More than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn't exactly what the bees produce, according to testing done exclusively for Food Safety News.The results show that the pollen frequently has been filtered out of products labeled "honey."The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world's food safety agencies.The food safety divisions of the World Health Organization, the European Commission and dozens of others also have ruled that without pollen there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that's been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn't honey. However, the FDA isn't checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.If you're a mead or honey beer enthusiast, or simply care about your sweetners, read the whole thing.
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 decided to test honey sold in various outlets after its earlier investigation found U.S. groceries flooded with Indian honey banned in Europe as unsafe because of contamination with antibiotics, heavy metal and a total lack of pollen which prevented tracking its origin.
How concerned should we be about this? It's a good question. On the one hand, the presence or lack of pollen hardly has any actual effect on the actual quality or flavor of the final product. If you're enough of a brewer that you're discriminating between orange blossom and buckwheat honeys, this probably doesn't apply to you. On the other hand, the recent catastrophic price increases in honey have no doubt spurred much of the above behavior--five-gallon (typically 60-pound) buckets of honey that cost under a hundred dollars a dozen years ago now cost in excess of $250.
The Bee Folks, a Mount Airy, Md. apiary that is often seen at festivals and Renaissance Festivals, posted the following on their Facebook page:
UPDATE: More on how to avoid tainted honey. Glad to see my only remaining mass-commercial source for any sort of honey receives a passing grade.