Did you know a lot of supermarket honey is not really honey at all?
A number of pests and diseases affecting bees in various parts of the world has resulted in a shortage of honey. The lack of supply has led to the development of cheaper alternatives, which are widely distributed. For consumers, this means there’s a chance many of us have bought golden coloured syrup thinking it was real honey… when it isn’t.
Artificial varieties of honey are made of sugar syrup that tastes similar to real honey, but it is actually a tasty illusion and far less nutritionally valuable. Fake honey is commercially processed to the extreme—heated to high temperatures, which destroys the wealth of nutrients it had when fresh out of the hive. After the heat blast, it’s diluted with water (it’s cheaper for producers this way) and then sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose and molasses to make it more like natural honey.
Even the valuable pollen (that real honey is naturally blessed with), is removed through the fake honey production process, resulting in further loss of nutritional goodness.
Real honey is made by honeybees. These intriguing creatures use their long tongues like straws to suck the nectar out of the flowers, where it is stored in what is known as their ‘honey stomachs’.
After visiting between 100 and 1,500 flowers to fill their stomachs, they return to the hive and pass the nectar onto other worker bees. These bees then chew the nectar (literally) and pass it mouth-to-mouth from bee to bee until its moisture content is significantly reduced. During the chewing process, bees’ enzymes break down the complex sugars in the nectar into simple sugars. This makes it more digestible for the bees and less likely to be attacked by bacteria while it is stored within the hive. It is also the chewing process that imbues the honey with anti-bacterial properties.
Finally, the honey is placed in storage cells and capped with beeswax—ready for the arrival of newborn baby bees. Honey isn’t just great for the newborn bees though, the antioxidants and anti- inflammatory properties are incredible, which is one of the reasons people love honey so much. It is also great for dressing wounds and treating minor burns, and widely used as a cough suppressant and immunity booster.
Bee trivia: it takes 300 bees about three weeks to gather 450 grams of honey, and on average, a hive contains 40,000 bees. Although honeybees only live for 6 - 7 weeks, they work tirelessly throughout their short lives to make honey for their hive.
How to identify real honey from fake honey
• Check the label for additives, such high-fructose corn syrup—honey with this additive always stays in a liquid form, where real honey crystallizes over time.
• Check to see if it’s a local product from an apiary near you. Buy direct from the producer if you can!
• Drop some honey into a glass of tap water. If it dissolves right away, it’s fake. Real honey takes a fair amount of stirring to dissolve.
• Taste it! Real honey is beautifully sweet, often combining flavours from various flowers and herbs. Fake honey tastes sweet, but lacks the rich, natural sweetness of real honey, although there is often a mild, honey-like taste (but don’t let that trick you!).
At the Golden Plains Farmers’ Market, you can buy real honey from the Des O’Toole Honey stall.