Published on January 31st, 2014 | by GrowWNY Intern1
A Few Words About Honey
BY JUDY EINACH
Beekeepers harvest honey from bees who harvest nectar from flowering plants, bring the nectar to the hive, and work very hard to transform nectar into honey. The nectar they’ve collected includes grains of pollen from flowers.
Until the 16th Century when sugar became more widely available, honey sweetened the world. Today the US honey crop is (plus or minus) 150,000,000 pounds per year. China is the world’s largest producer of honey and exports over 222,000,000 pounds a years. China produces beautiful honeys but exported honey is linked to a web of corruption that harms beekeepers worldwide and results in fraud perpetuated upon the buying public.
According to Vaughn Bryant, Anthropology Professor at the University of Texas, Austin and contributor to Bee Culture: The Magazine of American Beekeeping, labels on honey are not required to report the true source of the honey (both country or countries of origin as well as the flower source.) Nor are labels required to list pollen content or whether the contents of the jar is really, by some definitions, honey. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require truth in labeling for honey. Honey is one of the few foods exempted from truth in labeling.
The construction of pollen from one type of flower differs from pollen from another flower source. Likewise, the pollen “footprint” of one geographic region differs from the “footprint” in another geographic region. Research scientists discovered that what’s on the label isn’t necessarily what’s in the jar – especially in honeys on supermarket shelves. Of the tested samples, a full 75% either had no pollen or failed to support the flower source on the label.
Honey without pollen makes it impossible to trace the flower source. Some argue that the absence of pollen weakens the nutritional value of honey. To remove pollen, honey must be heated and this may also change the honey’s taste. According to the FDA it is permissible to remove pollen to increase clarity, a trait by which honey is awarded competitive distinctions. Honey purists may question the value of clarity and some even argue that without pollen the substance is no longer honey. While the FDA approves of removing pollen from honey, the FDA does not allow honey to be diluted. The FDA does not allow honey to be called honey if it’s combined with other non-honey products.
Local beekeepers have told me they know exactly where their bees have been and therefore can say unequivocally the pollen source in their honeys. They may be correct. But experts analyzing pollen in honey suggest that even though we see bees on flowers that doesn’t mean the pollen from those flowers will be the flower source for a honey. Bee behavior, the transferring of pollen, and bee biology make it so that there’s not necessarily a direct link between what we see and honey reality. Regardless, our best bet for high quality honey is honey from local beekeepers.
Be happy if the honey you buy from local beekeepers isn’t perfectly clear. That’s pollen. And don’t buy the myth that lack of clarity causes honey to crystalize sooner. Honey crystalizes because of sugar and moisture content. Honey never goes bad. If a jar of honey solidifies, let in melt in your hot drink or heat it gently until it returns to a liquid form.
As for truth in labeling, the US Senate and House of Representatives are considering legislation that will regulate and curb corrupt practices associated with imported honey. The legislation, if passed, will also require the FDA to establish methods to ensure truth in labeling.