Nine Honey Label LIESJune 21, 2022
Maybe you just love honey, or perhaps you have learned about its health benefits from your favorite social platform. You find the honey section at your local grocery store, or there is a display of Local Organic Honey in the health food section. Some honey bottles are filled with a light amber liquid, others medium darks, and perhaps some as dark as molasses. Which is right for you? The label should provide all the information need for making a good decision, right? Unfortunately, the answer might be NO. Honey label regulations are notoriously lax in the United States. Bee uninformed and the Organic Honey you paid $5 more than the bottle next to it may be blended with low quality (but organic) imported honey. Yup, unscrupulous folks can get away with it. Read on for common misunderstanding (lies) that could be found on a label. But take heart, there is an easy way to find great quality honey.
Lie #1. Organic Honey. Truth is, no organic regulatory body in the United States recognizes honey as organic. Although a beekeeper can use organic methods to care for bees, it is very difficult to control where bees fly, which can be 1.5 miles or more over GMO beans or corn recently sprayed with fungicide. Some countries do have organic oversight and it can be imported and sold legitimately as organic in the US. The lack of Organic label is unfortunate because there are fields of flowers with no high intensity agriculture anywhere near. Organic honey production is possible in the US and the ability to label it as such has value to both producer and consumer.
Lie #2. Reduced Calorie Honey. Honey is defined by the US Honey Board as "the substance made when the nectar and sweet deposits form plants are gathered, modified, and stored in the honeycomb by bees. The definition of honey stipulates a pure product that does not allow for the addition of any other substance. This includes, but is not limited to, water or other sweeteners." Neither bees or humans have the ability to remove calories from what is essentially concentrated natural sugar.
Lie #3. A product of the USA. Honey may be imported in bulk from other countries, blended with US honey, and sold as product of the USA. Fortunately, a recent court decision is making this more difficult. Why is non-US honey bad? Most are perfectly good but some countries such as may adulterate honey with high fructose corn syrup or feed processed sugar during the honey flow to bulk up production.
Lie #4. USDA Grade A is healthiest, best tasting, and most pure. USDA grade evaluates color, clarity, and defects, NOT flavor or nutrients. Big box honey is often heat Pasteurized and fine filtered, which extends shelf-life and improves grading. Locally produced, raw and unprocessed small batch honey such as we produce would likely grade out no better than USDA B.
Lie #5. Monofloral honey is from a single nectar source. To be a monofloral honey, producers must be confident that 51% or more of a nectar source is from the floral claim (e.g., clover, blueberry, sourwood, buckwheat, orange blossom), the remaining 49% can be from any other flower. The producer has no responsibility to prove the claim. In part this is because there are no simple tests to prove a honey reaches the minimum standard. Testing requires multiple processing steps and a person expert at the identification of pollen through a microscope.
Lie #6. There are less calories in honey than processed white sugar. You will find conflicting information on the internet. Some references say a teaspoon of honey has fewer calories than table sugar where as other (e.g Univ. of Arkansas Extension) say more. The truth is honey, on a dry weight basis has more calories but honey is not dry like table sugar. However, it is up to 1.5 times sweeter so less is needed. And unlike the empty calories in table sugar, honey contains minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and pollen all of which contribute to your health.
Lie #7. Only raw, unprocessed honey is healthy. It maybe true that Pasteurized and fine filtered honey is less nutritious than raw honey but even that is by no means "dead", minerals are retained and some enzymes and antioxidants survive (in some foods, like tomatoes, cooking activates antioxidants). Raw comb honey does have an appeal but heating for short periods of time below 120 F, and passing it through a course filter will not negatively impact the nutritional qualities of honey. Here at Country Road Bees we first cure honey in a humidity controlled room which is the same things bees do naturally to reduce moisture, a process made difficult for them by Nebraska's humid summers. This reduces the risk of fermentation, concentrates flavor, and enhances mouth feel. Once extracted, it is passed through a course filter to removed large chunks of wax, debris from the hive, and bee parts (does anyone really want a bee in their honey)? It is then stored at ambient room temperature (which can reach 100 F) until winter where it is stored around 75 F. A test you can do at home is to place a few drops of honey on your skin. A live honey will naturally release hydrogen peroxide. Our Buckwheat honey is so rich in the enzyme catalase a foam layer forms on top.
Lie #8. Flavored honey is honey. NOPE, at least not in Nebraska! While it does contain honey as the main ingredient, once a flavoring is added, delicious though it is, it is no longer pure honey, must be labeled appropriately, and have a list of ingredients. By the way, in Nebraska a flavored honey is considered processed and must be manufactured in a commercial kitchen if sold to the public.
Lie #9. Pure honey 100% pure. This is perhaps the most nefarious of all. In the USA (not Europe or Canada) it is legal to blend natural honey with low cost additives and still claim it as pure honey. This is because the definition of honey is not codified in the US Code of Federal Regulations. Sometimes, regulations are a good thing.
How can the consumer be sure of the honey they consume? The best thing to do is establish a relationship with the honey producer. Any honey producer at a Farmer's Market will talk your arm off if given the chance. Most would welcome you to their farm. Many regional grocers recognize that the consumer wants locally sourced foods and provides shelf space. In Nebraska, and most states, the location and contact information for the producer must be on the label. Although we are sometimes hard to reach as a mom and pop operation, either my wife or I would be glad to answer your questions. But is store bought honey local? Local is a subjective term. I think any honey within a few hundred miles is local. The flowers those bees visit very likely are the same found around where you live. Still not possible? Find a producer online, read about their philosophy for honey production, and contact them. Country Road Bees is located in Eastern Nebraska and many of the flowers here are the same found anywhere from the Rocky Mountains East to the Appalachians, and from the Canadian border South to Oklahoma. But if it's midnight and the only stores open are big box, don't be afraid to purchase that honey BUT read the label. Make sure that the honey is produced and bottled in North America. Look especially for, and avoid any honey with Argentina, Chile, China, or Vietnam listed as a country of origin.
Still not sure? Please feel free to contact us, the information is on our Contact page.