February 4, 2011

I was reading on a website where someone stated that "most honey is not raw that in fact honey is heated and refined". Of course, he was implying that honey isn't a natural healthy product once it is heated and refined and so that statement lead to this blog post.

#1 Refined is a dirty word (refined sugar anyone?). To say something is refined is implying you've freed it from impurities and if impurities to you means bee parts then yes honey is sometimes refined but I prefer to use the word "filtered" because filtering is exactly what a beekeeper does. Honey is run through a sieve to get rid of bee parts (wings, stingers, legs, wax). It looks like this:

There is no refining in the sense that nothing is introduced to change the chemical composition of the honey. But when people use the word "refined" oftentimes it is believed that something unnatural happened and in the case of honey it means nothing but good (who wants to eat bee parts?).

Sometimes beekeepers will label their honey RAW if they have not filtered it and if that is your thing, go with it. I personally don't like eating bee glop, especially since I found a stinger in some honey that was given to me before it was filtered... imagine that setting up camp in my tongue :(

#2 Heated honey. It wasn't until my beekeeping course did I understand why some honey crystalizes and some honey stays yellow/clear liquid. The difference is heating. Some beekeepers like to heat their honey, as I was told on the beesource forum this has to do with with ease of filtering and pouring honey into bottles. In my beekeeping course we were advised not to heat our honey and not to buy heated honey. As a member on the beesource said, heating affects flavor. According to my instructors at the University, heating also affects nutritional value and the antibacterial properties of honey and most beekeepers don't do it. Heating apparently limits crystalizing but heating isn't necessary for a clear/yellow smooth honey. The honey that was filtered for me this summer was not heated, sits on my shelf, and is still crystal free =) But if you find you have a crystalized honey, don't worry about it, the honey is good. Here is a good explanation on honey, heat and crystalizing:

#3 Raw honey. We also discussed this in our course on beekeeping. It was pretty much a laughable topic since honey IS raw. The term raw on a bottle of honey is used to convey that it was not heated or filtered but it is really misleading to some people. What does raw honey mean to you? Guess what... beekeepers don't even agree on what RAW means. Most will say raw means unfiltered and unheated,focussing on the unfiltered part, but some, including myself, believe it means unheated yet filtered or not filtered. Some people in my course felt that "raw" meant nothing had been done to it but filtering wasn't what they were referring to. One person said that she had asked a beekeeper for raw honey assuming she would be getting honey without any additives and was shocked when she got honey full of bee parts. Some beekeepers will even argue about straining vs. filtering playing a role in whether honey should be labelled "raw." All I can give is my opinion and since raw is defined as: not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture. Uncooked. I say raw means just pure honey that has not been heated. Removing bee legs, wings, stingers, wax cappings, etc... doesn't alter the actual "honey." If we called bee legs, wings and wax "honey" than I'd say it needs to remain if we are to call it "raw honey" but honey is honey and those extra parts don't make it more or less so.

Getting back to the comment on another site that started this all. I think saying that "most honey is not raw that in fact honey is heated and refined" on a site that is talking about the possible dangers of eating agave due to its high fructose content is doing a disservice to beekeepers. This person was trying to lump honey into a group of unhealthy sweeteners with no scientific basis for it.

Most honey is NOT "heated" and "refined". Refined is a dirty word for many customers today, people are trying to avoid refined and if they avoid what they believe is refined honey then they are making a big mistake. Honey can be heated and often is "filtered." Some strain their honey and nothing more, others strain and then filter and some will filter more than once. In my limited experience talking to beekeepers online, in person, having learned from the most well known and respected beekeeper in Minnesota and an entomologist that is known worldwide, I don't believe MOST beekeepers heat their honey and if they do heat their honey a good beekeeper will make sure they keep temperatures below a certain point as to not affect the nutritional or antibacterial value of their honey.

So... the very best you can do when you seek out honey is find a beekeeper you can trust. Ask for filtered honey if you want to avoid bee parts and unfiltered honey if you want bee parts. If you ask for "raw" honey you may or may not get parts. Feel free to inquire about the honey being heated but I'm sure you will find the same as I have found, MOST do not heat.
Amy W said...

Very interesting. Makes me think about refined vs. unrefined shea butter. Is there a difference in the performance once the shea has been refined?

Michelle said...


Refined Shea butter is a great example of why I don't like the word "refined" used in relation to honey. Chemicals are often used in refining shea butter. Hexane is a popular chemical used in this process. Not only is hexane not safe for humans but the heat in combo with the synthetic chemical lessens the therapeutic properties of the shea butter, which is why so many prefer unrefined shea. Unrefined shea is extracted naturally without the use of chemicals. Unrefined may have a strong odor and somewhat of a color to it but it is much more therapeutic than refined. Even if the shea is refined naturally most people read "refined" and they will avoid it because they've heard refined associated with synthetic chemicals.

Unknown said...

Very Interesting! Very good post!