Have you ever eaten raw honey straight from the beehive? It is so good. Besides being a delightful sensory experience, raw honey has all of the beneficial qualities intact – active, living enzymes, vitamins, minerals, pollen, and a host of other beneficial substances.
I compare eating fresh, raw honey to eating a freshly picked juicy peach right from the tree to your mouth. Sure, you can eat a canned peach that has been heated and processed, and it would be good; but it just doesn’t compare to a fresh peach in terms of taste, texture, and aroma.
I’m sure you’d agree that it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between a processed peach and a fresh one. Not so with honey, I’m afraid. It’s not always easy to tell the difference. But since raw honey is superior on so many levels, it’s important to know what you are buying, especially if you are buying honey for medicinal benefits.
But, you may be wondering – “What makes a honey “raw”, is it worth the price and where can I buy raw honey?” Excellent questions my friend. I’m going to outline five simple facts about this honey to help to dispel a few myths so you can buy your next delicious jar with confidence.
What is Raw Honey?
Simply put, raw honey is honey in its purest form as found in nature – with minimal processing. It is a living food.
According to the National Honey Board, there really isn’t an official U.S. definition for the term “raw” honey, but they give their definition:
“Honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat.”
So, to be raw, there should be minimal processing, pretty much like you just obtained it from the beehive. If you’re not a beekeeper, this may sound foreign to you, so to get a better understanding, let’s go behind the scenes and take a look at how honey travels from the beehive to your table. This little “trip” will help you to see how it is processed and what must be done to produce a raw honey. Ready? Let’s begin.
1. Has the Honey Been Strained or filtered?
The first thing to keep in mind when purchasing raw honey is whether or not the honey has been strained or filtered. What does this mean?
Before beekeepers bottle honey, it must be processed to some extent when they extract the honey from the combs. Bees store their honey in honeycombs. The honeycombs are made of beeswax and built on wooden frames. To obtain the honey from these perfect little compartments, it has to be extracted. But the way the honey is extracted and processed is what makes all the difference.
A beekeeper can either take the honey directly from the hive, extract it from the comb, and bottle it (This is honey at its finest and the most medicinal), or they can strain or filter it.
Is straining and filtering honey the same thing? That depends on who you ask. Typically, straining honey requires the use of a piece of equipment with fairly large openings for the honey to pass through, such as cheesecloth, kitchen colander or some other type of apparatus. The reason for straining honey is to remove beeswax, propolis, and other organic particles, but this process still leaves behind powerful medicinal compounds such as pollen and some remnants of royal jelly, and it is still considered raw.
How is the process of filtering different? Well, there are different kinds of filtering. For example, one type uses a filter that is placed on top of a bucket of honey and the honey drips through the filter and into the bucket. This is called a gravity filtering system. Filtered honey will be generally clearer than strained honey, without many of the suspended fine particles, and this honey is considered raw.
Another filtration system that most small community beekeepers don’t employ involves heating honey at high temperatures so that it can be pumped through very fine filters. Heated honey is more fluid; therefore, it is much easier to filter. Although this type of filtering results in a clear, brilliantly translucent honey that most people prefer, many of the benefits of the honey are lost, and it is no longer considered raw because it has been heated at very high temperatures.
An undesirable processing system I’d like to mention briefly is micro-filtering or ultra-filtering. This method pumps honey through tiny micro filters. Since honey is a thick, viscous liquid, they will heat the honey so it can be pushed through the filters. Unfortunately, often water or other substances are added to make a more liquid solution. After it’s pumped through the filters, any extra water is evaporated to prevent fermentation.
This type of filtering is expensive and found usually among suppliers who don’t want their honey traced because the process essentially removes the honey’s footprint – its pollen. Why is pollen beneficial?
Pollen is not only esteemed for its medicinal benefit (especially for allergies), but pollen traces the honey back to its origin location. This serves two important purposes.
- Without pollen, you cannot trace the source of the honey. As I mentioned, suppliers who are deceptive remove pollen so that their honey can’t be identified.
- If pollen is not present, you really can’t verify if your clover honey is actually clover honey or your tupelo honey is really tupelo honey. So pollen is a good thing.
Honey in its purest raw form is never ultra-filtered. Ultra-filtering removes all that’s good about honey and leaves behind a high glycemic substance devoid of any benefits. According to US standards, honey that has undergone this processing is not even considered “honey”. Some minerals and vitamins may survive this extreme processing, but the enzymes and other benefits will be destroyed. Also, keep in mind that pasteurized honey can still contain pollen if it hasn’t been ultra-filtered.
2. Has the Honey Been Heated?
Honey is heat treated for a number of reasons as we discussed above. But to be considered raw, it must not be heated above what would normally be found in a hive – about 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
There is, of course, flexibility in this number, but many beekeepers agree that heat temperatures should be less than 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Why is this important?
If honey is heated past the maximum hive temperature, the living enzymes and other nutritional components intrinsic to honey will be compromised, and it starts to degrade. You may not be able to tell by the appearance of the honey, but you can certainly tell by the taste, delicate floral aroma, and health benefits.
Heating honey at higher temperatures (and filtering it) will slow down crystallization (honey that is more cloudy with solid crystals suspended in the jar), but it doesn’t prevent it indefinitely. Almost all honey will crystallize after a time because it is a natural process. But that’s a good thing because when honey crystallizes, it’s actually a good sign that it’s raw.
Keep in mind that different types of honey will crystallize at various rates. Some will crystallize within a few weeks after it has been removed from the comb, and others will remain in a liquid state for years. What determines when a particular honey will crystallize? The temperature of the stored honey, how the honey was processed, and the nectar used by the bees (the sugar composition).
So if you buy a jar of honey and it doesn’t crystallize, it doesn’t mean that it is not raw honey.
Point to Remember – Unlike other types of food, honey doesn’t need to be pasteurized because by its very nature, honey is antifungal and antibacterial. It is extremely difficult for anything to grow and multiply in the honey as long as the moisture levels are within normal guidelines. This is one of the reasons why honey is excellent as a wound healer and natural effective antibiotic.
Okay, so let’s recap. We’ve discussed what raw honey is and we’ve learned the reasons why many producers heat and filter their honey. Now, let’s see if it’s possible to determine if honey is raw just by looking at it.
3. What Does Raw Honey Look Like? – Questions About Its Characteristics
A. Will raw honey almost always crystallize? Yes. As I mentioned earlier, raw and unfiltered honey will usually granulate, or crystallize, to a thicker consistency after a few months. The rate of crystallization depends on the nectar source. There is absolutely nothing wrong with honey in this state.
B. Does Raw Honey Have A Distinct Color? No, the color of your honey has no impact on whether or not it’s raw. Honey color, consistency, aroma, and taste are determined by the nectar source that the bees used to make the honey.
C. Can You Tell Your Honey is Raw By Its Appearance? No. Raw honey can be in a liquid, pourable state or it can also be more of a creamy consistency. Many people think that if their honey is very thick and creamy that it is raw and if it is thinner and runny, then it isn’t raw. This simply isn’t true. Keep in mind that honey that has been recently harvested will be more liquid, but the longer it sits it tends to become denser; but again, the nectar source has a lot to do with the texture of the honey.
4. Is it Even Worth it to Buy Raw Honey?
That depends on how you want to use your honey. If you are using your honey for a medicinal use such as for wound care or digestive issues, raw honey is the way to go. If you want to use your honey for skin care to help with a condition such as acne, raw honey is preferable because of the beneficial enzymes and organic matter.
But, if you want honey for baking, it isn’t necessary to buy it raw because you’re going to heat it anyway. And as we just learned, heat will degrade your honey and is no longer raw. But, if you intend to drizzle this flavorful, sweet liquid over cheese or fresh fruit, you can’t go wrong with the taste and aroma of raw honey.
Many folks claim that raw honey is no different from regular processed honey. I’m of the opinion that the further a thing is from nature, the greater the chance that it loses something special. Raw honey has been used for many centuries across many civilizations, and it has been esteemed greatly. We still don’t understand everything there is to know about this wonderful liquid. Perhaps the one thing we haven’t discovered yet is what makes it truly unique among all other sweeteners.
Okay, now the next question is – “Where can I buy raw honey?”
5. Where can I find raw honey?
Your best bet is to buy your raw, unprocessed honey sealed in the comb either at a farmer’s market or from your neighborhood beekeeper if you can get it. Honey in the comb is the freshest and closest to nature that you will find. This form of honey contains a low water content. Why is this significant?
When honey is exposed to the air, by its very nature, it will pull in moisture from the environment. That’s why it is an excellent ingredient in many cosmetics for moisturizing. This fact makes it imperative to properly seal your honey to retain its taste, aroma and nutritional value. If you can’t find honey in the comb or if it isn’t practical for what you want to use it for, you can find a beautiful jar of raw honey at the farmer’s market or with your local beekeeper.
For other places to find raw honey, see this post I wrote.
If you don’t have a beekeeper in your area, visit this site www.honey.com (US) to locate beekeepers in your area who sell raw honey.
I have such an admiration for hard-working beekeepers who work as hard as the bees in bringing to the market a quality product for us to enjoy.
Do you have a good source for your raw honey? If so, please share it with us.