All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Honey, this isn’t honey!

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Turns out that most honey purchased in stores in the US isn’t real honey.  There’s no pollen in it.

Officially, honey must contain pollen to be labelled as “Honey”, at least south of the border.  (I looked at the Canadian regulations and wasn’t able to find a similar restriction – maybe I didn’t look in the right places, but that raises a bit of a red flag for me.)  A study conducted at Texas A&M University found that 76% of the honey sold in chain grocery stores had no pollen in it; and none of the honey that comes in individual packages, served with your breakfast, contained any pollen.

How could honey not contain pollen?  If it has been subjected to ultra-filtration, that’s how.  Ultrafiltration is quite high tech; it removes the tiniest particles (including pollen), and is a procedure completely different from traditional filtration, which merely removes visible bits of wax and other debris.  But why would anyone use ultrafiltration?

Apparently, if honey is to be used to make mead or similar beverages, it is best to filter it so.  But that’s it.  Otherwise, the key advantage of ultrafiltration is that it makes it impossible to trace the origin of the honey – and harder to detect adulteration.

Why should that matter?  Chinese honey is subject to a high tariff in North America, but the producers often find devious ways to get around the tariffs.  Not only were the Chinese accused of dumping honey and threatening the local bee industry (which is key to crop pollination), but samples of Chinese honey have been found to contain illegal antibiotics and other adulterants.  In particular, it is relatively easy for large honey trans-shippers to dilute honey with water and high fructose corn syrup – a much cheaper product.

Besides, honey without pollen has very few, if any, of the beneficial health properties attributed to real honey.

The good news: all honey sold at farmers’ markets contained pollen.  It’s the real stuff.  So when the lady at the stand is grumpy for having to justify, once again, why her honey is more expensive than the one at the store, you’ll know why.  Hers is real.

The other good news: it is often possible to spot fake honey.  If it flows readily from the bottle, it probably is fake (the real stuff is think and slow).  Ia drop of it dissolves easily in cold water – uh uh, no way.  Honey needs warm water to dissolve easily.  And, of course, if it is unbelievably cheap – well, you get what you pay for.

Honey is a mainstay of farming – local (even urban), and sustainable.  Encourage your farmers markets, get your honey there.  It’s much better, all around.

I learned about the study from Wayne Roberts, Canadian food guru extraordinaire.  His site is always a mine of great info on food sustainability.

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Written by enviropaul

December 29, 2011 at 9:56 pm

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