“Honey is the pure, sweet nectar of flowers, gathered by the bees, and stored in hives, where a chemical change and the evaporation of excess water transforms it into a clear, flavor honey”. That definition from 1865 is pretty straight-forward, yet for the last several decades delineating between “honey” and “honey product” hasn’t been so clear.
Honey was being adulterated with foreign substances as early as the mid-19th century, most commonly with glucose, inverted sugar, or cane sugar. Adulterants were less expensive than honey and an unscrupulous dealer could increase profits by replacing a portion of pure honey with these substances.
While we wouldn’t want to pay for syrup sold as honey, syrup is probably one of the more innocuous adulterants. By the 1880’s studies documented the use of such items as gypsum, chalk, pipe clay, and starch in addition to the above additives. In 1855, Hassal included honey in his list of adulterated foods, something Accum had not done in 1820.
Hoskins published the first book on adulterants in the U.S. in 1861 and stated that hardly any honey on the market did not contain sweetened syrup or other matter.
With honey, the old adage, “you get what you pay for”, may be all too true as cheaper brands of honey may be honey blended with sugar or corn syrup and foods that list honey in the ingredients may contain this same diluted honey, if any at all.
Much of the diluted honey is produced in China where they add rice syrup or tapioca syrup as filler. Dan Whitney, a honey producer and president of the nonprofit Minnesota Honey Producers Association, says that by cutting the honey with syrup importers avoid import duties and the diluted honey is then sold to consumers under the name “honey” or used in processed foods.
Whitney further said that because of laxity in the label wording the only way to know one was getting 100% pure honey is to purchase it from a local producer. Solidifying that statement, a study by the Food Safety News declared that 75% of honey sold in the U.S. is not pure honey.
That study also pointed out that most honey sold in markets has been ultra processed to remove all trace of pollen after which it is no longer technically honey. No pollen, no honey. Samples used in that study were found to contain strong antibiotics and heavy metals, neither of which we want to consume.
Honey from China imported by a California company who sold it to a raw material supplier who then stored it in a warehouse in Philadelphia was confiscated by federal marshals, analyzed, and found to contain chloramphenicol, an antibiotic not allowed in food.
In an operation known as “honey laundering”, Chinese companies ship their tainted honey to another country where it is put into different barrels to disguise it and then imported into the U.S. in order to flood the U.S. market with antibiotic-laden honey product and ultra-refined honey.
Not readily apparent to most of us, is the fact that removing the pollen makes it impossible to identify the source of the honey, and honey of unknown location may be better received in the U.S. than honey from China where these adulterations are known to be common. “Honey laundering” is beginning to look a little more sinister. One can almost envision a masked man shielding a honey bear container full of honey under a heavy dark cloak when reading about the covert actions taken to disguise the Chinese honey product on our market shelves.
Besides the obvious, one must note that the perceived health benefits of pure raw honey are reduced drastically in honey laced with fillers, and in heat treated pasteurized or ultra-refined honey.
Countless reports indicate the FDA has known about these issues for some years but it wasn’t until some legislators took up the crusade to better define “honey”, and get it labeled appropriately that any action was taken. It is sad to find forums online where consumers are questioning whether store-bought honey is 100% honey and nothing else and see how many people trust the labels on products that are not what they seem.
Some of the brands known to contain adulterants are listed on the Food Safety News website.
Brands that were tested and were NOT honey include:
American Choice Clover Honey
Archer Farms Orange Blossom Honey
Archer Farms Organic Classic Honey
Busy Bee Organic Honey
Busy Bee Pure Clover Honey
Fred Meyer Clover Honey
Full Circle Pure Honey
Giant Eagle Clover Honey
GE Clover Honey
Great Value Clover Honey
Haggen Honey, Natural & Pure
HT Traders Tupelo Honey
Kroger Pure Clover Honey
Market Pantry Pure Honey
Mel-o 100% Pure Honey
Natural Sue Bee Clover Honey
Naturally Preferred Fireweed Honey
Rite Aid Honey
Safeway Clover Honey
Silver Bow Pure Honey
Stop and Shop Clover Honey
Sue Bee Clover Honey
Thrifty Bee Honey
Walgreen MEL-O Honey
Western Family Clover Honey
Wegman Clover Honey
Winnie the Pooh, Pure Clover
I ask you, would you rather trust a local bee keeper to give you 100% pure honey or buy one of the above products knowing it is not what it is advertised and labeled to be? I agree with the Indiana Board of Agriculture when they said, “Every adulteration of honey is not only a fraud upon the purchaser, but is down right robbery of the honey growers”.
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Thank you so much for this super helpful information. I threw away my Market Pantry honey. Grrrr.
Horsman Tammy said:
This ticks me off! I’ve been paying nearly $9 for a 32 oz. container of Mel-O Honey thinking that it was better for me than sugar, and now only to find out it’s not honey AT ALL? They ought to be sued for selling us junk that’s not only junk, but not even good for us! Pukes!
I agree. Unfortunately this is only one such product that is not what it is marketed to be. I’ve put some of the other adulterous foods on the blog, but there are many more yet to be done. The only honey I buy anymore is from local beekeepers.