As humans, we take delight in satisfying our sweet tooth. As sugars have become more accessible and inexpensive, they inevitably end up in a high percentage of processed foods. Recently, the search for alternative, healthy sugars has intensified, leading many people to honey. Not just any honey, though: raw honey.
Raw honey is pure and unprocessed, in comparison to the pasteurized “big box” honey available to us in many markets. Pasteurization, in an attempt to kill what is presumably bad particles in the raw honey, strips out all the pollen in order to slow down crystallization. Crystallization is an attribute of pure and natural honey, however, and the process of pasteurization kills some of the flavors of the honey.
“Crystallization is not a bad thing,” says Steve Berg, owner and operator of Little Bend Heritage Farm in Chatfield. “It has no bearing on the quality of the honey.” Berg has made a jump from one hive to 15 hives since he started beekeeping roughly three
Chris Schad, biologist and beekeeper at The Bee Shed in Rochester, agrees. “People in the US seem to think crystalized honey has gone bad, and that most certainly is not the case. In fact, overall, Europeans seem to prefer crystalized honey, but much of the US is still in the state of mind that honey in liquid form is the only form.”
What is crystallization?
Honey is extremely high in sugar and low in water content. All honey will eventually crystalize if left alone, but some will crystalize faster than others entirely based on the glucose to fructose to water content in each individual batch.
Crystallization also depends on what elements make up the honey. Seeds, pollen and beeswax all affect the speed at which honey will crystalize. Raw honey contains some or all of these elements, whereas pasteurized honey has been heated to such a degree as to kill these elements in an attempt to eliminate crystallization.
Crystallized honey is perfectly safe to consume, and many people prefer their honey this way. However, by placing a jar with crystallized honey in a bowl of warm water, the honey will turn to liquid form again.
“When the big name companies prepare their honey, they pasteurize it and are basically stripping out most of the flavor,” says Schad.
Berg adds, “Honey is a superfood, and pasteurizing it it simply takes away many of the benefits. Some companies even add corn syrup to honey.”
Raw honey producers, like Berg and Schad, rarely heat their honey at a temperature higher than 110 degrees, keeping the pollen intact, which means the full taste and health benefits remain in the product.
“We like to keep the honey as close to what it is in the hive,” Schad explains.
So, is there any truth to the theory that local honey helps alleviate allergy symptoms?
Natural remedies suggest that ingesting local pollen desensitizes the immune system to allergy symptoms. While it is wonderful to think you can solve those frustrating allergy symptoms by simply eating local, raw honey, Schad concludes that there really is no proof to the theory.
“A common allergy in our area is ragweed, which is actually pollenated by the wind, not by bees,” he says. “To be honest, a definitive answer is still out there. Nothing is certain.”
There are other huge benefits to this natural product and unprocessed sweetener.
“Bees actually do our work for us to get the sugars ready to be digested. The nectar from plants is a 12 carbon sugar, and bees convert it to a 6 carbon sugar in the hive. Therefore, it is ready to be eaten,” says Schad.
It also is commonly used as an antibiotic for medicinal purposes and is great for a sore throat.
“Finally, people are truly starting to recognize the benefits of raw honey. Not only does it benefit you, but it helps to support the local economy and even helps the plants in your area,” Berg says. He adds, “Even if using honey as a sugar substitute isn’t for you, you must still try Mead, an alcohol made strictly from honey.”