We, all of us have a sweet tooth, don’t we? Nature has fitted us with a strong drive to find the sweet in our food. In nature, sweet flavors are a bit rare and hard to come by. But in our foodscape sweet taste is abundant and cheap. Not only the inexpensive granular sugar which has been available in the west since the 18th century is widely available, but also aspartame, saccharine, and now sucralose or splenda. These sweeteners are all found in a wide variety of processed foods. And so our drive for sweetness is a major source of illness in our culture. We eat far, far too much sugar. Most of us are aware of this and seek to avoid sweeteners only to find ourselves in the candy aisle, again
Must we avoid sweeteners all together to be healthy? Let’s refer to the Weston Price dietary guidelines for some assistance. In reference to sweeteners it says:
Use natural sweeteners in moderation, such as raw honey, maple syrup, dehydrated cane sugar juice and stevia powder.
So, moderation is the key. So, what qualities do we want in a healthy sweetener?
We want a sweetener with a long history of human consumption, unlike the latest sweetener to come out of the lab. We want a sweetener that comes packed with the nutrients the body needs to handle the sugar. We want a natural sweetener. Honey fits the bill on all counts.
Recognizing Good Honey
To quote Sally Fallon in her article on fermented honey, ideally we would want:
Only careful and minimal processing will preserve the many nutritive benefits of honey. Honey should never be heated during extraction or the enzymes will be destroyed; nor should it be filtered. Honey should be thick and opaque. When it comes to honey, see-through is obscene.
Very little to none of the commercially supplied honey’s meet this standard. Actually, it’s worse than simply not meeting the highest standard for good honey, much of the honey in our foodscape isn’t really honey at all according the WHO and the FDA.
Widespread adulteration of commercial honey
The only way to detect if honey is real is the presence of pollen in it, according the the World Health Organization. The FDA has ruled that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. However, it seems the FDA isn’t checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.
Ultra-filtering is a process where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and forced thru a fine filter to remove pollen. A professor at Texas A&M, tested a number of different brands of honey and found:
- 76 percent of all honey brands from the supermarket contained no pollen.
- 100 percent of all honey brands from drugstores contained no pollen.
- 100 percent of single serving honey packets contained no pollen.
- ALL of the farmers markets, coops, and natural food stores contained the full expected amount of pollen.
Why would a honey distributor opt for the ultra-filtering process? Mark Jensen of the American Honey Producers Association had this to say:
I don’t know of any U.S. producer that would want to do that. Elimination of all pollen can only be achieved by ultra-filtering and this filtration process does nothing but cost money and diminish the quality of the honey,” Jensen said.
“In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law,” he added.
So what’s so bad about Chinese honey? Well from the Globe and Mail:
China where beekeepers are notorious for keeping their bees healthy with antibiotics banned in North America because they seep into honey and contaminate it; packers there learn to mask the acrid notes of poor quality product by mixing in sugar or corn-based syrups to fake good taste. None of this is on the label. Rarely will a jar of honey say “Made in China.” – Honey Laundering
There you have it. Most commercial honey is very likely contaminated with antibiotics and laced with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) or infused with sugar.
So natural food store honey is ok? Possibly. All of the natural food store honey had pollen in the lab test, but that only tells us it wasn’t from China. It tells us nothing about the beekeeper’s practices. Dr. Joseph Mercola states that nearly 2/3 of North American honey-producers force-feed high-fructose corn syrup to their bees :-O So knowing the beekeeper and their practices would be best.
Recommendations to ensure you’re getting good clean honey
Ideally, we want raw, unheated, unpasteurized honey produced somewhere close to home. This is a kinda tall order, at least here in Central Texas. Lots of local honey, but it all appears to have been heated at some point, from Sally Fallon’s description. I had a beekeeper once tell me that the heating was needed to get the honey from the comb. Perhaps it is easier that way. But so far I haven’t found anyone local with really raw honey.
The available choices are:( $$’s indicate relative cost)
- Excellent ($$$) – Raw Honey direct from a local source
- Excellent ($$$) – Raw Honey from a commercial source like, Really Raw Honey or Y.S. Organic Bee Farms – probably the best choice nutrient wise though I think I’d feel more comfortable knowing the beekeeper.
- Very Good ($$) – Lightly heated honey direct from a local source.
- Good ($$) – Lightly heated honey from a regional supplier. For instance, there are a couple of smallish companies that supply honey to the local natural food stores. Be aware that you will often find this honey labeled raw. If it isn’t opaque it isn’t raw.
- Allright ($$) – Lightly heated honey from a large supplier to natural food stores.
- Absolutely Avoid – Honey from grocery store, big box stores or drug stores.
- Absolutely Avoid – Pasteurized honey. It’s been heated to 160 degrees.
Links with ideas for replacing sugar with honey in recipes
Links to more information on honey
- SFGate.com article – keeping adulterated honey off the shelves
- Food Safety News – Tests show that most store honey isn’t honey
- Food Safety News – Top pollen detective finds honey a sticky business
- Honey Flow Farm – An excellent description of the difference between raw, lightly heated and pasteurized honey.
- Weston Price Foundation by Sally Fallon – Fermented Honey
- Pickl-It.com – Not just any honey
- Globe and Mail – Honey Laundering
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This post is part of Butter Believer’s Sunday School, Monday Mania at the Healthy Home Economist Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager, Traditional Tuesdays at Cooking Traditional Foods, Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Gnowfglins Simple Lives Thursday, Freaky Friday at Real Food Freaks and Fresh Bites Friday at Real Food Whole Health.