Is it really honey?


A couple of weeks ago, I told you about adulteration and fraud in the olive oil industry. Even though there are laws about labeling olive oil, those laws are not enforced. The situation with honey is even worse.

When doing research for the second edition of Homegrown and Handmade, which will include a section on beekeeping, I learned the depressing truth. Basically, if you buy something labeled as honey, you are trusting that the supplier really put honey in that jar. There is no legal requirement for honey to be accurately labeled. That means a jar of honey could be anything.

In 2006, the American Beekeeping Federation and several honey organizations asked the FDA to create guidelines for labeling honey because they realized they were facing unfair competition if anyone could label any sweet liquid as honey and price it far below the actual production cost of real honey.

In 2014, there was a huge buzz that the FDA had written guidelines for labeling honey and was soliciting public comment. However, two and a half years later, they still have not approved those guidelines. The sad thing is that they would only be guidelines – as if the fakers didn’t know they were mislabeling a sweet liquid as honey. The guidelines merely state how honey and honey blends “should” be labeled. Even if the guidelines had been approved, there would be no law and no enforcement.

If you don’t produce your own honey, this is a good reason to buy from a local beekeeper who you know and trust. Cheap honey sold in stores is usually imported, and there have been cases where the contents of the jars turned out to be corn syrup or sugar blends, rather than pure honey. Americans use about three times as much honey as what is produced in this country. Not only will you not get any of the health benefits of honey if it’s a blend, those with a corn allergy will actually get sick if the honey is blended with corn syrup.

How do you know if it’s real honey? Real honey crystallizes. If you’ve had a jar of “honey” sitting in the cabinet for months, and it is still crystal clear, then it’s not pure honey. Fresh honey is also thicker than corn syrup or other sugary liquids. Looking back years ago when we had small children and were on a tight budget, I’d buy the cheapest of everything. I clearly remember those thin honeys that sat in the cupboard and never crystallized. As with olive oil, if a particular brand of honey is priced way below the competition, it’s probably fake or adulterated.


7 thoughts on “Is it really honey?”

  1. We’ve been raising honey bees for about five years now…it’s a ton of hard work and a big financial investment. We currently have honey from our very first pull, roughly 4 years ago now and it is still crystal clear. When we put it in jars at that time, we didn’t even own an extractor or special strainer. We simply cut the caps off and let it drain into a pot and then emptied the pot into jars. We only feed our bees sugar water for the first month or so after introducing a new hive to their new home. That’s just so they don’t starve while they are learning their way around. If they starve after that, well unfortunately for them we consider that a way of nature and nature’s way of ensuring that only the strong survive.
    The comment that you made here in this post about how real honey crystallizes within months could cause readers to question honey that they purchase from local bee keepers like ourselves that do not use heavy sugar feeding regimens, antibiotics, pollen patties, and chemicals to control mites and wax moths. We use only natural methods here and very minimal feeding in order to collect the most natural product possible and to date I haven’t seen any of our honey crystalize. I think the subject deserves a bit more research.

    • We raise bees too and notice that our honey crystallizes faster when we plant sunflowers that year. Lots of factors in there but generally I get her intentions to help people be aware of spotting adulterated honey. I even have a hard time discerning real and fake at times just by looks because of everything that can effect it! Go with your gut feeling though and definitely buy local!

    • Somehow I did not see this comment until today, so sorry for the delay. I don’t know why exactly your honey has not crystallized in four years, and I even searched online to try to find someone who could explain it, but everyone says that real honey crystallizes with months, and sometimes even days. If that honey did not crystallize, it means it is primarily fructose because glucose is the sugar in honey that crystallizes. This is why honey that has been diluted with corn syrup does not crystallize — because corn syrup is fructose.

  2. Real honey will crystallize faster if in smaller jars- and it also depends upon where it is stored. Most will store it in a cabinet near the stove area where it will remain warm- warmth will prevent crystalization
    I agree just buy from a local farm we need to support them not the big mass producers

  3. Thank you for sharing. Ive noticed the color of the honey varies. Is this normal? Our last jar from a local farm was very light in color and the current jar from the same farm is much darker. We go through honey pretty quick so it doesn’t get a chance to crystallize.
    Also, what does it take to have your own hive? Can one do it on a tight budget?

    • The color of honey can vary based upon the pollen that the bees collect.

      If you want to do it on a budget, I’d suggest doing a top bar because that’s pretty easy to make yourself, and you don’t have to buy any comb for it, as the bees make their own.


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