How Well Do You Know Your Honey? (You May Be Buying A Fake)

December 7, 2011   16 Comments

No, this article isn't about your partner cheating on you - this article is about HONEY cheating on you! How sad is that?

Honey Without Pollen Is Less Nutritious

It seems there is a conspiracy out there involving "honey laundering" from China. And it means that the honey you buy in the supermarket has been rinsed of pollen.

Why does that matter? Essentially, honey laundering results in less nutritious honey. I don't know about you, but I pay more for honey (versus sugar) because I want the nutrients and a less processed form of sweetener.

I recently bought Sue Bee Clover Honey at my grocery store. It is one of the honey's listed in a recent article that is a collaboration between Andrew Schneider, journalist, and Dr. Vaughn Bryant (see: Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn't Honey ).

I paid $8 for something that probably doesn't have any pollen in it. ARGH!

Dr. Vaughn Bryant is a scientist at Texas A&M University who studies pollen grains (and honey laundering) and was kind enough to grant me an interview.

Snack Girl: Why would a honey producer filter the honey to get rid of the pollen grains? Is this honey as nutritious as honey that hasn't undergone this process?

Dr. Vaugh Bryant: There are several issues related to this.

  1. Some honey packaging companies say that removing all the pollen delays the crystallization process and that is why they do it. That is somewhat true but in most cases one doesn’t know which honey types will crystallize faster with or without the pollen….so they say that since you don’t know you just take all the pollen out of everything.
  2. Currently there is a 250% tariff on Chinese honey so nobody is going to buy and import Chinese honey. This was done to protect US beekeepers because China was selling honey below world market prices and making it hard for US beekeepers to earn a living.
  3. China produces more honey than any other country in the world by a BIG MARGIN. So….they need to export a lot of their honey. What they are now doing is taking all the pollen out of their honey and then sending their honey to some other country (India, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc.) where there is no tariff for importing honey into the US. Those countries then take the Chinese honey and export it as their own domestic honey to the US….but with no pollen there is no way to confirm if the honey is from China or from the other country.
  4. Some US importers are buying cheap honey from SE Asia and importing it into the US to sell. This way they make a bigger profit. The question is “where did the honey come from?” In some cases the importers don’t ask any questions as long as they can import it legally and at an inexpensive price. However, there are also a lot of legitimate honey importers who are concerned and often send me samples of what they plan to buy so I can examine it and tell them what is in the honey…or what is missing…. They do this because they “want to do the right thing” and not try to circumvent the system.
  5. The problem is that when you buy honey in a store you don’t know where it came from if there is no pollen. Many people probably don’t care one way or the other….but if you want more nutrition….or if you want to be sure the honey didn’t come from some region of the world where they use antibiotics in their hives or use dangerous pesticides to rid the hives of mites…..then you ought to be concerned!!
  6. Yes, the pollen contains protein, starch, fats and minerals so removing it will decrease the food value of the honey without pollen.

Snack Girl: Have you found additives in honey that shouldn't be there such as high fructose corn syrup?

Dr. Vaugh Bryant: Yes, I can tell fairly quickly during my analysis if other sugars or HFCS have been added to natural honey….but I can’t tell if antibiotics or pesticides are in the honey…that requires different types of testing.

Snack Girl: Where have you found this "filtered honey" product? Is it in all of our supermarkets?

Dr. Vaugh Bryant: Andrew Schneider, a reporter, (see: Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn't Honey ) and I collected 60 jars of honey sold mostly in various supermarkets in many different states and examined them.

Essentially, we found that about 75% of them had no pollen so we have no way to know where the honey originated. What was also shocking is that many jars of honey claimed they were “buckwheat, or orange blossom, or sage, or tupelo, or sourwood, or etc….” but very few of them actually contained the type of honey that what was on the label! The most accurate honey samples were “local” honey sold locally in different regions of the US.

Snack Girl: How can we ensure that we are buying nutritious honey that hasn't been filtered? What should we look for?

Dr. Vaugh Bryant: The only suggestion I can offer is to buy “local” honey rather than honey from big companies. However, even that isn’t always going to give you what you think you are getting. We have found some “local” honey with no pollen and found some big companies that sold honey that had pollen….so there is no 100% guarantee.

The only way to resolve this problem is going to be to get the US government to impose “truth in labeling” for honey sold commercially. This is done in most other countries but we are one of the FEW countries that have no rules!!

The US FDA refuses to ask Congress for new regulations and laws. Even the American Beekeeping Federation has petitioned the US government to “please” require honest labeling for jars of honey. However, to date nobody in the government has listened.

I also want to note that I have been testing honey for beekeepers, importers, and exporters since 1975 and I have probably looked at over 2,000 honey samples. However, since the problems that developed with China and with the removal of pollen from honey (both are recent events during the last decade), nobody in the US government has asked me to examine one sample of honey.

If they are doing this on their own they are not telling anyone because as noted in the recent report….Andrew Schneider asked the FDA and they said they did not test honey.

Snack Girl: What is your favorite snack?

Dr. Vaugh Bryant: Various kinds of unsalted nuts (peanuts, almonds, filberts, pecans, walnuts, etc.)

However, I will add that I get to eat a lot of free honey. Whenever honey is sent to me to test…..if there is any honey leftover after testing….and if my test notes it is GOOD HONEY (and I will know because I did the analysis…..), then I use it on cereal, in coffee, and on pancakes! So, this is one of the side benefits. However, I also admit that if my tests don’t check out the honey as being good, then I won’t eat the honey and I discard it instead!

Thanks, Dr. Bryant!

I am lucky enough to live near a farm stand that sells their own honey - and now I will make sure I stop and buy some (yes, I am feeling stupid). If you don't have such amenities in your neighborhood you can find small farmers such as Honey Bees-R-Us Apiaries that will ship to you.

Check out the National Honey Board's Honey Locator for local honey sources that can be trusted.

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I buy local honey, not from the grocery store. Local honey will ensure that you get all of the pollens from your local area and it tends to help folks with allergies build up a natural tolerance to pollen in your area.

Thank you for this fabulous interview! It's great to have one more excuse to buy local.

I buy raw honey from a local man at my farmers market. :)

Hi Heidi, I'd love to believe your assertion that "the pollens from your local area and it tends to help folks with allergies build up a natural tolerance to pollen in your area." Do you have any substantiation for that claim? I'd love to test the theory myself!

I love the raw honey I get from my local farmers' market. It even LOOKS better than honey from the grocery store.

I love the Honey-Bees-R-Us wildflower honey, it's the best honey i've ever tasted. I highly recomend it.

Thanks for the article. Have been interested in the benefits of honey for a while. Would love to find any actual scientific findings on the benefits of organic raw bioactive Manuka Honey. there are studies, however the ones I've found are funded by the honey distrubitors and while they may be accurate, I prefer an unbiased study. Any leads would be appreciated-Thx

Pretty well actually. My honey comes from a great place in VT (they make mead as well). :) Also, their raw honey is the best I've had. Not a fake:

I only buy local honey. We all need to support our bees!

Do you think this is why there are so many kids allergic to honey? Perhaps they are allergic to the "non-pollen" honey? Some of the best honey I have has come from Mississippi State University,….

Thank you for this, Lisa. I don't think studies like this get enough coverage. I'm the wellness columnist for a local magazine & my Dec. article is on this very study. It is a real eye-opener to one of the many unethical practices that large food corporations engage in, in the name of profit. Buy local, from the USA and, according to the study, co-ops & health food stores, like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Market where 100% of honeys purchased tested as the real deal. Homemade date syrup is another option that I shared, if anyone's interested. It's super easy to make: In a saucepan, cover a package of dates with water and simmer until dates are very soft (about 30 mins). Let cool and then blend until very smooth. Store in fridge.

Thanks again for all your great tips and content!

I know a mom from our preschool who has her own apiary and jars their honey. I buy from her. That way I get the allergy-prevention benefits from the bees using local pollens as well (I have both seasonal and pet allergies, so any help I can get, right?)

Yet another reason to buy local. I get local for my allergies and it tastes better! I knew the honey in grocery stores has honey from other parts of the world but had no idea it had the pollen removed!!

This is exactly why I buy my honey at my local farmers market. What's up with China producing all this crap?

Not only is local honey better for you but the pollens help with allergies--I eat some regularly during the season...

@Rich: I don't see a response from Heidi, but - both my son & I have reasonably severe seasonal allergies. Two years ago, I began buying local grown & sourced honey exclusively since I had heard that it could reduce our allergies. Both of us were able to significantly reduce our allergy medicines with no increase in symptoms. My son's allergist even commented that he seemed to be doing better, but I believe he said "he must be growing out of it". I'd suggest you give it a try and see for yourself! It definitely worked well for us.

Great article Snack Girl! I agree with others that it reinforces my wanting to buy local.

@Shari - Thanks! I appreciate your feedback. Perhaps that's why I am the only person in my family who doesn't suffer from allergies. I eat a lot of local honey!

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