What is Raw Honey?

What is Fake and What is Raw Honey?

There is a great deal of confusion as to what is raw honey, or what raw honey actually is. This is not surprising given that there are so many terms used to describe honey.  This includes descriptions on supermarket packaging, labels on honey in health stores, on restaurant menus and in recipes.

Not only are there many different terms such as raw honey, real honey and natural honey used, there are no real answers given to what they actually mean. So when people are asking “what is raw honey”, they may indeed be asking “what is real honey”, or “what is natural honey”. Sometimes the answer is more easily provided by answering the question of “what is fake honey”.

Raw Honey, Real Honey and Fake Honey

There is a rough hierarchy of different honey types with the top of the hierarchy being 100% genuine natural honey or raw honey.

Starting from the bottom of the hierarchy is fake honey, which is artificial honey and comes itself, in many different forms. Then, moving up the ladder is the honey that most people have in their kitchens which is commercially produced bee honey that has been processed and pasteurised until it is missing a lot of the properties that make honey, honey. Finally getting to the top of the ladder is 100% real honey containing all the goodness, taste and aroma that only nature can provide.

In order to answer the question what is raw honey as clearly as possible, this article:-

  1. First describes what is raw honey and what are the definitions and labels for raw honey.
  2. Secondly, in order to clearly describe what raw honey is not, the question of what is fake honey is answered.
  3. Thirdly, the article provides a description of commercial honey and how this differs from honey as nature created it.
  4. Finally, there is a section on how to recognise raw honey and how to test for raw honey and fake honey.

Raw Honey

In its truest sense raw honey should be honey taken directly from (or in) the honeycomb, untouched by human hands. Most Australian honey sold as raw honey, (whilst as close as you can get to the honeycomb) is however best described as:-

“minimally processed bee honey which still maintains all the natural goodness of honey containing flecks of pollen, royal jelly, propolis and small particles of wax suspended in a viscous honey liquid – and is not adulterated by the addition of other ingredients or substances or the removal of components beneficial to people.”

Within the Australian honey industry (and those in the bee-know) the description above is generally accepted as answering the question “what is raw honey” as the honey comes directly from the hives and there is minimal processing.  The minimal processing ensures that the honey still contains the valuable properties of natural bee honey.  This includes all the health benefits of this delicious, nutritious food created by nature. When a recipe calls for raw honey this is the type of honey they are recommending.

This definition above of raw honey, is actually more precise than the only definition by any authority of raw honey (as to what is raw honey).  This authoritative definition is provided by the US National Honey Board. The US National Honey Board defines raw honey as

“honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat.”

fake vs real honey

Now that we have some idea as to what is raw honey, we look at what is fake honey.  Fake honey is at the opposite end of the scale in terms of authentic honey created by mother nature.

Fake Honey

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSAMZ) defines honey (not what is raw honey, just what is honey) as:

“the natural sweet substance produced by honey bees from nectar of blossoms, which bees transform themselves within the beehive into honey.” 

There are some ‘honey’ products on the market which are not real honey at all.  Many of these products coming from Asia. Recently, such a product was spotted by the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC).  When this honey was tested it proved to be C4 sugars (likely corn syrup) rather than the honey sugar classification of C3. This SBS article entitled “When Honey Isn’t Honey” makes for interesting reading about this.

What is Fake Honey?

Fake honey comes in many forms:-

  1. It may not even contain bee honey but rather glucose syrups, inverted sugar solutions (from refined sugar) or corn, cane or beet syrup.
  2. It may contain a mix of bee honey and the cheaper cane or other syrups which is added to increase the volume of the honey, reduce the cost and price in an attempt to increase sales of the ‘honey’.
  3. Fake honey often has a high composition of water, diluting the honey, again used to increase the volume of the ‘honey’ and hence profits.
  4. It usually has added artificial or synthetic ingredients such as dyes and flavour enhancers.
  5. Fake honey is not healthy like real honey. It also does not have the natural flavour, texture and aroma of real honey. In fact, fake honey can have a sour odour or no smell at all and usually contains refined sugars. These sugars are very different to the natural sugars contained in raw honey.

In effect , fake honey is made in a factory rather than by nature.

Commercially Produced Honey

Raw honey, as noted before, is also often referred to as ‘pure honey’, ‘real honey’ or ‘natural honey’. The big difference between raw honey and most of the honey sold in the supermarket is that most supermarket honey has been heated to very high temperatures and has been filtered to a very low micron level.

Supermarkets require this treatment by their suppliers because the heating slows or stops the crystalisation process whilst the filtering removes any “specks” from the honey. Unfortunately, for discerning shoppers, these treatments also have a negative impact.

The Honey Filtration Process

Filtered honey, is honey that has had, through the process of filtration removed all the fine particles that are found suspended in raw honey. These include pollen grains, wax and propolis. More often than not, heat is also used in the process of filtration as it makes the process quicker by allowing it to pass through the filter faster as it is in a more liquid form.

real australian honey

The Honey Pasturisation Process

The process of pasturing is the heating of honey to a temperature that destroys the natural properties of the honey including eliminating many of the phytonutrients of raw honey and thus removing most if not all potential health benefits of the honey.

Many large commercial packers of honey use heat in the filtration process (as described above) and to prevent crystalisation.

They also use pasteurisation and filtration to make the honey look cleaner and more attractive on the shelf. Also, reduced viscosity due to the honey being warmer, makes honey easier to handle and package.

However, heating honey in this manner not only kills rich nutrients in the raw honey but pasteurisation also reduces the flavour.  Pasteurisation also removesthe original heavenly scent of genuine honey. Thus pasturised honey no longer has the elements that make it raw honey.

Commercially produced honey is a refined facsimile of real honey.

Real Honey from Australian Beekeepers

If you buy raw honey produced by beekeepers such as AB’s Honey in Brisbane, this will be bee honey extracted from local Australian hives and minimally processed.  The honey retains the natural ingredients of honey (pollen, wax, propolis and royal jelly) and thus providing nature’s true benefits of 100% real nutritious honey.

pure honey from simply honey

What is the Minimal Processing of Raw Honey?

In case you are wondering is meant by minimal processing, it is the gentle low temperature warming of the honey. This allows the honey to flow sufficiently enough for bottling. A light straining may also be used to remove larger particles.  These particles may have been also collected at the time of extracting the honey.  Particles include leaves and other non-honey debris. As stated above this minimal processing does not change the natural composition of the honey. It maintains all the natural health benefits, the nutritional value.  It also maintains the delicious taste, the wonderful aroma and texture that only comes with 100% natural, pure raw honey.

How to Recognise Raw Honey

Compared to commercially produced honey, raw honey may have a slightly cloudy appearance as it contains fine textured crystals, particles of honeycomb and flecks of pollen. Depending on the variety (the species of tree the nectar was predominantly sourced from) of honey, raw honey may begin to crystalise during storage in the pantry. Some will begin to crystalise within weeks such as Yapunya or Canola.  Others may take months (Macadamia or Tea Tree), whilst others will take years (Yellow Box and many Eucalypts). During this process the raw honey will start to cloud and crystalise gaining a more granular texture which many people prefer.

How to Test if Your Honey is Fake or Raw

Listed below are four different ways to test if your honey is fake honey or raw honey.

  1. Drop a teaspoon of honey into a glass of water. Fake honey will immediately start to dissolve, whilst raw honey will drop to the bottom of the glass intact.
  2. Place a drop of room temperature or cooler honey on your finger,  If the ‘honey’ spreads then it is fake honey. If it holds its composition and remains a drop, then it is raw true honey.
  3. If you have had your honey for some time and it remains a syrup then it may be fake honey.  Most real honey crystalises over time.
  4. Finally, dip an unlit matchstick into your honey.  Remove it, and strike it to see if it will light. A matchstick dipped in raw honey will light with the flame burning off the honey. A matchstick dipped in fake honey will not successfully strike.  This is because there is too much moisture in the ‘honey’.

Quality Australian Raw Honey

Now that you know what is raw honey and you would like to try some quality Australian raw honey, your best bet is to buy honey produced and supplied by Australian beekeepers. The products available from this Simply Honey online honey store are sourced from AB’s Honey who are renowned beekeepers and packers of exclusively Australian, exceptional quality raw, real and natural Australian honey.

You may wish to try our Manuka Honey  which is the strongest we have found on the market. At 900+ methylglyoxal, it is very strong and is premium quality Australian Manuka Honey. Our range of table honey includes Ironbark Honey  Tea Tree Honey and Yellow Box Honey as well as some delicious honey mixes such as Honey and Cinnamon and Vanilla Honey.

If you are seeking real raw honeycomb we have this available as well.

The quality real honey and honey products available at this online honey shop are also available for sale at Jan Powers Farmers Markets in George Street in the CBD every Wednesday (but not including Public Holidays or the month of January) and also at Jan Powers Farmers Markets at Mitchelton on the first Sunday of the month.

what is raw honey