“‘Well,’ said Pooh, ‘what I like best,’ and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Pooh Bear, I think the word you are looking for is “anticipation.” And, oh, do I know the sweet feeling well. That moment before I plunge my spoon into the jar of honey… I can barely contain myself now thinking about it!
OK back to the point.
Honey. It’s amazing. Delicious and nutritious all wrapped into one. But not all honey is created equal. In fact, not all “honey” is real honey.
The mystery product sold as “honey”
Honey is one of the most commonly mislabeled foods. Last year, Food Safety News found that 75% of store-bought honey was ultra-filtered and did not contain pollen. Without pollen, it is impossible to identify the honey’s source. Furthermore, the US FDA states that any “honey” that no longer contains pollen cannot technically be considered honey.
Even more concerning, a third or more of all “honey” in the US was found to have been smuggled in from China or India, and tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals. According to Food Safety News, millions of pounds of honey deemed unsafe and banned from dozens of foreign countries is being imported and sold in the US.
Additionally, a number of ingredients are added to “honey”, and even sometimes constitute the main ingredient. These include sucrose syrup, sugar syrup, partial invert cane syrup, corn syrup, glucose syrup, beet sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as artificial sweeteners. Any “honey” that contains these ingredients is therefore not real honey, but a blend. Furthermore, some of these ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, pose a particular threat to the health of consumers. On my trip to the grocery store, I picked up this little honey bear whose main ingredient was high fructose corn syrup. It was the cheapest honey available, and though I hate to waste, I threw this little guy in the trash after photographing him (I see right past that cute little face of yours, honey bear…).
The health benefits of raw honey
Raw honey comes straight from the honeycomb, and is honey in its purest form. It is unfiltered, unheated and unpasteurized, processes which can destroy the natural vitamins (high in vitamin C and B vitamins), minerals and enzymes found in honey. The health benefits of raw honey are seemingly endless:
- Anti-viral and anti-fungal properties
- Contains polyphenols, a powerful antioxidant
- Helps ward off allergies
- Soothes sore throats and is a natural expectorant (i.e. is great to eat when you have a cold)
- Stabilizes blood pressure and balances blood sugar levels
- Boosts immune function
- Helps heal skin conditions and wounds when applied topically
- Promotes digestive health
- As an alkaline-forming food, helps combat chronic illness
Nutrition aside, raw honey differs from processed honey in a few significant ways: it is typically opaque, it is typically thicker than processed honey, and it crystalizes more readily as it has not been heated (producers heat honey to prevent crystallization). It can come in a variety of different colors. For example, I have raw alfalfa honey pictured above, and it is very light in color. But buckwheat or blueberry honey is very dark in color.
When looking to buy raw honey, look for a product from a local producer, preferably one you know or know of. Local honey offers particularly great protection from seasonal allergies.
Please note that pediatricians caution against feeding honey to children under one year old due to concern that it may contain botulism spores.