Honey is a sweet substance produced by bees. The colony stores it in wax honeycomb to use as a food source in Winter. Humans use it too. For those of us concerned about nutrition, using any food in its “raw” form is a plus. But, labels in the store can be confusing. What are the differences in honey vs raw honey?
Is Your Honey Regular or Raw?
A trip to the supermarket can be rather confusing for someone looking to buy a jar of honey. First, there are several different types of honey to buy. Then, you must wade through all the marketing terms and decide what they mean.
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To understand the basics of buying or selling honey, we need to investigate the process of how it gets from the hive to the jar.
Pure Honey from the Hive
Honey bees are the only insects that produce honey in large quantities. Female workers gather plant nectar from millions of blooming plants. Nectar is taken back to the hive in a special organ called a honey stomach. No digestion takes place here – honey is not bee vomit.
A healthy colony is able to produce much more food in a season than they need. This gives the beekeepers an opportunity to harvest the excess. Done properly, this harvest does not harm the bees.
The bees have done their job. This is pure, raw honey with nothing removed and nothing added. It contains all the enzymes, vitamins, micronutrients and antioxidants nature provides.
Now it is up to the beekeeper or processor to complete the journey. What happens after the product leaves the beehive determines if it is regular honey or raw honey.
Pasteurization Damages Nutrients
Unless you purchase from a local beekeeper, the time between it leaving the hive and reaching you can be several months – or more. That’s okay. If stored properly, honey lasts for a very long time.
However, this does not mean that it continues to look the same. Over a period of time, it can grow crystals or become a semi-solid. This does not mean that it is not pure – crystallization is a natural process.
However, consumers often prefer a liquid product that pours well. How can packers keep honey in a liquid form for a longer time? Pasteurization and/or ultrafiltration is the answer.
Pasteurized honey passes through fine mesh filters. This filtration removes many small particles of pollen, wax etc. The heat used also kills yeasts and other substances that might contribute to spoilage. Now the jars will look good and have a very long shelf-life.
The downside of pasteurization and filtering is that the process which kills the bad things – also kills some of the good yeast cells. Many people feel that pasteurization damages some of the nutrients found in raw. But, you can use honey to sweeten tea if you do it right.
What is Raw Honey?
Fresh honey straight from the hive is raw and pure. Beekeepers who sell raw honey only perform minimal processing. Instead of high-pressure filters, it is strained. Straining allows liquid to gravity flow through a strainer that removes only large pieces of wax.
Raw honey still contains these beneficial substances:
While raw honey is more likely to crystallize, it still contains all of the nutritional properties that nature intended. Also, if your jar does turn solid – it is very easy to decrystallize a jar without harming it.
Many consumers feel consuming raw honey has more health benefits. It maintains all the minerals, amino acids and other healthy compounds.
Potential Risk of Consuming Raw Honey
If raw is likely more nutritious, why would you buy something else? Well, raw food is safe for most people to consume. However, babies and adults with compromised immune systems may not be able to consume them. Always, consult your doctor when in doubt.
Organic Honey is not the Same
In food marketing a lot of label words get thrown around. The USDA regulates this certification of organic livestock practices.
Organic honey is an official label that must be applied for. It refers to factors involved in production and processing. No chemicals are used in the beehives and they only forage on chemical free plants.
Since, bees can travel several miles to forage for nectar. I’m not sure how organic producers tell the bees where to go. This is an unrealistic expectation for most beekeepers.
The bottom line for the consumer is that honey is good for most people. Even some members of the vegan community consume honey.
Pure honey should mean that nothing has been added – yes sometimes they do that. One of the first ways to check for honey purity is to read the label.
You should only see the word honey. No mention of corn syrup, added sugars or other sweeteners. This is true even with unusual colors such as purple honey – make sure you know what you are buying.
Honey vs raw honey vs organic vs pure. It all tastes good and is great to use on the table or in your favorite recipes.