Real Honey Checklist
What is REAL Honey?
Honey is literally bee vomit.
I mean… how strange is it that we indulge in jars of insect puke?
Okay, now that we’ve wrapped our heads around that, let’s talk about it more from a socially acceptable angle.
Honey is made by honeybees from the nectar of flowers, which they digest with special enzymes in their honey stomach before depositing in the wax cells of the honeycomb. It is harvested from honeybee hives by beekeepers, and it is usually used in tea or on toast, though there are many ways to enjoy.
Here are some more sweet facts about honey:
Each honey bee makes about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.
Honey is a complex carbohydrate with fructose, glucose, and 16-18% water.
Honey is one of the original superfoods in that it contains vitamins, minerals, proteins/enzymes, antioxidants, and even some amino acids.
Honey is antibiotic and can be used on wounds, for colds, or in cosmetics.
Honey’s composition varies depending on several factors including nectar source, soil, weather, beekeeper methods, etc.
There are many types of honey:
Single floral or Multi-floral
Raw Honey or Processed/heated/blended honey
Comb, Liquid, Crystalized, Creamed, Whipped, Flavored, Honeydew
Single Floral and Multi-Floral
To determine the type of flower in which honey is sourced from, there must be pollen present in the nectar. If you live in the United States, you have probably seen or tried clover honey. This would be an example of a single floral honey, where the honey is sourced from primarily one type of flower. Honeybees have an intuition about when certain flowers are in bloom, and when there is enough of one type of flower blooming at the same time, this is all the bees will forage. These specific times are called “nectar flows”, and if the beekeeper is also intuitive with the location of his hives and this timing, single floral honey can be achieved.
Wildflower honey would be an example of multi-floral honey. The regional flora and season will determine the bouquet of nectar sourced for these kinds of honey. If the honey label doesn’t note the type of flowers foraged for the variety, typically it is a blend of many varieties of honey produced during the season the beekeeper harvested. Usually, the beekeeper will know most of the primary flowers contributing to their honey, so a quick call or email can add this information to your honey tasting experience.
Raw, Unheated, Unfiltered Honey, Always
I’m a real purist when it comes to honey. Straight outta the hive, still in the comb is how I like it best. And once you’ve tried this, there’s no going back to the little plastic bear bottle at the grocery store.
Whenever honey is heated it starts to lose its medicinal value. As does ultra-filtered honey, which removes any traces of pollen, wax, and propolis. Most store-bought honey is produced with these practices under the misleading advertising of “pure.”
Honey that is heated and over-filtered can be blended with other sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup and can go undetected on an international market. China sells its honey at such low costs with accusations of this practice, that the United States will not purchase any honey from there. However, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t sneak its way in through other countries’ honeys, who may blend with Chinese honey (which shows no origin, because there is no pollen present).
The international honey market gets a little sticky when you start investigating. There’s enough there for a whole other blog.
The Organic Illusion
I WISH the honey you saw at your main chain grocery store that is labeled “Organic” really really was organic!
The truth is, honeybees forage from 3 to sometimes a 5-mile radius from their hive. That means for the honey to be truly organic, everything within a 5-mile radius would have to be 100% organic, either naturally or by practice. This also means that the practices of the beekeeper are meeting certain organic standards, like not using chemicals to treat the hives.
Organic land of this radius in the United States is hard to come by these days. Thus, most organic labeled honey will show to be sourced from places like Brazil or India, arriving here in plastic bottles. I mean, the unsustainable nature of shipping honey from that far away in plastic blows my mind. And then to label it “Organic”…like that makes it better?
I can’t say it enough. Don’t trust labels and Buy Local.