It’s an exciting time of year around Kowalski Apiary, it’s honey time! While Philip’s main goal in beekeeping is to grow honey bees, honey is still a “sweet” perk as a beekeeper. If you have ever looked at regular honey in the store, it can be confusing to figure out what all the terms mean. Here at Kowalski Apiary, we sell only raw unfiltered honey. Let’s decode the common terms found on honey labels to see what exactly they mean.
How Do Bees Make Honey?
Bees have different tasks that they complete throughout their life. They work together for the greater good of the entire hive. Making honey is truly a joint effort. Honey is a supersaturated solution because it contains more dissolved material than water can dissolve. In the case of honey, supersaturation is achieved by added enzymes.
Honey is made from nectar that the bees gather from nectar-producing flowers. They use their straw-like tongue called a proboscis to draw nectar out of the flower. They carry it in their crop or commonly called their honey stomach. The honey stomach is where enzymes are added to the nectar. This begins the transformation of nectar to honey. Once the forger bees return to the hive; they pass the nectar on to other bees within the colony. The house bees regurgitate and re-drink the nectar to continue the transformation. The transfer of nectar from bee to bee removes excess water and creates a diluted form of honey.
Once ready, the bees transfer the unripe honey to the honeycomb and leave it uncapped. The bees fan the honey with their wings further dehydrating it to reduce the water content. Once the honey reaches its optimum moisture content, the honeybees store honey by capping it to preserve it. The optimum moisture level is 15.5% to 18.6%. If the bees are working together as a well-oiled machine, the entire process takes about 45 days.
If the colony is small or any part of the process is disrupted, it may take longer. One way we help our bees, is by returning the empty honeycomb to the bees. While the bees will still fix the structure of the honeycomb, the process is faster than creating new beeswax to build a new honeycomb.
Common Honey Terms
Raw, organic, filtered, unfiltered, pasteurized, and fake were just a few of the terms I found in a quick google search about honey. Let’s break them down so you know exactly what you are purchasing.
Fake honey is just that. It looks like honey, smells like honey, and even has the sweet taste of honey, but it’s not honey. The commercial food industry has found many ways to meet the consumer demands for food products. Honey like most food is seasonal. Bees make honey when nectar is available. When honey production couldn’t meet consumer demands, manufacturers found ways to meet the demands using artificial means. They have created honey-like products that contain added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and different things such as flavoring that mimics honey. Some may not contain any bee products at all.
These products tend to be cheaper to purchase, as cheap reproductions are cheaper to produce. Unfortunately, no matter how sophisticated we become or how scientifically advanced, there are things in nature we just can’t replicate. Fake honey can not mimic the benefits of raw honey, no matter what they add to it.
Since fake honey is unlikely to be labeled as such on your grocery store shelves, how do you know if your honey is fake or not? At Simply Honey they provide several tests to determine if your honey is real. Drop a teaspoon of honey into a glass of water. Fake honey will immediately dissolve, whereas real honey remains intact at the bottom of the glass until you stir it in. A drop of honey on your fingertip will hold its shape, while fake honey will not.
Organic honey is probably one of the most misleading terms on the honey label. As of 2021, the United States Drug Administration (USDA) does not certify honey as organic in the United States. Beekeepers in the US can raise non-certified organic honey but it’s extremely difficult to meet the requirements of organic labeling. Most organic honey sold in the United States is imported. The USDA accepts the certification of other countries at face value, the USDA is not certifying the honey as organic themselves.
Organic honey is different than natural honey. All honey made by bees is a natural product. The main differences is organic honey is made from 100% organic nectar. The plants that the bees harvest nectar from would need to be free of herbicides and pesticides, free of genetically modified crops, and free of unapproved organic chemicals. Since bees travel many miles, the bee yard would need approximately a 5-mile radius surrounding them that meets these requirements. Since this is increasingly difficult to do in the United States, it’s nearly impossible to get certified organic in the United States. Even if a honey producer could meet the requirements, the cost of getting certified organic is cost-prohibitive for most family farms. In countries like Brazil, where there are still large areas of land that would meet the requirements for organic labeling. These labels are accepted at face value in the United States.
Filtered and Unfiltered Honey
Honey is filtered to create a clear, smooth texture and remove impurities. It also makes honey more shelf-stable meaning it is less likely to crystalize. Unfortunately, during the filtration process, honey must be heated. The processing methods destroy the natural enzymes, probiotics, and antioxidants that most people expect to find in honey. Therefore, filtered honey does not have the same potential health benefits as pure raw honey.
Unfiltered honey is not subject to heat processing and will contain bee pollen, bee propolis, and wax. Honey that is unfiltered retains the beneficial properties that honey is so well known for. It may be cloudier than filtered honey since it retains the natural particles found in honey naturally. It is important to note that the term “filtered honey” should not be confused with the term “strained honey”.
We strain our honey to remove honeycomb and debris from the honeycomb itself such as dead bees. This minimal processing is done with a fine strainer that sits at the top of the honey bucket. The honey is strained by gravity alone, the honey is not heated in any way. Straining honey is a bit of a slow process, so we used two honey buckets to strain our honey. The light straining retains the nutritional value of raw honey.
During the pasteurization process honey is heated to destroy yeast cells that naturally occurs in honey. This makes the honey smooth and extends its shelf life. However heating honey destroys many of the nutritional benefits found in raw honey. Even organic honey can be pasteurized. The term organic does not refer to the heating process or processing of the honey, only the organic sourcing of the nectar.
Raw honey is the common term used to describe 100% natural honey exactly as the bees make it. It has not undergone any processing or filtering that requires heating the honey. Many local beekeepers strain their honey, as we do, however this simply removes debris from the honey. It does not alter the chemical makeup of the honey in any way or change the nutritional benefits associated with local raw honey.
Raw honey is full of antioxidants. vitamins, nutrients, and enzymes. Commercial honey processors blend their honey for uniformity of color and flavor. While smaller beekeepers have limited sources.
Flavors of Honey
Raw honey may come in a variety of flavors and shades. The honey’s color and flavor largely depend on the nectar source that the bees use. Spring honey is known to be lighter in color than fall honey. This is due to the nectar sources available to the bees. Darker honey is typically harvested in the fall.
At Kowalski Apiary, our honey is considered wildflower honey, as it comes from a variety of nectar sources. While some beekeepers label their honey as a specific nectar source, such as orange blossom honey or fireweed honey. This implies only the primary nectar source. Likely the bees foraged all nectar sources in the area. Beekeepers are required to pull the honey supers once the nectar source has ceased to bloom. As the bees would continue to forage for any available nectar sources in the area.
Join Us in the Kitchen
Join us while we extract and bottle the honey.
Things You Should Know About Raw Honey
While most would agree that raw honey straight from the hive is the best type of honey you can buy. There are a few facts you need to be aware of.
Raw honey does contain bacteria spores called Clostridium botulinum that can cause botulism in infants. Children under the age of one are more susceptible to botulism in honey. Honey should not be given to children under 1 year of age.
Raw honey contains pollen. Many people who suffer from seasonal allergies believe that consuming local honey helps build resistance to local allergens. It’s best to purchase a jar of honey from a local beekeeper if you are seeking honey for this purpose. People with severe allergies should always be cautious as the pollen count can be significant enough to some people to cause an allergic reaction.
Raw Honey is Unprocessed
Raw honey may have bubbles at the top of the honey. These look like a white film. Bubbles occur when the honey is extracted from the honeycomb. Sitting before bottling help, but handling the buckets of honey creates bubbles in the honey.
Raw honey crystallizes. Honey is a supersaturated solution which means it contains more dissolved material than water. Overtime crystals can form. This only changes the consistency of the honey, not any of the nutritional benefits. Personally, I like crystalized honey, it’s easy to spread on a biscuit! However, if you don’t like crystallized honey, you can heat it slightly to liquify it again. The simplest way to do this is to heat a pot of water to just under boiling and then shut it off. The ideal temperature is 95° to 104°. Add the honey jar to the pot and allow it to sit until the honey dissolves. This low temperature does not destroy the nutrients inside the honey.
Raw honey is considered the healthiest kind of honey to purchase. The unique qualities of raw honey are proof you purchased the real deal!
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.