In rather surprising news today, Food Safety News is reporting that most honey sold in US grocery stores is not really honey. What?? Apparently, our honey is undergoing a process called ultra-filtration to remove the pollen. The problem with no pollen is that there is no way to tell where the honey came from since the honey’s “footprint” is gone. In fact, according to the report, even the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) says that any product that has been ultra filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. Food Safety News explains the process of ultra-filtering and why it is being done:

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 purchased more than 60 types of honey sold in 10 US states. The honey was analyzed for pollen. The results are rather shocking:

  • 76% of samples purchased in grocery stores had all pollen removed
  • 100% purchased at drug stores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS had no pollen
  • 77% of honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart had no pollen

Grocery store honey labeled as organic fared better with 5 of the 7 samples containing heavy pollen. The good news?  Every sample bought at farmers market, co-ops, natural food stores, and Trader Joe’s had the full amount of pollen.

So why is pollen being ultra-filtered? One supplier said that it is because shoppers want their honey “crystal clear.” However, beekeepers maintain that traditional filtering will catch bee parts, wax and debris from hives (the visible contaminants) but will still leave the pollen in the honey. Another honey packer explained that grocery stores want processed honey because it is more shelf stable and lasts longer.  While this might be partially true, Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, thinks there is an entirely different reason to ultra-filter honey which is far more sinister:

“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.

Ouch. Food Safety News also reported back in August that a ban on Asian honey in Europe is causing a flooding of the Asian honey here in the US. This is scary.

Honey is the oldest known sweetener and for thousands of years has been used to treat a variety of ailments. By removing the pollen and heating the honey we are stripping away the benefits and creating yet another highly processed sweetener.  But it goes beyond health benefits as it is also a safety issue. If the majority of our honey comes from unknown sources, who knows what’s in our honey.

Also see: How to Choose a Sweetener Infographic

At the store: buy only raw, unfiltered honey. Bonus points for buying local honey (hey, you might even get some of the allergy benefits too!).  If you consume honey, please read the full report from Food Safety News. They go on to explain what’s wrong with Chinese honey (I’ll give you a hint – it involves contamination and illegal animal antibiotics) and point out the FDA’s lack of action in this area of food safety and truthful labeling. We applaud their efforts to expose the truth about honey and urging regulators to act.

Image: anolobb via Flickr