Humans have used honey for thousands of years. For example, ceramic jars with honey dating back 5,500 years were found in a tomb in Georgia. (Link)
Honey is often called a superfood because it is packed with lots of antioxidants. These antioxidants can help maintain your blood pressure. Pure honey can help you balance your cholesterol levels. Honey is also used by humans in various ways to look attractive. The list goes on. (Source)
Now add to this list the sweet, lingering taste of honey and you begin to understand why honey is such a loved food for ages.
But you must understand that you can get all these benefits only if your honey is natural and unprocessed. In other words, you must only eat raw honey.
What is raw honey?
Raw honey is the honey in the form that the bees produce, unprocessed by humans, free from artificial flavoring agents and unpasteurized.
You can also understand it by learning about the difference between raw honey and processed honey.
Raw honey is pure honey in its original, natural form. The only process that raw honey undergoes is straining – it is strained before it’s packed in bottles for your use. Needless to add, straining doesn’t lower the nutritional benefits.
On the other hand, there’s something called regular honey or commercial honey. There’s a world of a difference between raw honey and regular, processed honey.
Processed honey is almost always pasteurized. What’s more, some flavoring or sweetening agent might have been added to it.
Unfortunately, such processing and adulteration rob honey of many of its benefits. In fact, processed regular honey may have no nutritional value beyond ordinary sugar.
That is why it’s important to be sure that any honey you eat is raw honey and not pasteurized or processed honey.
Let’s quickly understand two of the many differences between raw honey and regular honey.
Wikipedia defines pasteurization as “…a process in which packaged and non-packaged foods … are treated with mild heat, usually to less than 100 °C (212 °F)…” (Link).
Raw honey is never pasteurized. However, regular honey is generally pasteurized.
Some foods like milk benefit from pasteurization. That’s because these foods originally contain pathogens that pasteurization can eliminate.
Raw honey has very low moisture content. Moreover, it has high acidity. Because of these two reasons, bacteria and other harmful pathogens cannot reproduce or survive in pure honey. Hence, there’s no need for pasteurization.
Also, as Wikipedia further notes, pasteurization improves the shelf life of products. In the case of honey, pasteurization prevents crystallization of honey. This means the honey stocked in your supermarket will look good for a long time. (Don’t forget crystallization is not an indication of whether honey is pure or impure.)
Finally, commercial harvesters may have prematurely harvested honey to shorten their sales cycle and make money earlier. As a result, it will contain moisture content that is higher than desired. Pasteurization can remove this extra moisture content but, in the process, will also destroy lots of beneficial minerals.
Pasteurization, in short, adds to the commercial benefits of the seller but takes away the health benefits of the honey consumer. That’s one of the main reasons to eat raw honey.
Can I tell if my honey is pasteurized?
In most cases, the label on the bottle will mention if the honey inside is pasteurized.
However, some unscrupulous honey suppliers may pasteurize their honey but hide that fact from you.
That’s one more reason you should be careful about where you buy your honey from.
Adulteration is when a certain food fails to meet the standards set by the government, mostly because one or more substances were added to the food item.
Addition of such substances is done to lower the cost of production, increase the shelf life, improve the physical appearance, alter the taste of the original food and so on.
Governments take a strict stand against adulteration because adulterated foods are of inferior quality.
Honey can be adulterated in two ways: direct adulteration and indirect adulteration. Direct adulteration happens when a honey supplier mixes artificial flavoring agents or other additives to honey to save costs or artificially increase their honey sales.
Corn sugar, cane sugar, regular sugar are some of the items that are used as adulterating items in case of honey.
Indirect adulteration of honey happens when honey bees are fed adulterated substances instead of letting them directly collect nectar from flowers.
Because it contains additives, adulterated honey will not deliver the nutritional benefits of raw honey. In fact, adulterated honey can actually do more harm than good.
Raw honey is completely free from adulteration. That means you can expect to derive full benefits of pure honey.
Can I tell if the honey is adulterated?
There are some basic checks to understand if honey is adulterated but these tests are neither accurate nor fully reliable.
For instance, pure honey doesn’t feel sticky when you rub it between your forefinger and thumb. But what exactly is sticky? You’re right, it’s not something that can be explained easily, but if you’ve ever prepared Indian sweets that require a sugar solution, you know.
Also, because there are no artificial sugar additives, pure honey is fairly thick and doesn’t run easily along the sides of a jar (there are a couple of exceptions like raw Mangrove honey, which is runny). Adulterated honey, on the other hand, is thinner and easily runs along the sides of the jar.
Remember, these tests are subjective and not reliable.
How can you tell honey is raw?
If you wish to be sure that you are eating pure, raw honey, you must first ensure you buy your honey from a trusted supplier. Genuine raw honey suppliers follow standard quality practices and refrain from any form of processing or adulteration.
Some honey harvesters will even let you visit their farms and let you see the harvesting processes they follow. That will give you a good idea about how much you can trust them.
You can also get laboratory tests done to learn whether your honey is adulterated or pure.
Finally, there’s a myth that any honey that crystallizes is not pure honey.
You must understand that nearly all varieties of honey (yes, honeys have many varieties!) can crystallize when allowed to stand for long. This crystallization is not an indicator of whether the honey is pure or not.
If you wish, you can de-crystallize your honey by safe methods. However, there is every chance that the same honey may re-crystallize after a certain time. And that’s ok too.
As a natural food, honey offers a large number of benefits. However, you must understand that you can enjoy these benefits only if your honey is pure, unprocessed and unadulterated. Such pure honey is called raw honey.
Processes like pasteurization bring commercial benefits to the seller but kill or drastically decrease most of the nutritional value of raw honey. Adulteration, just like in anything edible, can do a lot of harm and reduce honey to nothing more than a sugar solution.
Understanding the difference between raw honey and processed or regular honey is key to enjoying the advantages of great taste coupled with great health benefits.
That’s why it’s extremely important that you choose a honey supplier who you can trust.