Pardon the pun, but ‘raw’ and ‘organic’ are the buzz words on the lips of many a honey producer and consumer today. Attempting to eat well and making healthy choices can be confusing when trying to understand what is truly good for us, so let’s explore what they are and how they can benefit us.
What is raw honey?
Raw honey means it hasn’t been heated past the point of pasteurization. The temperature of honey within the hive is around 95’ Fahrenheit so raw honey retains its temperature and its nutritional qualities, the enzymes and the honey are active and alive. Honey that is classified as raw is not allowed to be pasteurized or processed. Texture wise, if you see honey that is cloudy, gritty or even lumpy then this type of raw honey has been carried from the hive pollen, honeycomb, beeswax and you might even see bits of bees. Don’t be put off as this is carrying even more of the benefits of the hive. Be wary of supermarket honeys carrying the label, ‘natural’ or ‘pure’, this doesn’t always mean it is raw. Commercial honeys sometimes have added sugar, water and flavourings.
What is organic honey?
Where raw honey is about the temperature and the texture, organic honey is about the flowers the bees collect their nectar from and knowing they are chemical free. Generally, beekeepers must ensure that the flowers within 3 to 5 miles of their hive are not sprayed in order to gain the organic label. The problem is that some bees might fly much further, so it’s difficult for beekeepers to guarantee that their honey is completely organic.
4 reasons you can’t guarantee your honey is organic
- Bees are furry, which is useful for pollen collection and also means their bodies readily gather all sorts of environmental particles. Any agrochemical applied anywhere within a colony's extensive reach can end up back in the hive.
- Beekeepers don't own the tens of thousands of acres surrounding their hives, they have no control over what their bees are bringing home.
- The hydrocarbon chains of beeswax retain certain pesticides, including those used by conventional beekeepers against the Varroa mite.
- Over time pesticide residues accumulate in the combs, so chemicals linger or build for years beyond the original applications. By itself this might not present a problem, except that beekeepers routinely buy and sell wax as starter comb. A recent survey of pesticides in commercially-available beeswax recorded 98% of samples contaminated with miticides.
(Source: Scientific American)
The challenges of sourcing organic honey
According to the UK newspaper, The Guardian, the bee population in the UK has experienced a sharp decline, partly because of the Varroa mite, the changing weather and the use of chemical pesticides. The European bee's foraging distance has been estimated as being up to 12km. So in order to get the organic seal a honey producer will have to prove that its bees have only foraged organically. In most places this is challenging or not even possible.
For honey to be certified organic, manufacturers have to meet a set of organic standards and conditions during the honey production (set by an organic agriculture certification body), which include source of the nectar, honey bees foraging area, bees management, honey extracting process, transportation, processing temperature, and packaging materials. Certification requirements vary from country to country, with some being less stringent than others. Dealing with different standards for organic honey from different sources can be confusing and one could question that some honeys that have been packaged and labelled as organic may not actually be the real deal. There also isn’t a specific rule that says organic honey can’t be pasteurized or processed so this means it might be organic but it could be devoid of all its nutrients and health qualities if it has been heated or treated.
Where to source raw honey
It seems to make more sense to me to retain the nutritional health benefits guaranteed with raw honey and buy honey sourced from ‘clean’ environments. That’s why I seek out remote locations and get to know my beekeepers and their practices, like the beekeeper co-operative I work with in the South of Yemen. They harvest the honey naturally bringing the purest form of honey, Raw Yemeni Sidr Do’ ani to the shelves of Balqees. The bees forage nectar from the Sidr trees that grow in the isolated mountains of the Wadi Do'an in the Hadramout region. The same goes for our Raw Catay Honey where the bee’s source pollen from Caa-tay flowers that grow in wetlands in the middle of the Parana River in Argentina. This is extremely rare honey and the beekeepers can only access the hives by boat at certain times of the year. There aren’t any pollutants to contaminate the flowers and the beekeepers take so much care and pride in their practices; respecting the bees is paramount in this naturally organic process.
Did you know it takes 12 bees a lifetime to produce a teaspoon of honey?
Friends of the Earth in the UK ask the consumer to consider the treatment of the bees and to ensure they come from healthy ecosystems. This means supporting beekeepers who raise their hives and follow best practices even if not completely organic. Natural beekeeping as advocated by naturalbeekeepingtrust.org puts the real producers first, the bees rather than the consumers. This resonates as I care a great deal about my customers and meeting their needs and demands but I also know best practice and happy bees makes for a better product. Bees are our pollinators so we need to protect them, this means reducing the use of chemicals and the over consumption that is leeching the hives leaving nothing for the bees, and to protect naturally from disease. Industrial scale beekeeping, whatever the type of honey, can do a lot of harm.
One thing for sure as consumers, do your own research and ask questions about your food and where it comes from. When it comes to raw versus organic ask yourself what is the healthiest option and always look to the source so you know it is coming from small beekeeper operations and avoid large corporations producing en masse.
So, what do you think? Let me know your thoughts and share your honey experience with me.
You might also like these posts: