Friday, January 17, 2014

Do you know where your honey came from?

Every beekeeper in America is going to tell you to get your honey from a local beekeeper. A "natural" beekeeper will tell you to buy honey that is not treated (i.e, bees are not dosed with antibiotics and no chemicals are used in the hive) or heated. There are many good reasons for doing following this advice. Here are a few:
  • If you have allergies, pollen in the honey may help.
  • Untreated honey will not contain antibiotics and it should have fewer undesirable chemicals.
  • Raw honey contains all the enzymes, propolis, etc. that give honey its superpowers.
  • It supports the livelihood of someone in your community.
  • You'll know your honey is the real deal and not some kind of Frankensyrup (more on this in a minute).
I like this chart, but I have 2 disagreements:

  1. Most (but not all, e.g., tupelo, acacia) raw honeys
    start out as a syrup and then crystallize quickly.
    After a long period of time, though, I've seen processed
    honey crystallize. So I don't think appearances are a
    foolproof indicator.
  2. Theoretically, apiarists who use antibiotics apply
    them after harvest. But I think these fat-soluble antibiotics
    can be absorbed by the honeycomb. So if your raw honey
    comes from treated hives, I think it may contain antibiotics.
Whether the honey is from a domestic or foreign source, a lot of honey sold in stores/used in food products, has been heated and filtered to help prevent crystallization. If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not keen on this practice. However, what really bugs me is "illegal immigrant" honey. ;-)

If I haven't misremembered, I think the U.S. imports about 60% of its honey. A lot of this honey comes from China via laundered sources in order to avoid paying taxes and tariffs. Why do I have a problem with it?

  • Typically, this laundered honey is a lot cheaper than domestically-produced honey, and buying it undercuts our own honey industry. 
  • This laundered honey also goes through a heating/straining process to remove the beneficial pollen. Processing decreases the nutritional value of the honey. And without pollen, the honey's source is disguised, increasing the ease with which it can be laundered. 
  • This cheap honey is adulterated with sugar syrups, corn syrups, dyes, flavorings, etc. It has also been known to contain illegal animal antibiotics, which promote bacterial resistance and can be harmful to people.

A number of honey companies and importers are calling attention to the problem of illegally sourced honey. Their initiative, True Source Honey, LLC, "seeks to help maintain the reputation of honey as a high-quality, highly valued food and further sustain the U.S. honey sector."

One neat little feature on the True Source Honey homepage is a program for checking whether your store-bought honey comes from a certified source. If you purchased your honey from someone other than a local beek, all you have to do is click the link and enter your honey's UPC code. Pretty cool! (But if you can, I still say buy raw, untreated honey from a local beekeeper! Even better, get some bees!)

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