Real Vs. Fake Honey: How to Tell the Difference

Natural, pure, organic honey can be so healthful. However, is this what you’re buying at the supermarket?

Many honey brands at grocery stores nowadays have artificial sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup added to them to keep them cheap and affordable for the ever growing market of consumers purchasing this item.

So, how can you tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fake?

Last year, I was watching a documentary series on Netflix called Rotten. In this series, they shared how honey products on the market were being contaminated with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Honey manufacturers just haven’t been able to keep up with supply and demand, and what’s really devastating is bees are dying off in record numbers, which poses another problem not only for honey consumers, but for ecosystems and other flora which rely on bees for pollination in order to grow. Almond crops are one example. Each flower that has been pollinated by a bee will then grow into an almond. Without bees, we would no longer be able to enjoy almonds like we do now.

What’s Happening to the Bees?

The honey bee only lives for around 21 days, while the queen bee can live up to a year or more. A single bee will travel approximately 88,514 km during its lifetime, and produce about one-tenth of a teaspoon of honey. This means we need colonies and colonies of bees to keep up with the high demand for honey.

But bees do much more than merely produce honey. They’re the leading pollinators of crops that we grow. To put this into perspective, about every third mouthful we eat contains food that was dependent on bees. While dairy and animal products don’t rely on bees in a direct sense, indirectly they do. Grass (the main source of food for cows) is indirectly reliant on bees as it requires nitrogen in the soil that’s produced by clover, a plant which relies on bees for pollination.

Now unfortunately, in recent years, bee colonies around the world have been collapsing at an alarming rate. Many beekeepers have lost some or all of their hives. This devastating phenomenon is called ‘colony collapse disorder,’ and has been recorded in Europe, Asia and the United States. In parts of China, the bee has disappeared altogether, and pollination now has to be done by hand which is extremely labour intensive and takes a VERY long time. It’s believed by some scientists that if bees continue to die out at this unprecedented rate, they may well disappear altogether within the next few years!

I love adding honey to herbal teas, such as the lavender tea I make. True raw honey (without high fructose corn syrup added to it) contains so many amazing health benefits. The reason honey shines is due to its content of bioactive plant compounds & antioxidants. Darker types tend to be even higher in these compounds than lighter types. Some of these antioxidants include organic acids & phenolic compounds like flavonoids.

It’s not known why bees are dying out so rapidly. Any affected bees simply leave the hive and don’t come back, which makes diagnosing of the problem very difficult. Viruses, parasites, insecticides, malnutrition and other environmental factors have been looked at by researchers, but the specific cause is still unknown. New research coming out is finding that WiFi may be the bigger killer, impacting birds as well.

Habitat destruction, increase in monoculture (where a single crop is grown), and a greater use of pesticides may be contributing to the decline in bees. One of the issues with monoculture is that bees can only feed on a limited food source, which can weaken their immune systems to such an extent that they no longer can withstand viruses and diseases. What’s more, bees often fall victim to pesticides which are sprayed on crops to kill other pests.

Fake Honey

It was reported in 2016 that 161.8 million pounds of raw honey was generated by 2.77 million honey-producing colonies in the U.S. alone.

In recent findings, some brands of honey imported from China (and those that have come via Malaysia or India) have been found to contain levels of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). They use HFCS because it isn’t detected by official honey tests.

HFCS has been added to honey:

  1. Because there just aren’t enough bees to produce the honey needed to keep up with demand.
  2. To avoid raising the prices of honey as it’s becoming a dearer food source due to the decrease in bee populations.

Capilano, Australia’s largest honey producer, is one of these offenders to have been found diluting their honey with cheap Chinese honey/rice syrup.

How to Tell the Difference Between 100% REAL Honey & Fake Honey?

The presence of pollen, which gets stuck on bees legs when they’re collecting nectar and make its way into the honey, can be a tell-tale sign of authentic honey. It was found that approximately 75% of honey sold in big box retailers and grocery stores contained no pollen, while 100% of honey bought at farmers’ markets, co-ops, and natural grocers contained traces of pollen. Thus, where you source your honey from is important.

When choosing raw honey, look for opaque, cream-coloured, or crystallised honey. There’s also a labelling program called True Source Honey which can help customers feel confident knowing that the honey they purchase is the real thing. Keep an eye out for this certified logo.

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This label that identifies true, pure, authentic honey from the fake versions.

Sourcing raw honey from a local bee farmer whom you know and trust is the BEST way to ensure you’re receiving 100% pure honey. It also means you can see how they treat their bees and feel happy knowing they haven’t been ill-treated in any way. Plus, the honey itself is more fresh, eco-friendly (as it hasn’t been transported great distances on a boat, plane or truck), and supports local farmers and the proper management of bees.

Here are some simple ways you, as a consumer, can differentiate between pure an impure honey. It may require some practice at first, but once you get the hang of it, it can become quite simple to spot impurities:

Test its Thickness

Pure Honey: It’s very thick and takes a while to move from one side of the jar/container to the other.

Fake Honey: It moves very quickly inside the jar. Not dense at all.

Taste Test

Pure Honey: The taste will fade very quickly (in a matter of minutes).

Fake Honey: Incredibly sweet and the taste remains because of added sugars and sweeteners.

Heat it Up

Pure Honey: Upon heating, pure honey caramelises quickly but does not make foam.

Fake Honey: Foam forms and becomes bubbly because of the added moisture, sugars and water.

The Dissolving Method

Pure Honey: Will not dissolve in water immediately and lumps at the bottom. Dilutes when stirred for a while.

Fake Honey: Dissolves very fast when added to water because of additives.

On a trip to Bilpin (a town in the Blue Mountains) I stopped at a little café on the side of the road where they were selling all these locally made items. One of the items were local raw honey (made from local flora growing in the mountains of Bilpin & the valley of Kurrajong).

Spread it on Some Bread

Pure Honey: When you spread pure honey on a slice of bread, the bread will become solid in a few minutes.

Fake Honey: It will wet the slice of bread because of additives.

The Absorption Method

Pure Honey: When you pour a few drops onto some blotting paper it shouldn’t be absorbed. When poured onto a piece of white cloth, it won’t leave stains.

Fake Honey: Will be absorbed into the blotting paper. Leaves stains on a white piece of cloth.

Look for Impurities

Pure Honey: Look for dirty-looking particles, pollen and bee body parts.

Fake Honey: No impurities.

How to Help the Bees

In your garden, plant things that bees love; clover, sage, salvia, oregano, lavender, ironweed, yarrow, yellow hyssop, alfalfa, honeywort, dragonhead, echinacea, bee balm, buttercup, goldenrod and English thyme. Ensure you eliminate garden pesticides.

Flowering trees are also attractive to bees; tulip poplars, tupelos, oranges and sourwoods.

Bees also need sources of shallow water.

As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. It’s important to check with a doctor before taking this or any new product, especially if taking any other medicine or supplement or if pregnant or nursing. Be sure to check ingredients to make sure there is no risk of an allergic reaction.

Where do you source your honey from? Share in the comments below.

Lots of love,

🖤 Vanessa

Sources:

Are Bees Dying Out?. Praying Nature. Retrieved from http://www.praying-nature.com/site_pages.php?section=Ecology+Matters%21&category_ref=52

Baskind, Chris. (May 3, 2011). 5 ways to help our disappearing bees. MNN. Retrieved from https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/5-ways-to-help-our-disappearing-bees

Bees. (October, 2018). Ag MRC. Retrieved from https://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/livestock/bees-profile

How can we differentiate 100% pure honey and adulterated honey?. (08.10.2015). My Bee Line. Retrieved from https://www.mybeeline.co/en/p/how-can-we-differentiate-100-pure-honey-and-adulterated-honey

Young, Allison. (May 27, 2016). 6 Things You Need To Know Before You Buy Honey Again. Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.prevention.com/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/g20467063/6-things-you-need-to-know-before-you-buy-honey-again/

Ferguson, Adele, Gillett, Chris. (September 3, 2018). Capilano, supermarkets accused of selling fake honey. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/business/consumer-affairs/capilano-supermarkets-accused-of-selling-fake-honey-20180827-p5000u.html