A Taste of Honey By
There was no Boogie Oogie Oogie about this news:
A test at Texas A & M revealed that 76% of the honey purchased for sample at major grocery stores contained no pollen. It gets worse. They picked up samples at big drug stores and found that none of the honey purchased contained any pollen. If you grab a pack of honey on those frequent trips to Mickey D’s or the breakfast chain, you might as well eat the napkin. No pollen.
Part of the test was a lark. Vaughn Bryant is an anthropologist, a palynologist (he studies pollen and spores in fossils), and a melissopalynologist. That last one means that he looks at pollen in honey and determines where it came from. Now THAT’S a specialty. He wanted to find out where the stuff was coming from and the existing tests were very expensive took months to see results.
We told you before about the benefits of local honey. Good, local honey contains pollen from the very flowers that make you sneeze during allergy seasons. Eating the honey helps you to build a resistance to those pollens. And it tastes good.
So why would your store-bought bear contain no honey?
Many manufacturers put their honey through extensive filtering processes. They say that U.S. consumers want crystal clear honey. OK. They also say that they want to remove bee parts, wax, and debris from the hives. Fair enough.
Removing the pollen also makes it impossible to determine where the honey came from.
Much of the commercial honey purchased in the United States comes from India, Vietnam, and China. The Chinese honey, in particular, is of questionable quality.
In 2001 the Federal Trade Commission lobbed heavy taxes at the Chinese because they were flooding the market with cheap honey. In addition to putting the squeeze on American beekeepers, their honey contained chemicals, antibiotics, and even high fructose corn syrup (isn’t honey supposed to be sweet?). They’ve gotten around these tariffs with a two-fold scheme: Ship the honey to another country where it can be relabeled and sold, and filter the bejesus out of it.
Most honey producers filter their product. It is only natural that you would not want a little bee leg in your tea. What is rendering your honey pollen-free is ultra-filtration. Ultra-filtration uses immense pressure to force a liquid through a membrane. If you make the membrane tight enough, you can filter out just about anything, down to the macromolecular size. Sneaky.
Honey comes in a wide variety of looks, consistencies, and flavors. This variety comes from the plants that the bees have been visiting. If the bees were close to fields of clover, then you should taste the clover. If they were partying by the orange grove then you should get some citrus. Beekeepers can control where the bees go about as well as they can hold back the tide. It is the guys putting it into the little plastic bears that are to blame.
Most of the honey that you see in the grocery stores and Walmarts of the world are processed by a few big companies. The biggest is Sue Bee. They’re actually the Sioux Honey Association. The Association combines the fruits of bee labor from over 300 members, but they declined to tell Dr. Bryant who or where the members were. They label about 60 million pounds of honey each year, half under their own Sue Bee, Clover Maid, Aunt Sue and Natural Pure brands and about half under store labels like Safeway, Kroger, and Super-Valu. Their web site says that they have a “long history of providing one of the world’s purest foods to customers around the world”. Pretty pure: Sue Bee, Natural Pure, Safeway, and Kroger were on the list of brands that contained no pollen.
This is why we like our stuff from Bearer Farms. They’re right out the road in Louisa, they don’t do anything fancy to their honey, and they love their bees. Unlike a lot of our stuff, it’s not labeled “organic”. They understand that bees like to roam and the folks at Bearer Farms can’t vouch for the practices of their neighbors. They do know, however, that the placement of their hives determines the flavor of their honey. Bees down by the river fly one way; bees up on the hill fly another. How do they know? They taste it.