How to spot real honey from the fake


Those jars and honey bears full of golden liquid are mostly not honey at all. It’s just syrup that tastes something like the real thing.

Commercial processed honey has been heated to high temperatures, which destroys the wealth of nutrients it had when fresh out of the hive. It’s often diluted with water and high-fructose corn syrup to make it more manageable – and to stretch the product out. Its valuable pollen is taken out by forcing it through tiny filters. The result: a liquid that’s pretty to look at but is pretty much dead.

Did you know you can set up your own beehive in your garden? Karin showed us how here. That’s a surefire way to get real honey, almost on tap.

The pollen backstory

Pollen is the part of the honey which can be traced back to its country of origin. If honey suppliers have an interest in hiding the product’s source, they make sure no pollen remains in it. China, whose merchants seem to have no value for human health and safety,  flooded USA markets with cheap, processed honey, putting American beekeepers in jeopardy. It’s honey whose valuable friendly bacteria, vitamins and enzymes have been cooked out in processing. Even worse for the consumer, it’s sometimes contaminated with animal antibiotics.

The fake honey of the USA

The Federal Trade Commission in the US slapped a high importation tax on Chinese honey in 2001 but the manufacturers found a way to keep selling fake honey to Americans. They remove the pollen – which is the element that proves country of origin in lab tests. The process also cooks out all nutritional value.Then they ship the denatured honey to countries not subject to the American tax, changing the documentation and packaging to make it pass for not Chinese.

This fake honey is still bought by big supermarket chains to re-package and put on their shelves with the label “Pure Honey” on it.

That’s the US. Where else is fake honey sold? I’d say that most commercial honeys anywhere, especially ones packaged with supermarket logos on the labels, are processed junk. Even here in the land of milk and honey (in Israel), I walk right past industrial brands. They’re good enough to flavor honey cake or honey cookies, but for real honey with nutritious and medicinal value, I head out to the health food store or visit the apiary in the next town.

An advantage to buying from apiaries (see my visit to a local apiary and how I got swarmed here) is that they carry varieties unavailable in supermarkets. Near where I live, there’s an apiary that offers some 15 varieties, including honey from onion flowers. That one, and eucalyptus honey, are popular with Russian immigrants, who appreciate its highly antiviral, antibacterial properties.

Try this honey purity test. You’ll be amazed to see how raw honey when added to water creates a beehive structure when stirred:

What’s so great about honey as medicine?

Due to its antioxidant properties, raw honey can heal wounds, even minor burns (in a pinch). While a bad burn or wound should be treated by a qualified practitioner, it’s useful to know that a dab of honey will dry up a pimple overnight or can be applied for soothing and healing to the sort of burns you can get on your arms when taking a hot tray out of the oven. Honey has been used in home-made cough remedies for centuries. Science is now proving what folk medicine has always known: raw honey boosts immunities.

How can you identify real honey from the fake?

  • Check the label.  If the label states the name and contact details of an apiary close to home, you’ve likely to have the real thing in your hands. Also, labels that reveal the presence of additives reveal fake honey.
  • Real honey crystallizes over time, while honey diluted with high-fructose corn syrup stays pourable forever.
  • Drop a little honey into a small bowl of tap water. If it dissolves right away, it’s fake. Real honey takes a good amount of stirring to melt.
  • Taste it. Can you taste more than one flavor, like different flowers or herbs? That’s real honey. Fake honey only tastes sweet, with a little honey-like flavor.

Our cookbook author friend Nawal Nasralla gave us another tip for telling real honey: “Let a drop fall on sandy ground,” she advises. “If it does not spread but stays like a ball, it is genuine.”

Oddly, a Druze grandfather I spoke to uses the same basic method to test olive oil. Taking a drop between thumb and forefinger, he makes sure it doesn’t ooze and drop away but stays firm and sticky between his fingers. It seems that the real thing not only has character, but body too.

Sweet and Healing, Here’s More Honey:

Image of honey via Shutterstock.

About Miriam Kresh

Miriam Kresh is an American ex-pat living in Israel. Her love of Middle Eastern food evolved from close friendships with enthusiastic Moroccan, Tunisian and Turkish home cooks. She owns too many cookbooks and is always planning the next meal. Miriam can be reached at miriam (at) greenprophet (dot) com.

18 thoughts on “How to spot real honey from the fake

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