The little plastic squeeze bears of honey at the local grocery store or megamart sure look like honey. And it says, right there on the label, "honey." No asterisk, no disclaimers.
But maybe there should be.
A recent study by the Food Safety News concluded that the honey available in most neighborhood grocery stores, drugstores, and megamarts do not contain pollen. An essential part of honey, what makes honey, well, honey, is the fact that it includes the pollen collected by the bees that made the honey. According to most of the world's health agencies, honey minus the pollen is nothing more than nectar -- sweet liquid without many of the health benefits we've come to expect from honey. In addition, the lack of pollen makes it impossible to trace where the honey came from, and how safe and healthy those sources were, or not.
So, where's the pollen? Many companies use super-fine filters (after watering down the honey and heating it to a high temperature) to filter out the pollen. According to one honey supplier, the reason the pollen is filtered is because American consumers want honey that is "crystal clear," which may well be true (because many consumers don't want to actually think about where their food comes from, as we well know.) But another part of the issue is that large chains prefer to buy this processed honey-like product because it can sit on the shelves almost indefinitely.
While this may be true, there seems to be a much darker side to the story. According to beekeeper Richard Adee in the Food Safety News, "There is only one reason to ultra-filter honey and there's nothing good about it. It's no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China." Chinese honey has been found to have been contaminated with antibiotics or heavy metals. In addition, the proliferation of cheap Chinese-supplied honey in recent years has forced many local beekeepers to shut down, unable to compete with the super-low prices.
If you're wondering which store brands failed the pollen test, Food Safety News published a list on their site.
How to Make Sure You're Buying Real Honey
We've said it before, and we'll say it again (and again, and again...): shop locally.
Of all of the samples the Food Safety News research team sampled for the study, every bottle or jar of honey purchased from a farm stand, farmers' market, or co-op had the full amount of pollen it should have had.
It's a multi-faceted problem (we haven't even gotten into the FDA's inaction on the issue, which Food Safety News has detailed in their article). It's one more example of how cheap food comes at a price, and why eating locally grown and harvested food is a much safer, healthier way to go.