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How to Buy Good Honey: Things You Need to know

By June 4, 2023November 19th, 2023Honey Blog

Honey is a great food. Delicious, healthy full of beneficial properties. It has been around since ancient times. The first records of beekeeping date from around 5000 years back to Ancient Egypt. Where beekeeping was a highly-prized skill that only the elite was allowed to practice. It was a symbol of royalty and power.

Our day’s annual production of Honey worldwide is about 1.77 million metric tons. The trend is that honey consumption increases, perhaps alongside the trend for healthier living. In the UK alone, the annual consumption of Honey is around 43,000 tons per year.  

When buying honey, there are two main types you can come across.

Real Honey – produced by honey bees collecting flower nectar and pollen from melliferous plants and trees.  

Adulterated Honey – contains some Honey (if any), and it is blended with cheap corn or other high-glucose syrups to increase quantity and reduce cost.  

A recent article in the Guardian exposed that an investigation by the European Commission found 46% of sampled products were suspected to contain cheap sugar syrup. 

What is real honey?

Real honey is produced by honey bees. There is nothing added to it. Therefore, we can define it as Real Honey. The terms pure honey and natural honey are also used to describe such a honey. As there are no additives, it is all 100% natural, produced by honey bees.

Adulterated Honey: Contains some honey(maybe), and it is blended with cheap corn or other high-glucose syrups to reduce cost, hence increasing quantity. The core reason behind this adulteration is to increase profit margins by offering cheaper products for mass consumption. As a matter of fact, honey is one of the most faked foods alongside milk and olive oil. 

So, once we are aware of the two varieties that circulate on the market next question is how to recognise Real Honey from Adulterated Honey and ensure we buy Real Honey.

Honey Price 

The first thing to look for is the price. Is it too cheap? If it is too cheap, the chance you are looking an adulterated Honey is high. As often in life, cheap things are not of great quality. Regardless of the product, there is always a reason for the price to be low, often the quality. 

Honey Labelling 

Check the label, especially the small letters. Pay attention to the country/s of origin. Is it a mix of Honey or a single origin? The current requirement for declaring the origin of honey allows the label to read various blends, for example: “Blend of EU Honeys” (mix of honey from more than one county member of EU) or “Blend of Non-EU Honeys” (Mix of honey from more than one country outside EU) or quite often “Blend of EU and Non-EU Honey”. (Meaning that honey from the EU is blended with honey from outside the EU, which could be anywhere in the world – often China ). In addition, is worthy mentioning that UK is among the largest European importers of Chinese honey.

This practice allows honey from countries with various production standards and control to be mixed together. 

Of course, even if the honey is a blend of various origins still may be real, taking into consideration that all these different types of honey from different places are real. Even if this is the case, keep in mind that most likely, this honey has gone through a pasteurisation process to blend the different kinds of honeys. 

Check the label for Ingredients, additives etc. Check the label but do not take it for granted. 

Even if you shop for honey online, you should be able to see the labelling if the merchant has proper photos of the honey. Or if you cannot, you can always send an enquire asking for this information.

How much should a real honey cost? 

We cannot really put a price tag on real honey as this will widely depend on the quality, origin, the particular seller, and where the honey is being sold. But always keep in mind that real honey comes from beekeepers and requires a lot of work. So these beekeepers also need to make a living. Therefore, this increases the price. While adulterated honey could be made / mixed in a factory, requiring a lot less work or a lot less real honey. 

To recap, we defined the two types of products you may buy – Real Honey and Adulterated honey. We checked the price, we checked the origin, and we checked the ingredients. Once we have the honey, we can continue with some further testing. 

Open the jar and smell the honey

How does it smell? Real Honey needs to have a natural aroma depending on the flowers the bees made the honey from. For example, Lavender Honey needs to have a natural lavender aroma, Linden Honey needs to have a natural Linden aroma, Wildflower Honey needs to have anatural smell of flowers.

Taste the Honey

Have a spoonful of the honey. Move the honey around for a bit and close your mouth. Inhale as much as possible, exhale through your nose with your mouth closed, and pick up the aromas and flavours.

Does it taste natural or just sweet? Real Honey needs to have a taste and aroma different from just sweet. Of course, depending on the type some honey will be sweeter and less aromatic than others, but ultimately you should be able to pick up flavours and aromas different from just sweetness.

How to test honey purity at home?

There are also a few methods to test honey purity at home, the easiest being a quick water taste.

Add a spoonful of the honey into a glass of water. Real Honey will sink to the bottom as a whole lump. Adulterated Honey will dissolve in the water like sugar does. There are more home tests you can do, but this one is the easiest. 

Other factors to consider when buying honey.

We need to look into the other factor which determines the quality, rawness and, ultimately, the benefits of the honey you buy.

This is the rawness of the honey, or, in other words, the level of processing the honey has gone through.

Many terms are used to define the state of Honey, with the most commonly used being: raw, unprocessed, unpasteurised, unheated. 

Ultimately all of the above means the same thing. The honey has not been pasteurised (heated at high temperature and ultra-filtered). Therefore still contains all beneficial properties such as antioxidants, vitamins, minerals etc.

Pure Honey & Natural Honey

Other terms used to describe real honey are: Pure Honey & Natural Honey. Both mean the same.

Pure Honey – There are no additives to the honey.

Natural Honey – The honey is 100% natural, there is nothing added to it.

So, once we determine the honey is pure, natural (Real Honey). We need to see if the Honey is unpasteurised or more commonly known as Raw Honey.

Unpasteurised Honey (Raw Honey) is much better as it contains all the beneficial properties the honey posses. The beneficial properties raw honey has depend on the type of honey – the flowers the bees were collecting nectar from to make the honey.

You are probably wondering if unpasteurised honey is better why some honey would be pasteurised. The short answer is to increase shelf life (remove crystallisation, making it more attractive for many buyers) or to blend it with other honey’s, making blend of honeys as described above. 

The next honey expert level is to start paying attention to a few other things that further determine the honey’s quality. 

Blend of Honeys

What means blended Honey – to increases quantity and reduce cost. Often honey from various sources, sometimes from different countries with different qualities, is mixed. In such cases, the Honey should be labelled as a blend of the particular places of origin. For example: blend of EU Honeys or blend of EU and non-EU honey. 

Single Origin Honey

Meaning the Honey in the jar is not only from one country, but from one single source. Single-origin honey could be traced back to the exact bee hive the honey was extracted from. At Real Raw Honey, we can proudly say that all our honey varieties are single origin trackable to the specific hive they are coming from.  

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