Most Honey Sold in US Grocery Stores is Not Honey

a spoonful of honey

According to a study done by Food Safety News, three-quarters of the honey sold in the US is not proper honey.

What this means is that the honey sold is missing pollen. This is a product of ultra-filtering the honey, which is unnecessary, reduces nutrition and is only used to obfuscate the source of the honey.

Why would you cover the source of the honey? It’s a complex mix of economics and food policy that too often results in illicit honey from China and other countries making its way into the United States. It’s not that the honey from these countries is inherently bad, but it can be, and has been in the past.

What is proper honey?

Honey naturally contains a certain amount of pollen from the flowers from which bees get nectar.

According to US standards, any product that’s been filtered so much that it no longer contains pollen cannot be labelled as honey. Such a product would also flunk tests used by other world food safety organizations to determine the legitimacy of the honey.

Why is honey ultra-filtered?

Honey is normally filtered to remove things like bee parts that consumers do not want in their honey. This is normal and acceptable. Turns out most people don’t like to see legs and wings in their honey. (However, the best honey I’ve ever had had bee parts in it…)

Honey is ultra-filtered to remove pollen so that its origin cannot be traced. This may not seem like a big deal, but there have been problems with honey from China (both economical and food safety-wise), and honey is laundered from China through other countries to the United States and somewhere in the middle, the pollen is filtered out solely so that its origin cannot be traced.

“There is only one reason to ultra-filter honey and there’s nothing good about it.”

-Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association

Ultra-filtering diminishes the quality of the honey, removing a key component and nutritional value, and no reputable source of honey would do this.

What is the FDA doing?

Chinese honey is heavily tariffed because its low prices were putting American bee keepers out of business. This is why it is laundered, like a black market for honey.

The FDA put little resources into ensuring honey safety and quality. Pollen analysis is the only sure way to determine the origin of honey, and fewer than five laboratories do such analysis…and it is not cheap.

An example of a result of this inaction is that laundered Chinese honey, which was contaminated with antibiotics and other chemicals, was found to have been distributed by Smuckers and Sara Lee several years back.

It is suspected that less than 5 percent of honey imports are ever checked…so they are not doing enough. You are on your own.

“I don’t know of any U.S. producer that would want to [ultra-filter honey]. 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.”

“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.”
-Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association

Time for the results

The bad

  • 76 percent of samples bought at major grocery stores had all the pollen removed
  • 100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores had no pollen
  • 77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores had all of the pollen filtered out
  • 100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions had no pollen

The good

  • All of the honey from farmers’ market, co-ops and natural stores contained the expected amounts of pollen

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by land_camera

Source: Food Safety News

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About the Author

I spent the last five years earning my PhD in Engineering. I enjoy all types of science and writing, so I am trying out a new career path in science publication and communication. Recently, I have moved to Oxford, England. As an environmentally-conscious person, Oxford is a great place to live...notably there is no car required. I love to talk about vegan cooking, plant-based diets and the benefits of such, so just ask if you are interested. I do ballet for fun and love kitties.
  • THANK YOU!!! I’m so tired of grocery stores telling me our honey looks like ___! They constantly comment on how cloudy our honey is. When I try to explain it’s not filtered, they just don’t care. All they care about is getting the clearest looking light yellow honey at the cheapest cost possible. And there are packers out there that are obliging! Thank you for helping to educate the common honey consumer.

    • Ace

      Sue Bee, Groeb, and the other big boys out there control the entire market. Big business makes it own rules for profitability and thus you get what you get. When as a country you consume 500 Million lbs a year and can only produce 120 million lbs what do you think is going to happen?

  • Author here. I pennedf The Healing Powers of Honey (Oct. 2011, Kensington). I discuss “funny honey” in my book. Also, I was lucky to visit a beekeeper and taste fresh nectar–an awesome experience. I discuss different varietals, brands, and the best type of honey to give you the best antioxidant powers.