Whole Food Center
THE BUZZ ON BEES
You already know we recommend sourcing your food close to home, but that is especially true when it comes to honey.
According to the Federal Register, much like olive oil, “Honey does not require official inspection in order to carry official USDA grade marks and . . . there are no existing programs that require the official inspection and certification of honey.”
The USDA is slightly specific about what honey is—kinda. They created a voluntary grading system that allows producers to put “Grade A", "Grade B", or "Grade C” on labels, but with a clear lack of enforcement. The formula is predominantly based on color, and scores five specific elements like moisture content and “absence of defects,” but the grading rules skip vitally important factors, such as whether non-honey ingredients (such as corn syrup) can be added. Honey and maple syrup are in a special category, and unlike most every other product it regulates, the USDA allows the use of its grading marks without routine inspection.
These grading and inspection guidelines were put into place in 1985, and as far as I can tell- they haven’t been updated in the 33 years that have passed since their enactment.
Organic Doesn’t Matter
Organic standards are dubious at best, but actual organic production of honey is nigh impossible to control because bees roam as they please and choose plants that may or may not have been organically farmed. Also, “100%” is a widely misused food label term that often means a particular ingredient, not the entire product, is 100 percent something.
For large scale honey production, that “organic” label is especially suspect. From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “Major supermarkets offer dozens of different brands, sizes, types and flavors of honey for sale. Consumers might walk away with the finest-tasting, highest-quality honey there is. Or they could end up with an unlabeled blend, adulterated with impossible-to-detect cheap sweeteners or illegal antibiotics.”
The China Problem:
Reports of counterfeit honey, made with glucose and just enough actual honey to give it flavor, plus the occasional body parts of bees to make it look authentic, date to at least 1881.
Pollen content in honey is important for more than just nutritional reasons. Pollen can be tested to confirm where the plants the bees fed on were grown. It is effectively the honey's signature.
Although the importation of Chinese honey was banned specifically because it is so often adulterated, ultra-filtration processes are used to remove the pollen content from the honey, which is then transshipped and sometimes mixed with a small amount of pollinated honey to throw off testers.
When asked why the pollen is removed, Mark Jensen, former president and current executive commitee member of the American Honey Producers Association said this:
“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.
Richard Adee, a U.S. honey producer and AHPA board member who keeps 80,000 hives said:
“There is only one reason to ultra-filter honey and there’s nothing good about it. It’s no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China.”
Sometimes Chinese honey is cut with much cheaper corn syrup or fructose syrup to enhance profit margins, and sometimes Chinese producers even feed corn syrup to the bees to get it into the honey more “naturally.”
Martin Stutsman of the FDA told USA Today that cane sugar or high-fructose corn syrup used to be most commonly used to thin honey. A simple isoptope test would spot the impurity leading counterfeiters to switch to beet sugar syrups, whose isotopic structures are more similar to honey. The FDA then switched to a much more complicated test. “But once we started catching people, they create a moving target. They’ll switch to something more difficult (to detect),” said Stutsman.
At least sugar substitutes like corn syrup and beet sugar aren’t poisonous. That’s not the case with chloramphenicol, a powerful antibiotic that can lead to a potentially fatal bone marrow disorder called aplastic anemia, which is banned in the United States for food use. It is a common contaminant in adulterated Chinese honey. In 2001, Chinese beekeepers experienced an epidemic of a fatal bacterial disease of honey bee broods caused by the spore forming bacterium Paenibacillus larvae, called foulbrood disease, which ravaged their hives. They fought off the disease with strong animal antibiotics, including chloramphenicol. The FDA confiscated $32,000 worth of imported Chinese honey that was contaminated with this drug.
While the import of Chinese honey is banned, its price difference is big enough to make it worthwhile for smugglers to relabel and transship. One German honey distributor did this kind of illegal transshipment for seven years, obscuring and importing some eighty million dollars worth of banned and sometimes adulterated Chinese honey into the United States before getting caught. “Chinese honey was often harvested early and dried by machine rather than bees,” reported Businessweek. “This allowed the bees to produce more honey, but the honey often had an odor and taste similar to sauerkraut. Fan [a worker] was told to mix sugar and syrup into the honey in Taiwan to dull the pungent flavor.” Just as with the transshipped banned Chinese shrimp that went via Indonesia—also contaminated with dangerous and for- bidden drugs—investigators noticed a sudden spike in honey imports from Indonesia, Malaysia, and India after banning Chinese honey. The scam was so large that honey exports suddenly totaled more than those three countries produce annually, combined. Rhis operation was the single largest incident of food fraud in our country’s history.
More accurately, it is the largest case where someone actually got caught.
Import Genius, a private shipping intelligence service, searched its databases of all U.S. Customs import data for Food Safety News and provided a telling breakdown of the 208 million pounds of honey imported to the US in 2010-11:
– About 48 million pounds came from trusted and usually reliable suppliers in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Uruguay and Mexico.
– Almost 60 percent of what was imported – 123 million pounds – came from Asian countries – traditional laundering points for Chinese honey. This included 45 million pounds from India alone.
“This should be a red flag to FDA and the federal investigators. India doesn’t have anywhere near the capacity – enough bees – to produce 45 million pounds of honey. It has to come from China,” said Adee, who also is a past president of the American Honey Producers Association.
“There are still millions of pounds of transshipped Chinese honey coming in the U.S. and it’s all coming now from India and Vietnam and everybody in the industry knows that,” said Elise Gagnon, president of Odem International, a worldwide trading house that specializes in bulk raw honey.
The FDA says it has regulations prohibiting foods banned in other countries from entering the U.S. However, the agency said last month that it “would not know about honey that has been banned from other countries …”
Data received by FSN from an international broker in India in 2011 showed that within a month 16 shipments – more than 688,000 pounds – of honey went from the Chinese port of Nansha in Guangzhou China to Little Bee Honey in India. Import Genius scanned its database and found that at least six shipments of the honey went from Little Bee to the port of Los Angeles. The honey had the same identification numbers of the honey shipped from China.
Our honey comes from the Davis family in Cayuga Lake, NY. Their family business is on it’s fourth generation of beekeeping. They offer seasonal varietals, always packed in glass (honey is packed hot, and plastic containers can leach unwanted compounds such as BPA into the sweet, sweet goodness). Their royal jelly, bee pollen and propolis are second to none. We feel very lucky to have found this wonderful small business. You can also find them at the Rochester farmer’s market- tell them Rooted Nutrition sent you.
Manuka honey comes from bees that feed on nectar from the flowers of Manuka (Leptospermum scoparium). Manuka is a scrub-type tree native to New Zealand and parts of Australia and only flowers for about 4 months of the year, making for a short and intense harvest season.
Manuka honey has been getting a lot of attention in recent years for its potential antibacterial and healing qualities. It is often used as a natural remedy for a variety of ailments from treating wounds and burns to clearing up acne and improving digestive health.
If you’ve shopped around for manuka honey you’ve probably noticed it’s pretty expensive stuff. In fact, depending on the grade you get, it can be over 6 times the price of regular table honey.
A 2014 investigation in the United Kingdom, where manuka honey is especially popular, found that just one of seven brands in supermarkets labeled as such was the real thing.
One of the issues the manuka honey industry is facing right now are the numerous quality grading systems honey producers use to convey the ‘quality’ of their product. It can be confusing for consumers to compare manuka honey between different brands because the grading systems do not measure quality in the same way.
Manuka Honey produced in New Zealand is typically sent to one of two independent labs to be tested for dietary Methylglyoxal (MG or MGO). The value of the honey when sold from producer to packer is directly proportional to this test result. Manuka honey should either be labeled with the actual MG test results (in mg/kg), or with a correlated rating on the UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) scale. The UMF trademark must be on the jar if they are using a UMF rating instead of the actual MG test result. Honey labeled with the UMF logo and rating is also tested for two additional chemical markers (HMF & Leptosperin). The relationship between MG & UMF is as follows (after threshold HMF and Leptosperin levels are met):
If your Manuka honey label includes: “Active”, “Bio-Active”, “Total Activity ”, “K-Factor ” plus a number typically ranging from 5+ to 20+, the company is trying to intentionally mislead you into thinking you are getting a high MG (or legitimate UMF) honey when in reality you are typically getting a very low-value multi-floral honey that may contain a little Manuka, if you are lucky.
Most consumers are shocked to learn that 80% of the purported Manuka honey in the US market consists of these bogus brands:
Wedderspoon Manuka Honey
Wedderspoon invented and uses the ‘KFactor’ grading system for their manuka honey. KFactor conveys purity of the honey by measuring the percentage of pollen in the honey that is manuka pollen. For example, 65% of the pollen in their KFactor 12 Manuka Honey is manuka pollen.
This does not convey the NPA of the manuka honey! Even if the honey were to contain 100% manuka pollen, that doesn’t automatically mean the honey has NPA.
In the world of manuka honey, purity and quality are very different things.
Manuka Doctor gives their manuka honey a ‘Bio Active’ rating. This grading system is actually a step up from the KFactor grading system in that it measures the peroxide antibacterial activity of the honey. Seems reasonable, right? Almost, but not quite. The problem is that this still gives us no insight into the non-peroxide activity of the manuka honey. Peroxide activity is not something that is unique to manuka honey. All honey can have peroxide activity. What makes manuka honey so valuable is its non-peroxide activity. Peroxide activity in honey breaks down very rapidly once it comes into contact with human saliva or blood. In other words, once the honey is consumed or placed on an open cut, it loses its antibacterial strength very quickly. The NPA in manuka honey doesn’t break down like hydrogen peroxide and its antibacterial activity is much more resilient when it comes into contact with saliva or blood. Close, but no cigar.
Trader Joe’s doesn’t really even use a rating system for their manuka honey. All they have on their product label is the number ’10+’. What does that even mean..? Presumably, this is supposed to convey the antibacterial activity of their honey but without any further explanation it really doesn’t mean anything.
Check out our Manuka Honey Center to learn more about this amazing food.
Royal jelly is a gelatinous substance produced by honey bees to feed the queen bees and their young. It’s frequently sold as a dietary supplement to treat a variety of physical ailments and chronic diseases. Royal jelly breaks down quickly and therefore needs constant refrigeration- only purchase royal jelly in glass that has been stored and transported cold, never in capsules or other pill forms. Royal jelly is a nutrient-dense whole food that contains water, carbs, protein, fat, B vitamins and trace minerals. Some of the vitamins typically present in royal jelly include:
Pantothenic acid (B5)
Bee pollen is a mixture of flower pollen, nectar, enzymes, honey, wax and bee secretions. Foraging honey bees collect pollen from plants and transport it to the beehive, where it’s stored and used as food for the colony. Bee pollen is very popular in the health community because it contains more than 250 active compounds including proteins, carbs, lipids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants. The pollen’s nutritional content depends on the plant source and season collected. For instance, studies have shown that bee pollen collected from pine plants has approximately 7% protein, while pollen collected from date palm packs closer to 35% protein. Like royal jelly, bee pollen breaks down very quickly and requires constant refrigeration - only purchase bee pollen in glass that has been stored and transported cold, never in capsules or other pill forms.