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Honey has long been hailed as a healthy addition to our diets. Many claims are made for health benefits from honey and associated products such as royal jelly or propolis.
But glance along the shelves of any supermarket or health food shop and you may feel bewildered by the range of products available, and confused by the differences between them. After all, honey is honey, isn’t it? It’s that delicious sweet stuff that bees make.
Some of the labels you may see used to describe honey are: pure, raw, or organic. What do these all mean, and is the difference important?
When you are buying honey there are number of things you want to bear in mind. Firstly, the type of honey you want. This usually refers to the plants that the bees have feasted on, for example acacia or lavender.
Different types of nectar give a different look and flavour to the honey. They will also vary in sugar content. Honeys that are higher in glucose will go cloudy and set more quickly than those which are higher in fructose, which will remain clear and runny for longer.
Then consider whether you want a pure honey or one that has added ingredients such as ginger or cinnamon. Not only will these extra ingredients change the flavour, but they will add another dimension to the health properties.
In some places honey may have other ingredients added such as glucose, dextrose, molasses, sugar syrup, or corn syrup.
These ingredients are not beneficial to your health, so you should check that the honey you buy is either pure or only has healthy ingredients added.
If you want to make an informed choice about the honey you buy then you need to understand the differences between pure, raw or organic. As stated above pure means the product is 100% honey with nothing added.
But what about raw and organic. Are they the same thing? Raw honey means that it has not been processed.
It is honey exactly as it comes from the hive. Most large-scale commercially available honey has been pasteurised (heat treated above 45°) and filtered.
These processes can remove the beneficial antimicrobial properties of raw honey.
Pasteurised honey tends to crystallise more slowly giving it the benefit of a longer shelf life in its liquid state. Sometimes consumers may think that crystallised honey has had sugar added or is past its best.
Large producers tend to sell honey that has been blended from different sources, rather than single flower types, and so they may prefer to pasteurise their honey to rule out any health risks.
Organic honey comes from bees that feed on organically grown flowers. In addition, the hives will not be treated with chemical pesticides to kill any mites or other pests that may infect the bees.
The honey bees are not fed on substances such as sugar water through the winter, and aren’t given antibiotics. Any honey labelled as organic must be produced in a way that conforms to the standards of the certifying body in their country.
You have probably realised by now that just because honey is labelled as pure it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s either raw or organic. Honey produced by different beekeepers may or may not be pure, can be raw but not organic, or organic but not raw.
To get the best support for your health, therefore, you should be looking for raw organic honey that is either pure or has added ingredients that boost its goodness.
Now you know something about what to look for on the label, you can enjoy expereimenting with different flavours and enjoy all the health benefits of natural honey.