Raw Honey: What It Is, And Why It’s Healthier To Use And Eat

You go to an upscale store for some honey, and the jars and bottles are separated into two groups.

The containers in one group are labeled “honey.” The labels on the second group of jars say “raw honey.”

The raw honey is more expensive. But surprisingly, it looks cloudy and seems to have some “stuff” floating around inside.

A perfect appearance usually means the best quality. For example, you’d certainly be willing to pay more for a couch made from solid wood and beautiful leather upholstery, than you would for a sofa made from chipped, manufactured wood and covered in cheap plastic.

It doesn’t work that way with honey.

In many cases it can be a very good idea to pay extra for the cloudy, raw honey. It all depends on why you went to the store for honey in the first place.

Where Raw Honey Comes From

When honeybees return to their hive, they process the nectar they’ve collected until it becomes honey, and then store it in a honeycomb and cover it with beeswax. It stays there until the bees use it for food – unless the hives are located on or near bee farms, where beekeepers will harvest the natural honey it before bees can eat it.

The thick, gooey substance that comes straight from honeycombs contains more than just honey. There’s also some left-over bee pollen (which is different than royal jelly), small pieces of beeswax, and propolis (the “bee glue” used to hold the beehive and honeycomb together). Small body parts from dead bees may even be floating around in the mix.

You can eat the honey that way, but it’s not usually sold until beekeepers strain out most of that debris. Why just most of it? Because some of those extra goodies are so tiny that straining won’t catch them. And as you’ll soon learn, that’s not a bad thing. (Don’t worry, this process does remove the dead bee parts.)

Whether that honey is strained or not, it’s known – and sold – as raw honey.

The Difference Between Raw Honey and Processed Honey

Raw honey looks cloudy after bottling, because of the pollen and propolis still inside.

If you remember the hypothetical shopping example we used at the start of this article, you were tempted to ignore the raw honey and buy the jar that had clear, golden honey inside. You’re not alone. A huge number of people do the exact same thing.

For that reason, most commercial honey processors do more to raw honey than just lightly strain it. They filter it and put it through a pasteurization process, heating it to very high temperatures to destroy the yeast that’s inside. That highly-filtered, pasteurized, “regular” honey looks crystal clear, has a longer shelf life because it’s less likely to “crystallize” into granular form – and looks much more appetizing when sitting on the grocery store shelf. (Putting the jar into a warm water bath restores the honey to its non-crystallized form, but many people don’t know that.)

When Is Honey No Longer Honey?

Some processors go even further. They put the honey through what’s known as ultrafiltration, adding water to processed honey, filtering it again and then removing the water. That makes it sweeter and even smoother.

And according to the United States Food and Drug Administration, that also makes it something other than honey. Ultra-filtration removes all traces of pollen from honey, and the FDA says that means it can’t legally be sold as honey. It’s basically just suitable for use a sweetener in beverages and other products. (The National Honey Board, an industry group that protects producers, understandably disagrees; it insists honey without pollen is still honey.) (1)

Why would companies choose ultra-filtration? Aside from making the product sweeter, here’s one other, important reason. Honey’s country of origin can be traced by analyzing the pollen in it. And if the pollen is removed, there’s no way to know if it came from a country like China, a major honey exporter whose products often contain hazardous chemicals.

There’s one other process used by some unscrupulous producers: they add extra sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup to their pure honey. That increases the producers’ yield, but it means the honey is no longer honey; the FDA says that type of product must be labeled as “blend of honey and corn syrup.” (2) Do all producers actually do that? You can probably guess the answer to that question.

Why Should You Buy Raw Honey?

If you’re simply looking for a sweetener to use in tea or a recipe, regular honey is fine.

But there’s one primary reason to choose raw, unheated, unpasteurized, unfiltered honey: its health benefits.

It’s widely known that honey is one of the healthiest foods on the planet. But the reason isn’t really the honey itself. Pollen, propolis and other “extra” ingredients are largely responsible for the many benefits of honey. When they’re all removed during heavy processing, honey remains sweet and delicious, but it’s no longer the healthy product you might expect.

Here are some of the major reasons to buy raw honey.

Major Benefits of Raw Honey

It’s important to remember: these benefits are significantly reduced or eliminated once raw honey has been processed.

Different types of honey have differing qualities when it comes to health benefits. For example:

Is Organic Honey The Same Thing As Raw Honey?

Not necessarily, but it can be. The terms “organic” and “raw” refer to two completely different things.

Raw honey, as you know, hasn’t been pasteurized or heavily filtered.

But the term “organic” has nothing to do with processing. Organic honey (as defined by the USDA) simply hasn’t come in contact with chemicals, pesticides or other hazardous substances.

So organic honey may be raw, or it may be heavily processed. Organic and raw are not synonymous.

Can Eating Raw Honey Hurt You?

In nearly every case, there’s no danger in eating raw honey.

Raw and regular honey may contain spores of a harmful bacteria known as clostridium botulinum, which can cause the serious illness botulism. However, the body is able to prevent those spores from growing – except in very young children. That’s why it’s strongly recommended that honey not be given to children until they’re at least one year old.

So there’s nothing to worry about when you stop by your local farmers market or health food supermarket, pick up a jar, and enjoy!