5 Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About Honey
Before getting into it, I want start on the basis that we all know that honey is made up of natural byproducts such as bee pollen, propels, royal jelly and wax. Yes? But did you know these byproducts are often strained and destroyed by the heat during the packaging process?
For one reason: a longer shelf life. This makes honey a commercially viable and globally marketable product. And it also implies that most store-bought honey contains no active byproducts. Now, let’s start.
1. Most Are Blends
Honey packaging companies buy giant steel barrels from all over the world and blend them together into a honey product. The imported honey is used as a filler, making it cheaper to produce. Commercially blended honey literally means less of a good thing, more of a not-so-good thing.
2. Made in China
China is the world’s largest honey producer. It is such a major dominant global player that China’s honey usually defines world honey prices. US alone imports more than 200 million pounds (equals to 90.7million kg) of honey each year. More than half of US imported honey is from China. A few years ago, traces of Cloramphenicol began showing up in Chinese exported honey. Cloramphenicol is a banned antibiotic, cheap and easy to manufacture, and found as the drug of choice in Third World countries. But it can cause a severe or fatal reaction in about 1 out of 30,000 people.
Lead contamination is another major problem. China-made honey has also been found to contain traces of lead. Tracing back to the thousands of small beekeeping operations in China, honey is collected and stored in unlined, lead-soldered drums before being sent for processing.
3. When Honey is Not Honey
According to Andrew Schneider of Food Safety News, much of honey made in China is not honey at all.
“A favorite con among Chinese brokers is to mix sugar water, malt sweeteners, corn or rice syrup, jaggery, barley malt sweetener or other additives with a bit of actual honey. In recent years, many shippers have eliminated the honey completely and just use thickened, colored, natural or chemical sweeteners labeled as honey”
Read more here.
4. The Dirty Business of Honey Laundering
In 2008, US imposed steep tax tariffs on cheap China-made honey to curb its importation. This resulted in a new form of business: honey laundering. Like money laundering, it is transferred and shipped all over the world for the purpose to disguise its origins. China honey was simply shipped to other countries, relabeled and brought back into the US. An increase of honey imports started to emerge from non-traditional beekeeping countries of Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia.
What’s the proof? Pollen. Scientists can look at the pollen content under a microscope and determine the flower source is grown in China, and not from the newly imported countries. This has led to more creative ways of filtration to rid pollen evidence before export.
5. Honey Re-wash
Honey processors have found a way to ‘rewash’ honey through the process of dilution. Commonly referred to as ultra-filtered (UF) honey. Honey is diluted with huge amounts of water (water source is potentially questionable), heated at high temperature, poured through a ceramic filter and evaporated back down to syrup again.
This process not only removes all traces of impurities, but it also removes all of honey’s natural by-products – including pollen. In the end, we get what looks like honey, feels like honey, and even taste like honey. But…is syrup.
Now, what can we do?
Sharpen your label reading skills! To buy natural and nutritious honey, the only way is look for raw, unfiltered honey. Keywords: RAW. UNFILTERED.
Don’t buy based on brand alone because of global honey laundry. Read the label. Is it locally made? Is it from a local supplier offering a unique product? Make sure the label says that the honey is not a blend, not strained, not heated, not filtered, not processed. If it is not stated, assume otherwise .
From my experience, the best place to buy honey is at a local farmer’s market. Honeys sold there are usually locally harvested honey. It is also a common sight to have the local beekeeper double as a stall vendor. A perfect time to engage them on their honey production, and determine how raw their honey is.
In Singapore, The Pantry Farmers’ Market is held every first and third Saturday of each month at Loewen Gardens. To know more about honey, read 5 Things You Need To Know Before Buying Honey & my review on Honey Lady‘s range of honey.