The Surprising Truth About Store-Bought Honey

Maki Yazawa

Check your honey bear's label to see if it's actually hive to table.

What’s not to love about nature’s golden nectar? Rich in antioxidants, honey can be used to heal wounds and can even remedy a pesky cough. But that's not all the buzz. Here's what you need to know the next time you’re in the market for honey to avoid any sticky situations.

What Honey Should Be

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), honey is defined “as a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs.” Although this seems like a no-brainer, you may be surprised to find that some store-bought “honey” may include added ingredients aside from 100 percent pure honey.

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Paying Attention to the Labels

Next time you’re at the supermarket, pay special attention to the labels on the bottle that will help you identify the honey wannabes. In February 2018, the FDA released guidelines for the industry on how to properly label honey and honey products. According to the FDA, honey should be a single-ingredient product and thus would not require an ingredient list on its labels. You may recall having seen “clover” or “orange blossom” honey at the store in the past. Don’t worry, this simply identifies the floral source from which the honey came from, which is completely acceptable.

What you really want to look out for are products that are not labeled as simply “honey.” The FDA indicates that a product that includes any added sweeteners or sugar cannot be labeled as honey. For example, a honey product with added corn syrup should be labeled as a “honey blend,” and include a detailed ingredient list. Thus, when shopping for honey, you’ll simply want to avoid products with any questionable ingredients that aren't honey (like sugar or corn syrup) that may lessen the health benefits of natural, raw honey.

Why Are Honey Prices Rising?

In recent years, the honey bee population has been rapidly declining, and this year alone, a group of U.S. beekeepers reported a loss of 40.7 percent of the honey bee colonies they managed. Unfortunately, due to high demand for real, raw honey and declining bee populations, honey prices have risen 25 percent since 2013. Some suppliers have turned to controversial methods of altering honey to meet the demands of the market. Imported honey has been under particular scrutiny as some foreign exporters were charged with the “ultrafiltration” of honey, or the shipping of impure honey, mislabeling of bottles, and use of chemicals banned in the U.S. Some refer to this as “honey laundering.”

Look for True Source Certified Honey

In an effort to combat illegal honey production, the non-profit True Source Honey launched a program called the True Source Certified voluntary system. It verifies that a participant’s sourcing practices are in compliance with U.S. and international trade laws. This program helps ensure that the honey you’re consuming is truly hive to table.

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Locally Source Your Honey

The best way to ensure the supplier and source of your honey is to purchase locally. In doing so, you’re likely able to get to personally know the beekeeper or supplier. Local honey contains local pollen that can help strengthen a person’s immune system and mitigate pollen allergies. You’re also able to ensure that the product has not been processed or pasteurized, which could diminish its nutritional value.

Become a Beekeeper

Lastly, if all else fails, become a beekeeper yourself. Seriously: did you know that one-third of the food we eat relies on bees for pollination? Help support your local agriculture while helping bolster the declining bee population by starting your very own backyard hive. That way you’ll be guaranteed endless supplies of raw, untainted honey (almost) all year-round.

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