According to testing done for Food Safety News, more than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn’t exactly what the bees produce. Often times, in fact, pollen has been filtered out of these products -- yet they are still labeled “honey.”
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that has been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen is not honey. However, the government has not been strictly regulating to see which brands contain pollen, which means many of the plastic bears on your store shelves probably do not.
We’ve put together this blog post so that you will know how to decipher quality honey that still contains pollen and other beneficial enzymes from the imposters.
Ultra-filtering is a procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen. Government health officials can identify the source of honey by inspecting its pollen. The origin of honey in which the pollen has been removed cannot be determined. This is worrisome because, for years, the Chinese have ultra-filtered their honey (some containing dangerous antibiotics) to disguise its origin and illegally export to the U.S.
Testing has revealed that most honey sold by grocery chains in the U.S. is ultra-filtered. So, not only can honey’s beneficial properties be lost when it is packaged this way, but we no longer know where it’s coming from.
Richard Adee, whose 80,000 hives in multiple states produce 7 million pounds of honey each year, told Food Safety News that “honey has been valued by millions for centuries for its flavor and nutritional value and that is precisely what is completely removed by the ultra-filtration process.”
“There is only one reason to ultra-filter honey and there’s nothing good about it,” he says. “It’s no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China,” Adee added.
So why then do stores prefer stocking their shelves with ultra-processed brands of honey? For one, ultra-processing extends shelf-life. Most consumers prefer clear, uncrystallized honey, as well. Unfiltered honey usually has a darker color and can appear a crystallized solid. It’s the plants and flowers where the bees forage for nectar that will determine the significant difference in the taste, aroma and color of what the bees produce. It is the processing that controls the texture. Here is a breakdown of the different varieties of honey:
Raw honey has not been filtered or pasteurized (heated to high temperatures). Often, it is creamed to make it more attractive. Raw honey will become granular very quickly, and may separate in the jar with the liquid fructose rising to the top and granular glucose sinking to the bottom.
Honey filtered with minimum heat (often labeled ‘Unpasteurized' or ‘Strained’) is minimally heated to liquify the honey in order to remove dirt, wax, bee parts, debris from the hives and other visible contaminants but leave the pollen in place. It is extracted and cleaned using an 80 micron filter. The honey is only heated to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (the temperature of the inside of a beehive on a hot day). It contains a similar nutritional value of raw honey and will granulate in two to six months depending on the type of flower the bees visited to gather the honey.
Pasteurized Honey is, unfortunately, the most common form of honey sold in stores. The honey is heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, or even higher temperatures for a shorter period of time, ultra-filtered through a 1 to 5 micron filter, and then cooled quickly. Honey that is heated above 120 degrees will have an attractive color and delicious taste and last over nine months on a store shelf without granulating, but the pollen, propolis, enzymes and antioxidants found in raw and minimally-processed honey will have been rendered useless.
Ultrafiltration, therefore, poses many potential health risks. If honey does not contain pollen, consumers and law officials have no way of determining its origin and, thus, if it contains any harmful chemicals. New York Senator Charles Schumer is one of the more than 20 U.S. senators and members of Congress (of both parties) who have repeatedly asked the FDA to create a federal “pure honey” standard, similar to what the rest of the world has established. We hope that this can be made a priority.
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