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Thinking About Raw, Natural and Filtered Honey

Honey is a substance that has been prized since long before the ancient Egyptians. It is healthful, sweet, and is the only food that doesn’t spoil. Honey found in Egyptian pyramids and dated at thousands of years old was crystallized but still perfectly edible. Today, honey is sold in several conditions, though many people don’t know the difference between them.

Honey is produced inside of hexagonal combs of beeswax. It is sometimes sold this way, but most honey goes through more processing before sale. Raw honey isn’t necessarily honey that is still in the comb. The honey is gently heated, which melts the wax. It is then coarsely filtered to remove the wax and any bee parts that might be in the honey. The result is honey that is usually cloudy and opaque; pure raw honey. Nothing has been added to it and it has only been filtered slightly.

People who buy honey at the store are probably more acquainted with natural honey. Natural honey is heated to a higher temperature for a longer period of time and it is more highly filtered. It may still carry the word “pure” on the label, but this is deceiving. The United States FDA dictates that honey can be sold as pure even when up to 5% of the honey is actually corn syrup. 

Corn syrup is added to the honey for two primary reasons. First, corn syrup is far less expensive to produce than honey. By adding 5% corn syrup, companies can make more money for the same amount of honey. 

Second, corn syrup works as a clarifier. The honey remains amber, golden, or even reddish, but it is somewhat transparent and it looks nicer. (This is, of course, a matter of opinion.)

The FDA only tests about 5% of the honey sold in the US, but independent tests of the best-known and best-selling brands of honey reveal that between 70-90% of the honey sold in stores and supermarkets contain corn syrup, whether the label says that it is pure honey or not.

Both raw honey and natural honey contain pollen. However, the processing can be taken through an additional step. It can be ultra-filtered. Ultra-filtering removes the pollen. This is an additional process that isn’t necessary for quality honey and a person might wonder why it is sometimes done. 

The primary reason ultra-filtering is done is somewhat nefarious; to deceive. By analyzing the pollen in honey, it is possible to tell what kind of honey it is, such as clover honey, and it is also possible to tell where the honey came from. Removing the pollen masks the honey’s origins.

This is important because some countries, most notably China, not only add more corn syrup to their honey, they also use powerful antibiotics. At one time, the Chinese honey bee population was nearly wiped out due to diseases and the antibiotics are used to counter those diseases. The problem is that the antibiotics are banned in the US because they are known carcinogens. 

By ultra-filtering the honey, it becomes nearly impossible to tell that it came from China or another country that doesn’t follow FDA guidelines, which are only valid within the US. The origin can be further masked by selling the cheap honey to another country that then sells it to US suppliers. The honey is less expensive, but the health aspects are questionable.

  • Do you enjoy and use honey?

    • I love all honey
    • I love natural honey
    • I love raw honey
    • I enjoy honey but rarely or never buy it
    • I don’t care for honey

What do you think?

8 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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    • Most people don’t, but *all* major brands of honey add corn syrup unless it is raw honey. Even then, some still add corn syrup. This is a case where the FDA allows something to say that it is pure when it most definitely is not. They consider 5% of corn syrup to be ‘incidental’. If a person was allergic to corn syrup, that is more than enough to trigger an allergic response and I wouldn’t call 1/20th of every container as being incidental.

    • I still have some raw honey that is for special uses only. It is crystallized, but that isn’t a big thing. I just heat it when I want to use it. We have a lot of natural honey that is local, so the raw honey is for special occasions. lol

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