Is your Honey Fake?

A worrying and comprehensive article appeared a few weeks ago in Food Safety News.

The topic: Honey.

The problem: Most store brought honey could be fake.

The article is quite lengthy, but makes for a good read. Here are the main points:

Honey that we buy in the supermarket comes from US farmers or as imports. In the past massive imports of cheap honey from China created a problem for the local industry, so the US set up tariffs. The other problem was that the honey wan’t always honey – it either had sugar syrups added, or in some cases was simply contaminated with toxins due to lax regulation in China.

When Chinese exporters realized that the US would not let their honey in through the front door, they started to work through middlemen in other countries, setting up elaborate schemes to fool the FDA and USDA.

Fortunately there is a simple way to know where a honey comes from. Honey has a “fingerprint” in the form of pollen content. You see, in each region of the world, there are different flower varieties servicing the local bees. Small amounts of pollen remain in the honey that is then packaged for consumers. Some researchers think that the pollen may actually have health benefits too, but that’s not the main point of the article.

By analyzing the pollen content of you honey jar, a lab can tell you where the honey came from. Brilliant.

Except that Food Safety News discovered that over 75% of honey purchased in US supermarkets have ZERO POLLEN in them. How could that be?

Ultra filtration. Honey is almost always filtered to remove bee parts and other small particles that may have been harvested by the beekeeper. But as of late, ultra filtering has gotten so good that it actually filters out the pollen too. According to industry professionals, Americans prefer the smooth texture of ultra filtered honey, and that’s why it is so popular.

But we also want to know that we’re getting the real deal…

The following sums up the consumer dilemma:

“In many cases, consumers would have an easier time deciphering state secrets than pinning down where the honey they’re buying in groceries actually came from.”

What to do at the supermarket:

If you are  honey aficionado, your best bet is to locate a local farmer who keeps bees. The next best may be to buy organic, although some organic honey is also ultra-filtered and there is no promise it didn’t come from abroad either.

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  • Erindaniels

    We love honey an buy ours both at the store and our local farmers market. We prefer the less processed local honey though ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/paula.jakobs Paula Jakobs

    Fortunately our local regular supermarket has local honey. Yours might too!

  • http://www.rainbowplate.com Janet Nezon

    I buy my honey local & raw, straight from the farm. That way I know what it is and where it comes from.  As a bonus, it tastes amazing!!

  • Anon

    “The next best may be to buy organic…”

    …why? That seems to be a guarantee of absolutely nothing here?

    • http://www.lindasdietdelites.com Low Carb Bread

      The idea being that it is is potentially a safer bet since it technically should be closer to unprocessed honey. Regardless, the “Eat Local” advice is probably the wisest.

  • Foodista!

    Honey is just mostly sugar and is very, very bad for you. Never eat honey – it will kill you. Only eat raw chard and sip spring water, nothing else. Certainly not honey. Honey is a deadly ripoff. Even the honey that does not come from China is terribly damaging to your body. Sugar to fatten you and make you diabetic and pollen to excite your allergies – both will kill you from the inside out.

  • http://www.hexpoker.com/ Nicole_gamble

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing! I`m gonna tweet about your blog!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=725525204 Jim Cooper

    I wrote about this last week. You are right on the money, except that they found that a substantial number of organic-labeled honeys were free of pollen as well. Often your grocer will have honey from local producers (org or not) and these are your best bet. See mine at http://t.co/RuEzcIV4

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=725525204 Jim Cooper

    I wrote about this last week. You are right on the money, except that they found that a substantial number of organic-labeled honeys were free of pollen as well. Often your grocer will have honey from local producers (org or not) and these are your best bet. See mine at http://t.co/RuEzcIV4

    • neighbor joe

      Way wrong on this one Jimbo. Locally produced is at least as likely, if not more, to have been exposed to dirt, filth and chemical residues. The neighbor places his hives near the road where bees forage among old McDonalds wrappers and half empty beer cans. Then he harvests the honey and “strains” it in his garage re-using his favorite old rags (they look like he uses them to change the oil in his truck, too). Then he pours the stuff into some jars that have been sitting open on the workbench under the shelf where he stores bottles and bags of weed killer. But when he screws on the lids and sticks on the labels it all looks quite presentable. Stupid locovores love to overpay for the stuff.

  • P.D. Froug

    Oh well, didn’t plan on living forever anyway.

  • http://masongentry.com Mason Gentry

    This news about fake honey turned out to be totally false. You should remove this article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gabriele.gray.5 Gabriele Gray

    I used to work for a company that imported, exported and packed honey. Yes, they imported from China, but also from Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Canada. Honey is either strained or filtered—the strained still has the polled but no bee parts. It is also heated less as the honey has to be heated more to get it through the filters. The greatest volume of Chinese honey came from bees that were pollinating the soybean crops. (honey from bees that have pollinated lima beans have the same sharp flavor (in the back of the throat). There is something in Chinese honey which reacts to some chemical used in commerical bakeries, so it could not be sold for that purpose. I am usually sceptical so since I bake, I tried baking bread using the honey and had no problem, so the problem was between the honey and dough conditioners. etc. Bakeries use honey as it is a natural humectant–keeping the bread fresher longer–and having the cachet of being ‘natural’. Honey from Canada is usually clover but as there are often fields of rapeseed (canola) growing nearby, it is not that desirable as honey from rapeseed causes rapid granulation which heating will not change. If your honey granulated and turned hard (could also be from cold—do not refrigerate!) quickly, that’s why. Rapeseed pollen also has an off flavor to it. New Zealand produces the finest honey I have ever encountered (I used honey before working there)–so which when raw it looked like mayonnaise! Mexico produces a lot of good quality honey but the colors are darker. My favorite all time (raw) was a creamy yellow amber that did look just like the amber used in jewelry. Fragrant, but not perfumed (I dislike orange blossom honey as I feel as if I’m eating perfume). Some of the best commerically packed honey I’ve found is at Trader Joe’s. The company I worked for packed for them (then lost their business) so I know how it works. TJs contracts with honey sellers/producers and has the samples tested by a proper lab. They buy the honey and have it shipped to the packing plant where it is handled as per TJs instructions. The packing company uses TJs cans and labels and ships it to them when it the batch is done. In situations such as this, honey is usually sold in 15 to 17 mt per truckload. TJs usually packs their honey in 3# cans, so that over 12,000 cans,,,enough for their stores for a while. Their lead honey is mesquite, which is a mild flavored light colored honey that is produced in the southwest. It is certainly the equal of the clover honey which is most often found in stores (and which travels a great distance–Canada, and all along the midwest grain belt to other parts of the US). I agree with the opinion that locally produced honey is not always reliable. One problem is the beekeeper doesn’t usually know all the floral sources the bees visit so batches can vary in flavor and aftertaste (as with Chinese). The company I worked for also packed for the USDA Food Commodity Support whatever the name was…beekeepers would get loans (price support) for their honey from the USDA (as did milk producers, etc), then rather than redeem the load, would let the USDA keep it. It would have been stored in a USDA authorised warehouse (and we know how on top of ALL things concerned with food safety the USDA is). The commodity program would assess what honeys they had that were now theirs and put up lots for bids to be transported from warehouse A to packing house B. The honey when processed and packed (and inspected in the plant by USDA personnel to ensure the terms of the contract were met—but not much else) would be shipped out to food banks, nonprofit orgs and the like. Some of the honey that came in (and the operations manager and plant managers had access to all the records as to who the beekeepers were and such) wasn’t fit to be fed to hogs. Disgusting. As each drum (55 gallon open top) was opened, if there was anything that showed it might not be pure honey, an inspector was called and the honey put aside. I never heard of any penalties (the beekeeper would usually blame the warehouse and vice versa, even though there would be intact metal seals on the drums) except requiring the beekeeper to pay back the loan…(sometimes, not always). The ‘bad’ honey would be stored outside (to prevent a possible mix up with the good honey) in a secure location. Bees love honey so there were always bees around the outside of the plant, wanting to steal a little…(who could blame them?). They never went near the ‘bad’ honey…. The reason I tell this story is because I know a family of beekeepers who not only transported hives of honeybees that were under quarantine for having a killer bee infestation (killer bees being a major problem for the honey industry) and provided some of the ‘bad honey’ but also sell honey produced under less than proper conditions through various roadside stands up and down the I-5 and 88 highways in California. The presence of fresh produce does not mean the honey matches the quality of the fruit and vegetables. Things to know: Honey is supposed to be labelled with who packed it or produced it. It is also supposed to have a grade, and a color. The darkest is Dark Amber (almost like molasses, but has the most pollen and minerals), the lightest is extra light amber. There is a white grade but it’s not pure white, it just starts that way and ends up a very light yellow. It is the most desirable for food processing where color is a concern (honey sweetened egg nog, fruits, etc). A light amber is good for most purposes. For those who don’t already know it, honey should not be given to children under a year old. Honey is also good on some wounds (old time remedy). For more information on beekeeping and honey production from someone who is dedicated to his work, check out: http://peacebeefarm.blogspot.com/ Which has an article on pesticides in pollen right now but all the articles are worth reading for a better understanding of the art (living in harmony with others, even bees, is an art) and science. I just came across this website, so I’m late in posting, hope someone later on finds it useful/informative. I’ve loved all the other articles I’ve read here…(2 hours +) since finding the site. Thank you so much for the work you do and assistance you provide.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Dear Gabriel, thanks for taking the time to post such a lengthy comment chock full of interesting and useful nformation!