Honey is a great natural sweetener, but it also has antibacterial properties, antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and medicinal properties. Unfortunately, some of the honey sold on supermarket shelves is stripped of all its healthy goodness through over processing and could be diluted with corn syrup, sugar or even water. If you want to find the healthiest honey, here are a few things to look for.
Is it USDA certified organic?
Buying USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) certified organic honey seems like a good way to avoid pesticides in honey, but the USDA doesn’t have federal standards pertaining specifically to bees or beekeeping. According to Jason Lopez from the USDA:
“Bees are classified under the livestock scope of the National Organic Program Standards.”
Bees are treated like cows. Huh? Generally speaking, organic is a good standard, but not a perfect fit for honey because there are a few other factors to consider.
Hard to control the buzzzzzzz
Even if there were federal standards for organic beekeepers, it’s very difficult to control where those little buggers fly. Bees generally cover about a 2-4 mile radius around their home. If bees fly into fields with pesticides, GMOs, synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or sludge, the honey they create isn’t organic.
So how do I find the healthiest honey?
If you want the healthiest honey, there are 4 things to look for 1) how the honey is processed 2) where it comes from 3) how the bees/beehives are treated and 4) the location of the hive.
1. How the honey is processed
Bees make honey and humans filter it. Why? Because it looks less cloudy and therefore more appealing to buyers. It also stops or delays the crystallization (or hardening) process. The problem with heavy filtration is it strips honey of pollen and its beneficial nutrients.
Most raw or unprocessed honey will solidify or crystalize, which means it won’t stay in a liquid form. If you see particles in raw or unprocessed honey, there was less filtration and that means you get more of the health benefits.
2. Where is the honey from?
The European Union has pretty tough standards in terms of what can and can’t be in honey, including banning additives and antibiotics. Other countries like China don’t. Chinese honey can be diluted with water, sugar, corn syrup and other sweeteners. The honey can contain antibiotics and be high in heavy metals due to the use of substandard equipment. The U.S. tests only about 5 percent of the honey sold in the country, so read labels carefully and make sure your honey contains only one ingredient, honey.
3. How the bees & the hives are treated
Here are a few important questions to ask if you want to avoid subjecting bees, honey and your family to chemicals.
Do you spray pesticides?
A “varroa” mite is a parasite that sucks on bee blood and bee larvae. These mites are pretty serious business–an infestation can kill an entire honeybee colony. The mites can also transmit several viruses that are lethal to honeybees. The easiest way to eradicate them is with a synthetic miticide, but these chemicals can linger in the comb and accumulate over time.
Do you use a foundation, or a manufactured comb?
Peter Shanks on Flickr @Creative Commons
Beekeepers generally start with either plastic or wax combs, but those prefab combs often contain chemical pesticides. The plastic combs make things easier and quicker for the beekeeper, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to healthier bees or better honey. Ideally, the bees should make their own combs.
Do you feed the bees sugar or high fructose corn syrup?
Bees create honey to eat during the off-season when flowers aren’t in bloom. So what happens when we take their honey? They starve. Honey is profitable and sugar is cheap. This is why some beekeepers feed bees sugar to get them through the winter. But researchers have found that feeding bees high fructose corn syrup can threaten their health.
Do you give bees antibiotics?
Antibiotics have been given to U.S. honeybee colonies for more than 50 years to prevent bacterial disease. The problem is antibiotics kill the helpful bacteria in the honeybee’s stomach. This weakens the bee’s immune system and makes them more susceptible to disease. A Yale study found that continuous use of antibiotics could be contributing to the declining honeybee population.
4. Location of the hive
Ask the beekeeper if they are within 4 square miles of a conventional farm that uses pesticides or GMOs. If they are, the bees could bring back more than just nectar.
So what kind of honey should I buy?
It’s really difficult to know exactly what’s in your honey. There are some ways to test whether honey contains added sugar or water, but they aren’t completely fool proof (see “Learn More” section below to find out how to test your honey).
The honey considered to be the healthiest in the world, is manuka honey, but you may not be getting what you pay for. Manuka honey comes from the manuka bush in New Zealand, but New Zealand sells (10,000 tons) more manuka honey than it actually produces (1,700 tons).
If you want honey with all its health benefits look for honey that’s . . .
Raw, unfiltered, and unprocessed (because it hasn’t been heated or pasteurized and still has all the natural health benefits of honey)
Local (because you know where it came from)
Honey in glass containers, not plastic. Plastic contains chemicals that are harmful to our health. Sorry cute bear!
Image by tvirbickis @iStock
Feature image by Tinatin1 at iStock