Honey Update

Recently, we told you about supermarket honey that might not meet the government definition of honey because all of the pollen had been removed. We cited information from Food Safety News, a web publication run by a lawyer involved in food safety litigations. The journalist who wrote the report claimed that cheap Chinese honey was being ultra-filtered to remove the pollen and that some of it might have been adulterated with water or corn syrup.

That story triggered a backlash against the honey industry. The question is: was that anger about honey justified?

NPR decided to look into this issue a bit more. They found some reasons to discredit the report. While not actually saying any of the information is false, NPR believes the story may jump to unsubstantiated conclusions.

The FSN report indicated that honey lacking pollen had been ultra-filtered and probably was cheap Chinese honey being imported into the U.S. illegally. However, NPR’s research showed that may or may not be true. They found American honey producers also use ultra-filtering to reduce crystallization, something consumers in this country don’t like.

“Consumers don’t tend to like crystallized honey,” says Jill Clark, vice president for sales and marketing at Dutch Gold [one of the largest honey processors]. “It’s very funny. In Canada, there’s a lot of creamed honey sold, and people are very accustomed to honey crystallizing. Same in Europe. But the U.S. consumer is very used to a liquid product, and as soon as they see those first granules of crystallization, we get the phone calls: ‘Something’s wrong with my honey!'”

The report also pointed out that the only reason Chinese honey is restricted in this country is because of charges of undercutting the price of honey from other countries and the U.S. So, safety and quality are not necessarily the issue.

One thing both reports agree on that organic honey is more likely to contain pollen. Most of this honey comes from Brazil. Rules for organic foods require less filtration than other types of honey.

So, supermarket honey is usually still honey, just very filtered. But it is possible it could be thinned out with other ingredients. Without more inspections, it’s impossible to tell.

The best bet remains to buy honey from a local producer if you can. If you can’t do that, buy organic honey. You might also be able to buy honey over the Internet which could be of a higher quality than the stuff in the store.