by Angela Van Alten, Nutritionist and Beekeeper's Daughter
Honey is honey, right? Wrong. I get asked all the time what the difference between regular ole' liquid honey and raw honey is. Trust me, the difference is substantial.
Raw honey is simply honey that has not been filtered or heated excessively. Keep in mind that ALL honey is heated - this is a requirement in the extraction process. To be considered raw, honey should not be heated above 116 degrees.
In Canada, it is mandated that all raw honey be strained to remove any hive debris like bee parts, honey comb or any other undesirable object that has made its way into the hive. To be considered raw, we must use a filter that does not remove all of the bee pollen, beeswax and propolis from the product.
Unfortunately, most of the honey available today on grocery store shelves has been heavily processed via filtration and heat. The filters used will remove most of the wonderful compounds such as bee pollen, beeswax and propolis, at the same time eliminating many of the health benefits of raw honey.
Why is honey heated? Simple really. It is to extend the shelf presence of the honey. Pure honey will crystalize in time, meaning it will go hard. This process does not look appealing on a store shelf. Most people view the honey as having 'gone bad' when it crystalizes when in fact, nothing about the quality of the honey has changed.
Heat melts down the crystals in honey, extending the 'liquid' appearance of the honey. Another term for it is pasteurization. Unfortunately, the heating process destroys some or all of the critical natural enzymes, vitamins, and minerals found in raw honey. It also increases levels of HMF in honey, which are not desirable.
The regular, liquid honey that is sitting in your pantry or on the supermarket shelf and looks clear and perfect is deceiving. The only way to get honey to look this way and for it to remain in a liquid state long term is to pasteurize it and then filter it with a very fine filter. This removes much of the natural, healthy compounds of the honey.
Often times, depending on the floral source of the honey, this is not enough to keep the honey liquid. If you buy honey that is not pure Canadian, there is a significant chance that the honey you are consuming has been adulterated meaning it has had rice or corn syrup added to it. These are called C3 or C4 sugars and many countries around the world add these unhealthy compounds to their honey. Not only does this bring the price of the honey down, but neither of these sugars crystalize which helps to extend the shelf life of the product.
You may get strange looks when you tell people your raw honey is 'alive', but you're absolutely correct to a certain extent.
It's the beneficial enzymes found in raw honey that make it so digestible to humans. Raw honey is filtered, but very minimally and in a manor not to destroy the health promoting enzymes and other nutrients. You'll also notice that raw honey will over time crystalize. It is not a golden and perfectly clear liquid.
Let that be a sign to you - the mirky look to your honey is assurance that it still contains it bee pollen granules, bee propolis, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and whatever else raw honey contains that we haven't figured out yet.
Remember, if it looks to good to be true, it probably is!
When selecting a raw honey product for you and your family, there are a few key words or indicators on the label to look for:
When honey is processed using limited filtration and exposed to minimal heat, many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals are left in the honey. These include:
You will also find small amounts of the following in raw honey: