Recently, I was asked how to shop for honey. Since I’m a beekeeper, I rarely shop for honey but I do know good honey when I see it. To increase your likelihood of buying superior honey, here are a few tips:
Buy thick, slow-moving honey that has been unfiltered. Inspect the jar for crystallization. Honey should be free of crystals which are a result of nectar or water getting into the honey from uncapped nectar comb and high moisture content. Crystallization will make the honey solid with granules like sugar. Some honey, like lehua, is naturally thick and white but that’s just the nature of honey from that type of flower. Ask your beekeeper if you are unsure.
Tilt the jar back and forth it to judge the viscosity. If it moves too fast, unlike honey, other additives to stretch the honey may have been added. Honey can be adulterated with other sweeteners such as High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). A honey packet at a fast food restaurant often has less than 10% honey.
Honey that is filtered will have all the pollen, propolis and wax bits removed. Pollen is an added plus in honey because it has many minerals, enzymes and vitamins. Propolis, the resins of trees that bees collect to seal their hives, also has many healthful benefits.
Shop local honey. Local honey will be made from flowers growing in your geographical area. By eating small amounts of pollen in honey overtime from the flowers you are allergic to, you may develop a resistance to them. My father was allergic to roses and by ingesting small amounts of pollen in honey from roses, he likely lessened his allergic reaction to roses.
Ask your beekeeper if the honey she sells is unfiltered and has pollen from flowers you may be allergic to.
Also, ask if the honey is 100% local. In some regions of the U.S., honey is legally allowed to be called “local” even though a percentage, sometimes as high as 30% to 40%, is allowed to come from outside sources such as China, or Argentina. For further information, read this article, “Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey“.
Buying local will also help your community to boost its economy, plus it uses fewer resources (shipping) to get to products to market. In addition, it also connects you to people you buy from and creates local jobs.
If you show up on my farm just after a harvest, you are almost guaranteed to walk away with gift of honey. Get to know your beekeepers. Most farmers, are also beekeepers.
Buy raw honey not pasteurized. When you buy sterilized products everything in it including things that are beneficial to your body are killed. Do you think 100 years ago, people were rushing to sterilize honey, milk, and food before they sat down to a meal? By heating honey, we destroy taste, phytochemicals (biologically active compounds), antioxidants, and nutrients.
My friend mistakenly bought a brand name pasteurized honey to put on her hands that were peeling badly to try to heal them. Only raw honey is antibacterial and has healing enzymes. In pasteurized honey, everything of value is destroyed by heat during pasteurization. If you buy pasteurized honey, do not plan to use it for anything but a sweetener.
Today, medihoney (TM) and Mānuka honey is prescribed by doctors to dress wounds and burns. My Aunt, a diabetic, was given medihoney (TM) to heal a serious leg infection after a biopsy wound got a cellulitis infection.
Honey is pasteurized to increase its shelf-life and to melt crystallization. Pasteurization does not make honey safer to eat nor does it extend its shelf-life. Raw honey doesn’t go bad.
Fear sells and fear mongering has long been an advertising practice in our world. Both raw and pasteurized honey have been discovered to harbor spores of Clostridium botulinum (botulism). This bacteria that can grow in infants and people with compromised immune systems. Best to avoid giving any kind of honey to these people.
What does the beekeeper feed the bees (in the colder months or during a dearth)? Bees forage pollen and nectar from flowers but what about when there is a deficiency of pollen and nectar (or dearth)? Some beekeepers must keep their bees fed so they don’t starve. Luckily, in Hawaii this is never a problem. But in colder climates bees are fed sugar syrup and this can be made from HFCS or corn syrup both which contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Not all colder climate beekeepers feed their bees. They either saved enough honey for the bees to use in the winter or they didn’t pump up their bees with HFCS to get an early start in the Spring.
More conscious beekeepers may use sugar cane syrup. Another choice is to move their bees somewhere warm for the winter but this is probably only practical for large operations.
Does the beekeeper use any chemicals in their hives? Some chemicals used in hives are formic acid, oxalic acid, menthol, essential oils and other patented pesticides. There are miteacides and medications that are placed directly into the hive or fed to the bees to kill mites (varroa, tracheal), beetles, Noseama, and wax moths. The USDA implemented a plan in 2013, to phase out antibiotics but the products still may be used and are available.
Over time pests become resistant to many of the chemicals place in the hive and they are switched out for new or other products when they no longer work. Not all beekeepers use chemicals, so ask.
I keep pests down by installing diatomaceous earth (DE) traps in each of my hives. The pests are either placed in the traps by the bees or they inadvertently fall into them. DE is a natural, chemical-free product made from fossilized diatoms. The tiny sharp diatoms get into the legs joints and cracks in the bugs armor and freeze their mobility. In addition, it dehydrates the bug and kills it. The bees are kept from the tray area by the use of a small screen that enable only the mite or beetle to pass through.
In addition, foundationless frame beekeeping is becoming more popular among natural beekeepers. Foundation is a fitted sheet of plastic or wax that is embossed with the beginning outlines of a honey comb. It enables the beekeeper to determine the size of the individual honey comb and to keep combs straight.
Current thinking is that by allowing the bees to draw their own foundation instead of using processed, stamped forms (plastic or wax), the bees create just the right-sized honey comb to their bodies to keep predators like varroa mite from getting inside the cocoons.
Bees don’t really like plastic foundation and will often build alongside the foundation with minimal contact. Beeswax foundation can contain toxins and pesticides from other random beekeepers hives. Some bee supply companies offer to make foundation from your own wax.
In conclusion, the beehive is microcosm of life –some good, some not. Bees will become stronger only by fighting off pests themselves. Pesticides kill all of it, even bees, and some of the creatures living in the hive are beneficial to the health of the hive.
Where does the beekeeper keep her hives? Bees can travel up to 2 miles from their hive to collect pollen and nectar but if a GMO crop field is right next door, I’d want to know. If you are familiar with your area, you can ask the beekeeper where her hives are generally located. The best answer would be away from crops that are sprayed with chemicals or heavily congested traffic areas where air pollution from exhaust fumes can contaminate the honey.
Lastly, taste the honey. I recently tried a brand name honey in one of those plastic bears. Thinking that it can’t be that bad, I tasted a spoonful. Boy, was I surprised. It was sweet for sure but the taste and the after taste were terrible. So bad, in fact, I had to spit it out. Real honey taste amazingly good. It shouldn’t taste bad and sweet.
The flavor of your honey should taste like a bouquet of flowers and you might even pick up some of the flavors of fruit or herbs in the taste.
Try shopping for honey in a natural food store and not a regular chain grocery store. Often, you will find other local products there too. You might pay a little more for quality honey, but it will be well worth it. Enjoy!!