory maze in several states, including Oregon. No one can say for sure why the FDA has ignored repeated pleas from Congress, beekeepers and the honey industry to develop a U.S. standard for identification for honey. Until that happens, better to stick with certified organic and raw honey, which is likely to be closer to what the bees have so generously provided us.


And the bottom line: beware those honey bears – unless you’re buying from a beekeeper, you don’t really know what you’re getting.



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