Honey is that one thing almost anyone can get behind (don’t feed to a baby, please). However, do the different types of honey matter? And what the heck is raw, unfiltered honey? And what’s the big deal? The labels “raw” and “unfiltered” mean that this is honey that has not been heated, pasteurized, or processed. Yum! So, why is that important?
So we know not all honey is equal. Raw honey packs extra taste and nutrients into its jar. Whole, unprocessed foods are all the rage for good reason. The less processing something has to go through, the fewer nutrients get watered down or removed before you consume that food. Honey is no different. While honey of any kind has enough magic in it to make us sing its praises, raw honey doesn’t have anything holding back its superpowers.
Here’s how to identify raw honey, where to find it, and why honey’s source is so important.
What Is Raw, Unfiltered Honey?
The USDA defines filtered honey as honey where “all or most of the fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles, or other materials normally found in suspension, have been removed.” (1) Raw honey is honey that hasn’t been heated or pasteurized. Most of the honey you’ll see on the shelf at the supermarket has been filtered so that it appears smooth and particle-free.
Most mainstream honey undergoes processing and pasteurizing with heat to kill all bacteria and to prevent the honey from crystallizing in the jar. These processes make honey look more like the conventional honey we expect to see and lengthen its shelf life. While there’s no harm in consuming honey that has been filtered and processed, there’s an argument to be made for buying honey that’s as close to what you could pull out of the hive yourself as possible.
There also isn’t much enforcement when it comes to the labeling of honey. Organizations like the FDA and USDA provide guidelines for labeling but are mainly concerned with making sure honey is safe to consume. The best way to ensure you’re getting quality honey is to pay attention to its source. Where you buy your honey from impacts the content of the jar in a significant way.
Today there are lots of options for purchasing honey. You can buy it at any grocery store. You can buy honey online from retailers like Amazon, Etsy, and even beekeepers that sell their honey direct to consumer via their websites. There’s an extra component to consider with purchasing honey, which is where the bees that made the honey live. The hive’s location combined with the company that harvests and packages the honey all have an impact on the quality and taste of the honey you purchase.
If you are buying raw, unfiltered honey, the plants the bees have access to when creating that honey becomes especially important.
How Source Affects Honey
Bees harvest pollen from whatever plants are close to their hive. Pollen tastes different depending on the type of plant which means that honey’s flavor is affected by the plants that the bees have visited recently. The National Honey Board describes the flavor variations of honey that come from different plants. Raw, unfiltered honey contains pollen residue, yeasts, and enzymes that all vary depending on the plant material (lavender plants create honey that has a lavender taste to it, for example).
This direct tie between the plants that bees have access to and the honey that they produce means that honey is one of the very best foods to buy from a local source.
Taste the Difference
Traditional supermarket honey has a different taste and texture from raw, unpasteurized honey. Our noses play a considerable role in how we taste things. Heating honey to pasteurize it kills off a lot of the floral aroma notes as well as some of the naturally occurring enzymes that give raw, unpasteurized honey it’s delicious, robust flavor. The darker honey is in color, the more pungent and therefore flavorful it’s likely to be.
Do know that raw honey usually has some crystallization that occurs in the jar which is where the glucose sugar separates from the water in honey and forms a crystal. These crystals give raw honey a slightly rougher texture. Crystals will dissolve when exposed to heat so if you put your honey in tea or spread it onto warm toast you’ll see the crystals melt back into the rest of the honey.
Why Buy Local Honey?
One of the benefits of consuming raw, unfiltered honey is that it exposes you to allergens in tiny quantities. Plant and pollen particles in the honey are small enough not to trigger a full-blown allergy attack in most cases. Instead, this minimal exposure will get your body used to those materials and make you less reactive to them during everyday exposure. Getting that daily exposure to allergens from honey is similar to getting a vaccination for a disease so your body can build the antibodies for it without actually getting the disease.
Local honey, produced by bees who are harvesting pollen in your area, means your honey will contain the allergens in unique to your area. Plus, supporting local businesses is always a great thing to do!
Also, because raw honey is rich in antioxidants, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and other delicious things, it has a wide range of uses and benefits.
Common Uses for Raw Unfiltered Honey:
- Skincare – Pinterest is full of face mask recipes that recommend using honey as an ingredient, especially for acne prone skin.
- Cough soother – honey and lemon in hot water is a common cold remedy because of honey’s soothing effect on sore throats.
- Natural sweetener – raw honey offers a lot of sweetness without being highly processed like most baking sugars.
No matter what you use your honey for in your home, opting for the raw, unfiltered version is the healthiest route.
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