By Greg Hitchings
When it comes to honey most people know what it is and in a very general sense, from where it comes, the honey bee. However, when buying honey many do not know what those descriptive words on the label really mean. It is good to know what you’re buying. Let’s take a look at some of those terms.
PURE–When the product is sold as “pure honey” this means there have been no ingredients added to the product, no corn syrup to cut costs or any additives of herbs or spices to enhance the flavor. It is a natural product which may have been heated and filtered or not.
RAW– The term “raw” means it is pure honey which has not been heated above 118℉. Unfortunately, honey from almost all floral sources will crystallize, moving from the liquid to solid state over time. Crystallized honey is not convenient in squeeze bottles. Store managers recognize consumers will walk right past crystallized honey on a store shelf. To insure it will stay in liquid form for the long term, honey packers will flash heat honey up to 160℉ and force it through very fine filters in a pasteurization process. The finished bottled product is very attractive, shelf stable and sells well. But there is a trade-off for this benefit of longer liquid shelf life. Beneficial enzymes, along with vitamins and minerals found in the pollen of raw honey, are removed in this process. For the health conscious, raw honey is far and away the desired product.
While on the subject of raw honey it is important to note crystallization is a natural process which is inevitable for most all raw honeys and more rarely, processed honey. This is not “honey gone bad” but rather sweetness in a more solid form. Its flavor and health benefits remain intact and it can still be used as a spread on toast or to sweeten morning coffee. It also can be substituted for sugar on a one-to-one basis in many baking and jam or jelly recipes. Or if you prefer, crystallized honey can readily be returned to its natural heavy liquid state with low heat in a water bath. In warm weather my favorite method of liquifying crystallized honey is simply leaving the jar in full sun for a few hours.
LOCAL–This is a hard one. There is a great amount of anecdotal evidence which indicates locally produced raw honey provides great benefits to some allergy sufferers. To what extent is hard to say and I can find no consistent definition regarding what constitutes local honey. Within the beekeeping community there seems to be some consensus that “local” should refer to honey produced within about a 20-to-30-mile radius.
I’m fortunate to not suffer much from allergies but I do enjoy consuming quite a bit of this natural and nutritious food provided by the honey bee, just for the flavor. A dollop of a good table grade honey on a biscuit or pancake is a treat to enjoy.
Gregg Hitchings is a certified Master Beekeeper through both the University of Florida and University of Nebraska. Starting beekeeping in 1966 in Iron County, he assists others learning the craft through belleviewvalleyapiary.com.