When it comes to labels on honey, you might see words such as “raw”, “local”, “regular”, and “organic.” Those words have very different meanings when it comes to the quality of honey that you are consuming. It is important to understand labels when making purchases, especially if you are getting honey for health related purposes. The typical store bought regular honey might contain added sugars instead of being a pure honey. If the honey contains added sweeteners or sugars, it is often labeled as a “honey blend” as it cannot be sold as “honey” according the the FDA. The store bought honey unless stated otherwise has gone through processes of ultrafiltration and pasteurization. During this process, most of the bee pollen is removed from the honey. Ultrafiltration slows down the rate of crystallization (a natural occurrence that is a sign of pure honey) and increases shelf life. Yeast spores that naturally exist in the nectar used to produce honey can multiply and cause fermentation, which, while not dangerous, can affect the flavor. Pasteurization reduces the yeast spores found in honey and makes it more smooth, while less sticky.
Raw honey is typically defined as honey that is in the same condition it would be in the hive. Raw honey does get strained to remove larger particles such as wax, leaves, and non-honey debris. However it does contain smaller particles such as honeycomb and pollen. Raw honey is more prone to crystallization, although this process can be reversed by slowly warming the honey until smooth again. Crystallization does not affect the honey quality or flavor. Raw honey is naturally cloudier than regular honey due to honeycomb debris that is too small to be filtered out. Raw honey tends to have more variation in color and texture than regular honey. The color of raw honey may change depending on what flowers the bees pollinated.
Organic honey is honey that has been created following guidelines set by the USDA. The bees, flowers and honey are not allowed to come in contact with pesticides, chemicals and other factors that go against the USDA’s criteria. However, there is no specific rule that says it can’t be pasteurized or processed. In the US, this means organic honey may also be pasteurized and processed. Raw honey can be considered organic or conventional.
Local honey is a term used to define honey that has been created using the pollen from flowering plants in the area in which it is being sold. There is not an official set definition, but the pollen typically comes from plants within a 25 mile radius of the beehive. For those who are consuming honey to reduce allergies from pollen, local honey is the best choice. Local honey contains local pollen that can help strengthen a person’s immune system and mitigate pollen allergies. Local honey is often raw, unfiltered, non pasteurized honey. Farmers markets and other local stores are a great source for locating local honey.