It happened again just the other day. I ordered my hot cup of coffee and asked the barista if they had any honey I could use as a sweetener. She smiled at me and said she took it the same way as a healthier alternative to other sugar syrups. She grabbed the “squeeze bear” and handed it to me.
Upon seeing my Bee King’s shirt, she asked if I had seen the Netflix documentary entitled “Rotten” which told the story of fake and adulterated honey. I had. She was pretty proud of the fact that their shop was offering US based product. Sure enough, the words “100% Pure US Grade A Honey” graced the label in bright letters. I knew better.
Turning the container around, I examined the back. There, in the crook of the bear’s neck, printed in black letters, the real truth was hidden for nearly nobody to read.
“A product of Ukraine, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and USA”
“Why would they hide that back there?” She wondered when I showed her the hidden message. Why indeed?
THE US GRADE OF HONEY DOES NOT IDENTIFY THE ORIGIN
It is important to note that the US Grade of a honey product has nothing to do with the origin of the honey. My barista didn’t know that, but unlike most consumers, she had seen the Netflix documentary and knew a little bit of what a foreign honey source most likely meant. As a result, the manager quickly pulled their “fake honey” from the shelves in search of a real alternative.
Seven years ago, I was just like that barista. I knew about the fake honey they serve in single-serving packets at restaurants. But at least with those things the ingredients label confess the truth of what they really were — honey-flavored syrup.
What I didn’t know at the time was that the vast majority of honey brands sold in the U.S. aren’t real honey at all. These products are manufactured for consistency of flavor, texture and color. In fact, almost every jar of the non-local honey was guaranteed to be fake.
What changed my perspective (and spawned my desire to start my own honey business) was when my wife and I started buying our honey from a local beekeeper friend and our exploration and education into the world of REAL honey began. To our surprise, a variety of real honey flavors were suddenly on our table, each with its own story to taste. Who knew honey had different flavors?
There is one test, according to the FDA (and other international food authorities), that authenticates if your honey is real – pollen being present. If your honey doesn’t contain pollen, it isn’t…well…honey. Not long ago, a Food Safety News report came out to test more than 60 different store bought honey brands for pollen.
76% OF STORE BOUGHT “HONEY” HAS NO POLLEN!
Let that sink in for a moment. Nearly 80% of all honey tested came back with ZERO trace of pollen. That means, there is no possible way to know for sure if it was honey to begin with. When buying from drug stores like the failure rate went as high as 100% in some cases!
The same test was performed on farmers market honey and 100% passed the test with significant amounts of pollen present in every sample.
Which begs the question…
WHY IS ALL THE POLLEN MISSING IN STORE BOUGHT HONEY?
When asked why the pollen is removed, Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association said this:
“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,”source
THE PROBLEM WITH CHINESE HONEY
Imported Honey is nearly impossible to trust because it’s likely to have come from China, and Chinese honey is cheap, diluted with rice or corn syrup and sweeteners, and tainted with crazy chemicals and antibiotics. In a word, it’s fake honey.
In 2001, Chinese beekeepers experienced an epidemic of the foulbrood disease that ransacked their hives. They fought off the disease with strong animal antibiotics, including chloramphenicol — a carcinogenic antibiotic that’s been banned by the FDA. As recently as 2010, the FDA confiscated $32,000 worth of imported Chinese honey that was contaminated with this drug.
FDA TESTING ISN’T ENOUGH
The FDA only tests about 5% of the honey that is imported from overseas and many brands (including big name grocery chains) get their honey from Brazil. Some of them even claim “Organic” on this honey (a discussion for another blog post). Because US standards don’t apply outside of the US, it is difficult to say what is really in foreign honey. Just because it is shipped in from Brazil doesn’t mean that the bees actually made the honey in Brazil. There is nothing to prevent Brazil from importing the fake honey from elsewhere and in turn reselling it.
That is where the ultra-filtering comes into play. “Real” honey or natural honey is often a little cloudy and contains pollen. Ultra-filtering removes the pollen. This can be done to ‘mask’ the origin of the honey. For example, honey from China is well-known to have a high corn syrup addition as well as some powerful antibiotics which are actually banned in the US for health reasons.
The good news is REAL honey still exists and it supports your local agriculture, and farmers. BeeKing’s is proud to keep our own bees and work directly with Northwest beekeepers to bring a variety of local honey to the market that you can trust.