A sweet golden liquid produced by bees-what could be better than a spoonful of honey. Enjoy it straight from a spoon or sprinkle it across your favorite scones, muffins or biscuits. However, the truth is that the honey industry is plagued with adulterated products. These jars of golden liquid claim to be honey – but are they really? To reap the health benefits of consuming honey, you need to learn how to check for pure honey – make sure it is the real thing.
Checking the Purity of Honey
Is it possible to test your jar to make sure it’s the real thing? Yes, there are some home test you can try to identify the quality of your purchase.
However, keep in mind that short of expensive laboratory results nothing is 100 percent accurate. Use these honey testing methods as your preliminary investigations.
What is Honey?
First, let’s explore this wonderful product from the hive. Honey is made by bees and stored in the hive to use as a Winter food source.
Bees make this sweet food from primarily plant nectar. Blooming plants use sweet nectar to lure pollinators to the flower. The visiting bees help pollinate flowers so the plants can produce seed.
Another substance bees can use to make honey is honey dew. This type is often called “forest honey” because bees harvest the sweet secretions of aphids in order to make it.
You will find pollen grains in pure honey – even though it is not made from pollen. This is actually a good thing as pollen is a protein source.
Our bees do such a great job of making honey, that beekeepers are able to share in the harvest. This is normally done at the end of the season.
Color and Taste Variables
Because of the wide variety of nectar sources, you will find some variety in products. In fact, honey varies in color and flavor from one harvest to the next.
Each floral source contributes it’s own floral essences, nutrients, enzymes, amino acids, minerals, etc. Therefore, No-you can not rely on color to check for pure honey.
Likewise, taste is not a reliable way to check for honey purity. There is one exception to this rule.
When the bees gather nectar from one primary source to create a mono-floral product such as Sourwood honey or Clover-a experienced taste tester may recognize the taste and texture of this special product.
But, in general, taste is too variable to be a reliable indicator of whether or not a jar contains pure honey.
What is Adulterated Honey?
Adulterated honey is a term used to describe a product that contains honey with other additives. Why would anyone do this?
Why would anyone practice honey adulteration? It’s about money – isn’t it usually. Often these substances are added to make the total product go farther.
This enables the packer (or seller) to get more money for the crop. If 100 jars of honey can be stretched to 200 jars… that means more profit.
Cheaper products used in substitution:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
- Rice Syrup
- Liquid Glucose
- Sugar Syrup
- Invert Sugar
Is Your Honey Fake?
There are many interesting ideas for ways to check honey purity at home. However, the wide variety of honey types makes it impossible to test for purity with 100% accuracy.
Each jar will be different due to the hundreds of nectar sources involved. Therefore, I submit these tests “tongue in cheek” more for entertainment value than truly reliable test results.
Do not be alarmed if your honey tests as fake due to the performance of these checks. If however, it fails all of them you might choose a different source next time unless it came from your own hive and you know it is pure.
Read the Label First
When you are buying honey, always read the label on the jar. The ingredient label should only have one item listed: honey.
Unfortunately, the words on the label only tell part of the story. Depending on where you live – the word “pure” means different things. Words such as pure, natural, etc are not regulated in most regions.
Avoid products with additives when shopping for raw or pasteurized honey. Any type of syrup or sugar blend is a sign of additives.
Solubility or Water Test
Honey has a viscosity that causes it to stick together better than some liquids. This is why we can pile it up on a spoon or roll it around a honey dipper.
Add a spoonful of honey to a small glass of water (room temperature) just put the spoon and honey in the glass – do not stir.
Pure honey tends to remain in contact on the spoon or in a glob at the bottom of the glass. If present, sugar additives will dissolve.
Of course, honey is water soluble so stirring will not work for this test – just gently place the spoon in the water.
Matchstick or Flame Test
The burn check for honey purity is not what it seems. Rather than checking for purity- this test is checking for added water.
Ripe honey has a low water content. If it has been thinned with water, the theory is that it will not burn. But, all honey does have moisture and this will vary from one to the next.
To do the test: dip a cotton ball or candle wick in some honey and try to light it. If it does not light easily, it may contain water. You may also apply honey to the side of a matchbox and try to light a match.
Blot or Flow Honey Test
A thick viscosity liquid like honey, flows slowly, especially when the temperatures are cool. However, viscosity and flow rates do vary from one type to another.
To do the check: Place a spoonful of honey on a folded paper towel. Pure honey will sit on the surface and not spread out. While watery or sugar added products will seep into the fibers quickly creating a wet mark.
Unreliable Tests for Impure Honey
Some of the checks for pure honey that you will read about have absolutely no scientific validity. One is the ant test – being that ants will not want to eat fake honey.
Seriously? Sorry, ants are not reliable sources for honey purity. They will eat anything sweet from honey to sugar water to soda. We beekeepers know that because we struggle to keep ants out of the hives!
Another bad test is the idea that pure honey mixed with alcohol will not dissolve. This is not true and the idea has been around for a long time.
Yet another false test is that you can check honey purity using the pour test? Supposedly pure honey poured from a container would only turn clockwise or would make a comb pattern on a plate. No and no – these are entertaining but they are just not true.
If you want to spend the money to have scientific tests performed on your honey, your results will have a higher level of accuracy. There are several to consider and each one has limitations.
C4 Syrup Detection
This process tests for the presence of sugars made from corn or sugar cane. It can not detect other types of sugars such as is present in rice etc.
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Profiling
This test aids in checking for pure honey by testing for unknown sugars. It is also able to determine the country of origin by nectar/pollen source.
In fact, honey is a remarkable substance that has many different nuances. Each jar is different and finding an at home way to test it is difficult and not a certainty.
It is impossible to rely on the naked eye to determine purity. In addition to the differences in chemical composition, temperature plays a large role in the flowability of this product.
The consumer should also keep in mind that crystallization is not an indicator of pure honey or not. Most pure honeys will crystallize with time – so will those with additives.
However, the presence of crystals in the jar does not mean that sugar has been added. Honey is sugar – and those crystallized jars can be fixed anyway.
The best way to make sure you are eating real honey or raw honeycomb is to read the label closely. Contamination is less likely if you know your source.
It is not always possible to purchase direct from a beekeeper. But, take the time to check among the options in the grocery stores to find the best authentic honey available.