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There Are Shocking Differences Between Raw Honey and the Processed Golden Honey Found in Grocery Retailers

There are well over 30 commercial producers of honey that have no traces of pollen and lack beneficial vitamins and enzymes among a host of other natural constituents which are removed due to pasteurization and processing. Most golden honey you see at your local grocery is dead and far from the health promoting powerhouse of its raw unpasteurized counterpart. Processed honey is not honey at all and if you desire any kind of health benefits, you must stick to the real stuff.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. However, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold in the U.S. to see if it contains pollen.

Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey — some containing illegal antibiotics — on the U.S. market for years.

Food Safety News decided to test honey sold in various outlets after its earlier investigation found U.S. groceries flooded with Indian honey banned in Europe as unsafe because of contamination with antibiotics, heavy metal and a total lack of pollen which prevented tracking its origin.

They purchased more than 60 jars, jugs and plastic bears of honey in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

The contents were analyzed for pollen by Vaughn Bryant, a professor at Texas A&M University and one of the nation’s premier melissopalynologists, or investigators of pollen in honey.

Bryant, who is director of the Palynology Research Laboratory, found that among the containers of honey provided by Food Safety News, 76 percent or more had the pollen removed including stores such as Walgreens, Costco, Walmart, Sam’s Club, TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop&Shop and King Soopers.

Why remove the pollen?

We can only assume to prevent the majority of the public from obtaining all the benefits found in raw honey. Removal of all pollen from honey “makes no sense” and is completely contrary to marketing the highest quality product possible, Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, told Food Safety News.

“I don’t know of any U.S. producer that would want to do that. Elimination of all pollen can only be achieved by ultra-filtering and this filtration process does nothing but cost money and diminish the quality of the honey,” Jensen said.

“In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law,” he added.

What’s wrong with Chinese honey?

Chinese honey has long had a poor reputation in the U.S., where — in 2001 — the Federal Trade Commission imposed stiff import tariffs or taxes to stop the Chinese from flooding the marketplace with dirt-cheap, heavily subsidized honey, which was forcing American beekeepers out of business.

To avoid the dumping tariffs, the Chinese quickly began transshipping honey to several other countries, then laundering it by switching the color of the shipping drums, the documents and labels to indicate a bogus but tariff-free country of origin for the honey.

Most U.S. honey buyers knew about the Chinese actions because of the sudden availability of lower cost honey, and little was said.

The FDA — either because of lack of interest or resources — devoted little effort to inspecting imported honey. Nevertheless, the agency had occasionally either been told of, or had stumbled upon, Chinese honey contaminated with chloramphenicol and other illegal animal antibiotics which are dangerous, even fatal, to a very small percentage of the population.

Mostly, the adulteration went undetected.

What are the differences between raw unpasteurized honey and pasteurized processed golden honey?

The processing of honey often removes many of the phytonutrients found in raw honey as it exists in the hive. Raw honey, for example, contains small amounts of the same resins found in propolis. Propolis, sometimes called “bee glue,” is actually a complex mixture of resins and other substances that honeybees use to seal the hive and make it safe from bacteria and other micro-organisms. Honeybees make propolis by combining plant resins with their own secretions. However, substances like road tar have also been found in propolis.

Bee keepers sometimes use special screens around the inside of the hive boxes to trap propolis, since bees will spread this substance around the honeycomb and seal cracks with the anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal resins. The resins found in propolis only represent a small part of the phytonutrients found in propolis and honey, however. Other phytonutrients found both in honey and propolis have been shown to posssess cancer-preventing and anti-tumor properties. These substances include caffeic acid methyl caffeate, phenylethyl caffeate, and phenylethyl dimethylcaffeate. Researchers have discovered that these substances prevent colon cancer in animals by shutting down activity of two enzymes, phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C and lipoxygenase. When raw honey is extensively processed and heated, the benefits of these phytonutrients are largely eliminated.

Speakers at the First International Symposium on Honey and Human Health, presented a number of research papers. The research was applied to raw unpasteurized honey and the findings included:

  • Friendly bacteria — Different varietals of honey possess a large amount of friendly bacteria (6 species of lactobacilli and 4 species of bifidobacteria), which may explain many of the “mysterious therapeutic properties of honey.”
  • Lactobacilli, which deliver protective and beneficial benefits to bees as well as humans, were not found in the bees’ honey stomach during the winter months when the bees under investigation were fed sucrose, indicating that certain bee-feeding practices may have dangerous and unwanted effects on bees.
  • Blood sugar control — Honey may promote better blood sugar control. Proper fueling of the liver is central to optimal glucose metabolism during sleep and exercise. Honey is the ideal liver fuel because it contains a nearly 1:1 ratio of fructose to glucose. Fructose “unlocks” the enzyme from the liver cell’s nucleus that is necessary for the incorporation of glucose into glycogen (the form in which sugar is stored in the liver and muscle cells). An adequate glycogen store in the liver is essential to supply the brain with fuel when we are sleeping and during prolonged exercise. When glycogen stores are insufficient, the brain triggers the release of stress hormones — adrenalin and cortisol — in order to convert muscle protein into glucose. Repeated metabolic stress from cortisol produced when less than optimal liver glycogen stores are available during sleep, leads over time, to impaired glucose metabolism, insulin resistance, diabetes, and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and obesity.
  • Experimental evidence indicates that consumption of honey may improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity compared to other sweeteners. The body’s tolerance to honey is significantly better than to sucrose or glucose alone. Individuals with greater glucose intolerance (e.g., those with mild diabetes and Type 1 diabetes) showed significantly better tolerance to honey than sucrose. In addition, the antioxidants in honey, which have been shown to reduce oxidative stress, frequently by a larger factor than can be explained by their actual amount, may be beneficial for diabetics and help to improve endothelial function (the function of the cells that make up the lining of our blood vessels) and vascular health.
  • Weight management — In a year-long animal study comparing the effects of sucrose, honey and a low glycemic index (GI) sugar-free diet, rats on the honey-based diet showed: reduced weight gain and percentage of body fat, decreased anxiety, better spatial recognition memory, improved HDL cholesterol (15-20% higher than rats fed sugar or sucrose diets), improved blood sugar levels (HA1c), and reduced oxidative damage.
  • Cough suppressant — Honey has been shown to be a more effective cough suppressant for children ages 2-18 than dextromethorphan.
  • Boosts immunity — Honey boosts immunity. Research conducted in several hospitals in Israel found honey effective in decreasing the incidence of acute febrile neutropenia (when high fever reduces white blood cell count) in 64% of patients. Honey also reduced the need for Colony Stimulating Factor (a compound produced in the cells lining the blood vessels that stimulate bone marrow to produce more white blood cells) in 60% of patients with acute febrile neutropenia; increased neutrophil count (another type of white blood cell), decreased thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), and stabilized hemoglobin levels at >11 gm/dl (a bit low but way better than full blown anemic).
  • 32% of the cancer patients involved in the above immunity research reported improved quality of life.
  • Wound healing — Several mechanisms have been proposed for the wound healing benefits that are observed when raw honey is applied topically. Because honey is composed mainly of glucose and fructose, two sugars that strongly attract water, honey absorbs water in the wound, drying it out so that the growth of bacteria and fungi is inhibited (these microorganisms thrive in a moist environment). Secondly, raw honey contains an enzyme called glucose oxidase that, when combined with water, produces hydrogen peroxide, a mild antiseptic. Previous studies have shown that Manuka honey decreases the surface pH of wounds (so germs can’t survive) and can help keep bacteria out. While all honey does contain anti-bacterial properties, commercial honey is usually pasteurized and processed, which decreases its beneficial properties. Manuka honey is special because it produces a different substance called methylglyoxal, which has unique antibacterial activity.
  • Anti-bacterial — One antioxidant absent in pasteurized honey is pinocembrin, which is unique to honey and is currently being studied for its antibacterial properties. One laboratory study of unpasteurized honey samples indicated the majority had antibacterial action against Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacteria found readily in our environment that can cause infections, especially in open wounds. Other reports indicate honey is effective at inhibiting Escherichia coli and Candida albicans. Darker honeys, specifically honey from buckwheat flowers, sage and tupelo, contain a greater amount of antioxidants than other honeys, and raw, unprocessed honey contains the widest variety of health-supportive substances.
  • Free radical prevention — Daily consumption of raw honey raises blood levels of protective antioxidant compounds in humans, according to research presented at the 227th meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, CA, March 28, 2004. Biochemist Heidrun Gross and colleagues from the University of California, Davis, gave 25 study participants each about four tablespoons of buckwheat honey daily for 29 days in addition to their regular diets, and drew blood samples at given intervals following honey consumption. A direct link was found between the subjects’ honey consumption and the level of polyphenolic antioxidants in their blood.
  • Helps high cholesterol — In a series of experiments involving healthy subjects and those with either high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes, honey has proved itself the healthiest sweetener. In healthy subjects, while sugar and artificial honey had either negative or very small beneficial effects, natural honey reduced total cholesterol 7%, triglycerides 2%, C-reactive protein 7%, homocysteine 6% and blood sugar 6%, and increased HDL (good) cholesterol 2%. (Like C-reactive protein, homocysteine is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.) In patients with high cholesterol, artificial honey increased LDL (bad) cholesterol, while natural honey decreased total cholesterol 8%, LDL cholesterol 11%, and C-reactive protein 75%. And in patients with type 2 diabetes, natural honey caused a significantly lower rise in blood sugar than either dextrose or sucrose (refined sugars). So, enjoy a little honey in your morning coffee, lunchtime yogurt or afternoon cup of green tea. Looks like a daily spoonful of honey may help your need for medicine go down.

How can you tell the difference between pure honey and artificial honey?

Inverted sugar solutions and glucose syrups or corn are often used for making fake honey, mixing with it, or replacing it entirely.

Another method for falsification of honey is feeding bees with sugar products.

The “innocent” method of honey falsification is the addition of water (honey containing more than 25% water, is considered to be falsified).

Worldwide, counterfeiting of honey is rife – as with extra virgin olive oil.

Artificial honey is a food with many shortcomings, representing a solution of inverted sugar syrup, which comes from refined sugar, which often has other ingredients added, generally summarized as: glucose syrup, dyes, flavors and flavor enhancers. Such a synthetic preparation can be achieved in domestic conditions, but you need to know it is not healthy. Artificial honey contains a physical mixture of glucose and fructose focused elements that have separated from the previous combination, that of sucrose (sugar).

Artificial inverted sugar, also called artificial honey, is a syrup, soluble in water, with a sweet taste, resulting from the hydrolysis of sucrose. It is widely used in the food industry as a sweetener, attracting criticism from many nutritionists and doctors.

Four ways to spot artificial honey

  1. The Thumb Test — Put a drop of the honey on your thumb. If it spreads around right away or spills, it’s not pure. If it stays intact, it’s pure.
  2. The Water Test — Fill a glass of water and add one tablespoon of “honey” into the water. Pure honey will lump and settle at the bottom of the glass. Adulterated and artificial honey will start dissolving in water.
  3. The Shelf Life Test — Pure honey will crystallize over time. Imitation honey will remain looking like syrup, no matter how long it is stored.
  4. Light a Fire — Dip the tip of a matchstick in “honey”, and then strike it to light. Natural honey will light the match easily and the flame will burn off the honey. Fake honey will not light because of the moisture it contains.



Originally published on Karen Foster is a holistic nutritionist, avid blogger, with five kids and an active lifestyle that keeps her in pursuit of the healthiest path towards a life of balance.


      1. The reason for Michael’s post is that the thicker honey has an additive in it to make it crystalize like that.

      2. There is a picture that shows crystallized (creamed) clover honey. and another picture that shows what could be the same Honey when it has just been extracted. Honey may crystallize over a period of weeks and months, it can be re-liquified by placing the Jar in warm water. I strain my honey through a very fine cloth, and this helps prevent it from crystallizing. If you want to Eat Pollen and Propolis, then eat Pollen and Propolis.

        1. Some people are so stiff necked. When life saving information are given, you will find some ignorant people that will want to oppose it and guess what, they will eventually find themselves in a ditch. A word is enough for the wise.

        2. First, thanks Karen for the info! I have bought several varieties of honey listing themselves as “unpasteurized”, but none outright saying “raw”. While the one “raw” honey purchased by my sister has been described as “solid” by my mother, I am uncertain if the picture of “raw” honey above looks any different from the “creamed” honey I’ve purchased in the past (and which I don’t recall as to whether it was pasteurized or not). None of the companies whose “unpasteurized” honey I’ve purchased are listed in the chart on this webpage… and one comes directly from a Church member who brought a sample at my request (so I guess I can easily ask her if it has been heated or strained). I will be using the “glass of water” and “matchlight” tests to see how many honeys fare… each has a significantly different taste (a sweet wildflower honey, a slightly malt-tasting wildflower honey, a “blueberry leaf” honey and what tastes like a clover honey but gives no indication)… but most have helped me quickly get rid of scratchy throats (with little recurrence) this winter… in fact, I have a squeeze bottle with me at work right now for the scratchiest throat I’ve had all winter. As I’ve been advising someone with throat cancer to take unpasteurized honey, I want to make sure a) “unpasteurized” = “raw”, and b) the “unpasteurized” honeys I’ve been getting (mostly local) are raw as well. Thanks for the tips!

        3. We have all eaten raw honey that has not been strained since the beginning of time. Before anyone thought if straining it.

      3. The tendency of a honey to crystallize depends on the proportion of different sugars, and the presence of solid particles like pollen or dust for the crystals to form on. Heavier sugars like sucrose tend to crystallize faster than light sugars like fructose will remain in solution longer.
        A lot depends on the flowers the bees forage on. Mine is a light amber wildflower that won’t crystallize after a Winter in a cold porch, while the guy down the road from me can barely get his into the jar before it’s solid. The article is right that fake honey won’t crystallize, and pasteurized honey tends to stay liquid longer, but the picture is wrong. Both liquid and crystallized honey from reputable sources are fine.
        Your best bet to get the best quality honey is to buy it at the farm gate from a local beekeeper.

    1. I agree with Michael! Raw honey that is clear and liquid freely runs from the comb; frequently clear honey runs from the mouth of the hive in high temperatures. The image presented crystallized honey!

      1. Even raw honey can be “whipped” as it crystalizes, and there are some strains of honey that “cream” *instead* of crystalizing. The bees that created that honey were never killed off over the winter, and were not fed corn syrup.

        I’ve found a local source whose honey is thicker than anything I’ve ever bought in a grocery store. It will crystalize if I don’t use it promptly–and it does have a fabulous flavor, much better than the grocery’s honey. Local honey also contains enough local pollens to serve as an antihistamine. I’m a believer in honey!

        1. I have always bought thick honey because that’s how its supposed to be when its straight out of the hive as I grew up on honey that never had corn syrup added to make it go further. This stuff you buy at the store or local honey these days is not true honey yet they trick you with their labels. They do add to it and if you know what honey is supposed to taste like you will know this. But if you are in the generation that grew up with people adding to their honey then you don’t know what real honey is supposed to taste like. You’ll only know what the store bought honey and “added to” local honey tastes like and its not true honey.

  1. I really appreciate the article. However, the two images of honey above are misleading and totally misrepresent what raw honey looks like. The photo above of crystallized honey may be raw, but it takes some time for the honey to crystallize. Honey straight out of the beehive looks just like any amber (with all its shades inbetween) honey with various viscosity, depending on when it is harvested and where the nectar is from. Our honey is also really clear to the eye upon harvest by just a basic filter through cheese cloth. Best way to find raw honey is either have your own beehive/s, or know your farmer…

    1. I was just thinking the same exact thing. I remember growing up and ny parents had a couple of bee hives and we are raw honey straight out of the combs. It did not look like the pic at all. It was clear and depending on which part of the hive it came from it was either dark or Amber. There were even bees in various states of development in them. Why do they think raw honey is supposed to look like that? I can’t remember a single incident where we were given real raw honey by our parents and it looked like that. So I can say from experience it does not look like that.

  2. Most consumers should be aware that Chinese honey is now been used in many food products, and with our poor food labeling laws they’re getting away with it. Unless you buy your honey from a local trusted source, the honey in your jar might be from any country in the world.

    1. Raw honey can adversely affect adults also, if they are allergic to insects or anything that the bee ate. I had a simple teaspoon of raw honey and within 30 seconds my stomach started hurting badly and I was sick for all night and into the next day. Lots of gas and pain.

  3. Not a lot of new information there Marcel, it is well established that botulism bacteria can survive in honey but it cant effectively reproduce and contamination is exceedingly rare. Only very young babies who have immature digestive systems have any difficulty destroying it in their gut leading to the USFDA safety recommendation of not giving raw honey to children under 1 year old.

  4. The sugar ratios in honey depend on the source nectar. Real “tupelo” monofloral honey (from Nyssa ogeche, the ogeche lime of the Apalachicola drainage basin) rarely crystalizes because it is mostly fructose. Also, while pollen identifies honey and is usually a good thing nutritionally, the pollens of borages (especially Echium species, which are prolific producers and have become serious weeds in some places) and groundsels (Senecio & relatives) have been shown to contain (hepatotoxic) pyrolizidine alkaloids. If I knew honey came from fields contaminated with Patterson’s curse or blueweed (Echium vulgare), I’d want it ultrafiltered. Then again, I wouldn’t buy it. Of course these days even American honey is usually unidentifiable because most hives are trucked around the country to serve the fleeting blooming seasons of various industrial monocultures. (Fortunately, the known pyrolizidine sources are mostly range weeds, so citrus-almond-apple-sunflower hodgepodge may have other problems but probably not that). Admittedly even wild nectar stands like tupelo may require some trucking–what else blooms to fill out the year in swampland? Still I like the idea of having more (& reliable!) information.

  5. Not agree with Marcel. As a little child I and also my little cousins ate raw honey on many occasions: on breakfast with bread and butter, pieces of honeycomb just for pleasure because lollies weren’t available in everyday life, also as medicine etc.
    Neither me nor any of my cousins did not experience any discomfort from eating delicious bee products.
    If you writing about babies less than 1 year old, that is different story. Not just a honey but any food must be served to them with special care and must be prepared accordingly to infants age.. if for example you do not know how to feed little babies you can cause big harm to them. This is not, true that honey kills children, this is about an adults that they must use their mind, their wisdom feeding their babies.
    You are referring us to check the science research outcomes …?
    Sometimes science is going in wrong direction… for example: it makes us very confused.

  6. Honey is not pasteurised. That is a total myth and appears to be the premise for a good part of this article.

    Honey contains antibiotic traces when beekeepers use oxytetracycline and others to control foulbrood diseases. So called “raw” honey can come from hives that have been treated – so another myth busted.

  7. I’m not surprised to find mostly artificial honey in the United States. Contrary to what is said in this this article, “3. The Shelf Life Test — Pure honey will crystallize over time. Imitation honey will remain looking like syrup, no matter how long it is stored.” NOT TRUE! Tupelo Honey will never crystallize! NEVER!

  8. Greeetings

    im jus a guy from south africa who was jus looking for raw honey ended up buying ‘Non-irradiated—non pasurrised honey’….that was boiled tp 39 degrees and filtered but with some pollen in it ….
    i dont know if my honey is as good or nealry as good as raw honey though..

    i didn know this was such a complex aubject ….im confused now…

  9. I don’t understand the point Golden Harvest does have a Raw Unfiltered with pollen in it I’m drinking a cup of tea with this honey in it right now!

  10. Please cite your sources. It seems like some of it is made up:

    For example:
    “In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. However, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold in the U.S. to see if it contains pollen.”

    This is wrong. The FDA considers Honey as “honey” regardless of quantity of pollen. In fact they don’t even mention it in their labeling requirements:

  11. I am a Beekeeper in South Africa.
    Most raw honey will crystallize over time, be it months or years. I don’t know Tupelo Honey, as we do not get it here, and if we did, it would be irradiated.
    The stuff that is marked from China, is irradiated, pasturized, and not real RAW honey.
    I use no crop dust, weed killer, or insect killer on our little farm, so our bees are healthy.
    Our honey is 100% raw and pure, from hive to bottle. It is not heated, and my honey room is cool.
    Do the tests above and you will be able to tell.
    Raw honey may also have tiny little fragments of propolis and wax in it. This is good for you too, as propolis also has some very good qualities.
    And yes, the first pic above shows honey in the process of being spun.
    Time consuming but absolutely Delicious!
    Honey is also the only food in the world that does not have a shelf life. It will last for hundreds and thousands of years, as proved by honey found in Egypt, 4000 years old and still edible.
    So tuck in.

  12. The picture of real and raw honey is very misleading. Please remove it. Honey comes in various forms, the creamy looking honey at the top is creamed honey and the bottom one is liquid honey in its most original state. Also, honey in tropical countries like where I come from tends to be more runny than most honey in the Western or European countries, as the moisture level is high due to the humidity and weather. But they are pure, unadulterated honey for sure. Also, different honey crystalline at different speed, some are so slow in crystallization that they remain liquid for years, so the fact that they look runny doesn’t mean they are fake. Read more to understand honey better here:

  13. Hi bee keepers and honey experts. I have one important question. Is burning honey an accurate test for all types of honey? Or are there some honeys which does not light up?

  14. Farmer’s Market Honey Guy, gave me some info on honey today, and I would like to share it here.
    Honey can be frozen. I is to dense to actually freeze. Putting it in the freezer will keep it from granulating. And because it can not freeze, it does not swell and break the glass jars.
    I mean who knew??? I sure did not. I buy Raw Honey at the Farmer’s Market and store it, to be sure I have enough to get me though the winter months. I am loving this information, and I am going to try it with one of my jars, in a freezer zip lock bag, to see if it really works.

  15. Thank you for this helpful article.
    Please, you indicated this:
    “Speakers at the First International Symposium on Honey and Human Health, presented a number of research papers.”
    Would you please provide references to those papers? Thank you so much!!

  16. I have eaten honey straight from the hive and this top picture is not anything like real unaltered raw honey. In the past 6 years I have been unable to find real honey. People are adding to it these days since they make it go farther and some people who buy it don’t know any better. It takes a long time for honey to crystallize so there no reason at all for anyone to say its crystallized. Honey has a distinct strong flavor and is thick. Runs very slow off a spoon. Stays firm with color in water. There’s so many ways to test it that when I get screwed from buying honey that’s been tainted, I make a video testing it to show it’s not pure raw and post it with the sellers name and website. I am tired of paying big money for “supposedly raw untouched honey.” I want it just as it comes off the comb like my ex used to do as a bee keeper. This has become personal to me and it’s my pet peeve. I have yet to find raw untouched honey and am willing to pay for it straight off the comb froman honest person. I have had people to look me in the eyes and tell me ” Oh there’s nothing added:It’s the real thing!” I have been told this close to 60 times from people who I believed to be good honest folks but have been so disappointed in people. All I ask for is simply to be honest and an willing to pay extra for ” the real thing.”

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