Understanding Fake Honey and How to Avoid It

jar of honey - often used to soothe sore throats
Mix some honey in a cup of warm tea to help soothe your laryngitis. Vladimir Kovalchuk/Shutterstock

A recent report about "honey laundering" in Australia is another reminder of the benefit of supporting local farmers.

Testing showed that Australia's biggest honey producer, Capilano, and some of that country's largest supermarkets have been selling fake honey — many of them unknowingly — according to the Sidney Morning Herald. Much of the honey was adulterated, meaning it had been mixed with other substances. That was uncovered by a German lab commissioned by a law firm looking into the reports.

That comes on the heels of revelations in 2011 that showed American grocery store shelves were being flooded with honey that was considered unsafe in other countries, according to Food Safety News. That honey came from Asia and India and was potentially laced with lead, other heavy metals and animal antibiotics. Some of the honey was manufactured from artificial sweeteners and then filtered to remove any trace of contamination.

In the earlier case, the testing relied on a special kind of expert. Vaughn Bryant is one of the nation's premiere palynologists, a person who studies pollen. Bryant tested 60 bottles of honey to understand the pollen counts and where the honey came from.

Honey testing results

  • 76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P;, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.
  • 100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.
  • 77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.
  • 100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smuckers, McDonald's and KFC had the pollen removed.
  • Bryant found that every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and "natural" stores like PCC and Trader Joe's had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.

Remember, a lack of pollen in honey signifies ultra-filtered honey, which may not even be honey at all.

While I hope that new, tougher regulations are put into practice for the honey industry in the U.S., I'm not waiting for the FDA to protect me. I'm taking my own steps to buy pure honey. The obvious step to me is buying from local beekeepers as much as possible. I was thrilled in the above report that honey from local health food stores, Trader Joe's, and farmers markets contained full pollen counts.

With that in mind, here are some resources to consider for your own pure honey search.

Links for finding local honey

If you have a local Trader Joe's in your area, they sell honey for a reasonable price. Of course, local health food stores often have excellent honey as well. My local store, New Seasons Market, has a wide variety of local and raw honeys that are amazing.

Brands like Really Raw Honey and Honey Gardens are the polar opposites of ultra-filtered, manufactured honey. Their products are not heated or filtered in any way so they contain all of the beneficial traces of pollen, propolis and beeswax. They also taste amazing.

I'm grateful for the U.S. beekeepers who work so hard to give us such lovely honey that's also safe.