There’s no need to go into the wonderful health benefits of eating honey here; most people have heard how great honey is for our various health systems. Most everyone also knows honey is flavored by the region it is harvested, in the same way wine grapes are changed by their growing environment, or how an oyster’s flavor is altered by water temperature.
What many people don’t know is the honey you believe you are buying may have many of the properties you want removed. Heating honey during bottling is a common practice among beekeepers and commercial honey processors. Many of the commercial honey processors heat the honey up to 170° which helps the honey flow through filters more quickly, prevents honey from hardening in your cabinet, and also makes it clearer in the bottle. Unfortunately, this industry practice also removes most of the healthy reasons you eat honey in the first place. With this pasteurization process comes over-filtering, which removes most or all of the beneficial pollen that helps with our allergies. The clearer product is visually more appealing but is very nutritionally poor compared to the original product.
If you want to buy great tasting and nutritionally beneficial honey, you have three options:
1) You can buy from the grocery store, online, or in a local health food store. When buying store-bought honey, look for honey that is labeled “raw,” is only from the United States (corn syrup turned into honey is common in other countries), and is from your area preferably.
2) Another option is to make friends with a beekeeper. This isn’t as odd as it sounds as beekeepers are everywhere. Urban and suburban beekeeping has really grown since the late 2000’s. You can usually find a beekeeper selling honey on Saturdays at a farmers’ market. The sideline beekeepers will also have a variety of honey available such as creamed honey. Creamed honey is honey that is simply whipped using a mixer and stabilized. It spreads like softened butter, definitely worth asking about. No farmers market? Look online for a beekeeping club in your area. Again they are everywhere. Even Alaska has beekeepers.
3) Your third option is to collect your own honey. You can get into beekeeping for less than $100, and plenty of beekeepers are willing to help you get started. Trust me, there is a really wonderful feeling you get when you swipe your finger across some comb and taste honey, straight from the hive.
Adam Hickman works in the Cooking Light Test Kitchen and as a beekeeper in Birmingham, founding Foxhound Bee Company in 2014.