Sometimes it feels like you need to be a lawyer or a chemist to make a simple trip to the grocery store. Wouldn’t it be nice if food was just food and we could read a label and take it at face value? But unfortunately that is not the case.
In recent years many companies have honed in on the consumer’s preference to turn back to farm-to-table type food. Advertising departments know that people like to think that their food is “all natural” “real” or “pure”. But since many of these labels mean absolutely nothing, and they can pretty much be slapped on the box of any Frankenfood. Due to vague labeling guidelines, there is a growing mistrust of our food system.
In the honey world it’s important to understand labels as well. Not only for your own knowledge as a customer, but as a beekeeper and seller of honey.
You want to make sure that your labeling system is transparent and clear not only for customer satisfaction but so you can charge appropriately.
Below is an explanation of some common terms used when marketing honey.
“Local” is something of a relative term. The importance of the term local is due to the belief that honey produced by bees collecting from local flowers can help eliminate seasonal allergy symptoms to people living in that area.
The idea is something like the science behind allergy shots. Small amounts of the pollen paired with the healing properties of honey, introduce small amounts of the allergens into the consumer’s system. They system builds up a tolerance and can cope without reaction.
So if this is what you’re after then you need to find out where the honey is produced. You should also make sure that the honey is raw for maximum benefits. (More about raw honey below)
“Local” honey can also be used generically as a term to describe small honey producers. Mom and Pop type beekeepers are often described as producing “local” honey even if their distribution moves beyond the idea of “local”
Raw honey is just as it sounds. It is the liquid that comes straight from the hive. The honey is collected, the wax is strained off and it is placed in jars and sold to consumers. Many times this type of honey will crystallize if it sits. Which is nothing to worry about. The honey is still edible, it just means that the sugar content is high and has set off a chemical reaction reforming the sugar crystals. This often happens in candy making. If you leave one un-melted sugar granule in a batch of hard candy, it can recrystallize the whole pot.
Raw honey also contains all of the nutrients and enzymes that makes honey beneficial to your health. In processed honey much of these healing nutrients are damaged or destroyed.
Pure honey is honey that has no additives such as sugar, corn syrup or water. However it has probably been pasteurized to make it more shelf stable. Pasteurization prevents fermentation and crystallization. Pasteurization however, kills many of the beneficial properties of the honey.
Pure honey can also refer to the type of honey it is…as in lavender, clover, or manuka. This means that the honey has been produced from flowers “purely” of that plant type.
In the food industry, the word “Natural” means…nothing. There are no restrictions for the use of the word so honeys labelled as “natural” can contain corn syrup, sugar, water, artificial flavor and colors and so forth.
Knowing your beekeeper and buying from farmers markets or local vendors is always the best way to know exactly what you’re purchasing. Or better yet…if you’re not already a beekeeper, learn how you can start in your own backyard!