Posted by: A Part of the Solution | November 7, 2011

When is Honey not Honey?

Lately, like during the course of my entire life, the food industry has been taking giant steps towards a too callous disregard for its consumers, i.e. everyone. Through Slow Food D.C. today, I learned via their link to Food Safety News what a small percentage of honey for sale across our  nation actually qualifies as honey once one goes looking for trace pollen as well as tracking adulterants common to the sweetener.

Because US consumers prefer a very clear honey, most of the distributors of honey sold here remove every vestige of pollen from the bottles and bears on our grocery shelves. Honey is identified by the presences of certain sugars (and the absence of others) as well as a viable pollen count. Why is pollen content a determinant for true honey? Because the pollen is unique to honey. Further, the pollen helps in lab tests to determine the honey’s actual point of origin and its constituent plant precursors. The pollen traces allow us to know where a honey was made, and what contributed to its flavor and other elements of terroir.

You may or may not know how the honey produced in astounding volume and shipped from China very often tests out to have a number of added sweeteners in it. You may or may not know that the US no longer allows honey from China to be sold in part because it contains potentially lethal volumes of illegal-here antibiotics–rarely causing an allergic reaction, but when it does it’s usually fatal. You may or may not know that a number of nations having friendly trade agreements with China will act as beards or launderers for the Chinese honey: Peru, India and Vietnam to name a few. Are you beginning feel anxious yet?

At this point, advocates for stronger regulation of the international flow of honey, retaining the natural pollen particles as a sort of ‘fingerprint’, admit the only way you can be certain you’re getting ‘actual’ honey is to buy it from someone who keeps bees. Those same advocates will tell you honey labelled organic is more likely to contain pollen particles, though this is by no means an across-the-board verity. Those advocates will equally advise you to avoid honey with large chain store brand labels, and every such honey sold from the pharmacy chains is absolutely pollen-free.

Many of honey’s benefits, above and beyond its capacity to bring sweetness to foods with which it’s made, have to do with the very pollen the large distributors are eradicating from the honey supply. Honey works well to help fight seasonal allergies. However, it has to be from a hive nearby the allergy sufferer, preferably a location with a similar botanical mix to where one lives. Taken in small daily doses for several months before an  allergy season, the honey brings symptom levels way down before the first pharmaceutical is applied. Over a period of several to many years, local honey may even ameliorate seasonal allergies altogether.

Make an effort to start buying honey from a farmer at the farmers market, or ask a staff member at a small, independent natural foods store (not WF, as they deal in brand label low bid bulk buying) which honey they sell is most local. You have the right to have a little ‘there there’ in your honey.


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