Nearly two years ago, Food Safety News published an article claiming that three-fourths of the honey sold in the U.S. is not actually honey. Even though it’s been some time since that article has been published, it has had a big impact on many people’s perception of honey. Rumors and warnings abound about whether or not the honey we eat is actually honey.
Food Safety News claimed that most honey on grocery store shelves is ultra-filtered, and that the main reason for this ultra-filtration is so that companies can hide where the honey comes from, presumably China where there have been issues with honey safety historically. I think a lot about food sources and food production, so when I heard this story, I had to do a little digging. I found a lot of articles repeating what Food Safety News had to say pretty much verbatim. But I also found a great article on NPR telling us all to relax, that our honey really is honey and that things were blown a bit out of proportion by the press and blogs.
So, are those little plastic bears filled with honey or something more nefarious? Well, it’s not quite so black and white. Here are my key takeaways:
- Honey that does not contain pollen has not necessarily been ultra-filtered.
- Americans like clear honey in liquid form that does not crystallize. Crystallization is not a bad thing, but a lot of us think it means the honey has gone bad or has become unusable Due to our own demand for a particular form of honey, higher amounts of filtration and processing are used.
- A common form of filtration used in the U.S. when processing honey involves adding diatomaceous earth then filtering out the diatomaceous earth along with other particulates, like bees wings, wax and dust. This is all done so we can have that clear, liquid honey we are so fond of.
- Just because honey comes from China doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad. In fact, Europe has stricter standards for honey than the U.S. does, yet it imports plenty of Chinese honey.
- Removing pollen does not necessarily mean your honey is no longer honey.
- Yes, there probably is ultra-filtered honey on our store shelves that has been processed to hide where it came from, but I’m guessing it’s not 75% of the honey out there.
The bottom line for me is this: no matter what food we’re talking about, whether it’s honey or meat or produce, stories keep surfacing reaffirming that eating locally and organically is a good thing and can eliminate a lot of the questions and concerns around highly processed food. If we know where our food comes from and/or that chemicals were not involved in the production of that food, then a lot of these questions won’t plague us. This is not to say I’m never going to buy a plastic bear of honey at the grocery store ever again. I will and, when I do, I’m not going to be worried about the safety of that honey. But I will think more about where that honey came from. In the long term, I’m pretty sure I will change my behavior and try to find local sources for honey, a food that our family eats on a daily basis. (Yes, my kids are obsessed!)
All of this talk of honey has me craving something sweet! Click through for a great Honey 101 guide as well as a few especially delicious-looking honey recipes.