Why should consumers care if their honey has had its pollen removed?
More than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores isn’t exactly what the bees produce, according to testing done exclusively for Food Safety News.
The results show that the pollen frequently has been filtered out of products labeled “honey.”
The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world’s food safety agencies.
The food safety divisions of the World Health Organization, the European Commission and dozens of others also have ruled that without pollen there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. However, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.
Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where it is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey – some containing illegal antibiotics – on the U.S. market for years.
The Honey Study
Food Safety News decided to test honey sold in various outlets after its earlier investigation found U.S. groceries flooded with Indian honey banned in Europe as unsafe because of contamination with antibiotics, heavy metal and a total lack of pollen which prevented tracking its origin.
Food Safety News purchased more than 60 jars, jugs and plastic bears of honey in 10 states and the District of Columbia.
The contents were analyzed for pollen by Vaughn Bryant, a professor at Texas A&M University and one of the nation’s premier melissopalynologists, or investigators of pollen in honey.
Bryant, who is director of the Palynology Research Laboratory, found that among the containers of honey provided by Food Safety News:
•76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.
•100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.
•77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.
•100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.
•Bryant found that every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.
And if you have to buy at major grocery chains, the analysis found that your odds are somewhat better of getting honey that wasn’t ultra-filtered if you buy brands labeled as organic. Out of seven samples tested, five (71 percent) were heavy with pollen. All of the organic honey was produced in Brazil, according to the labels.
Why Remove the Pollen From Honey?
Removal of all pollen from honey “makes no sense” and is completely contrary to marketing the highest quality product possible, Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, told Food Safety News.
“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, whose 80,000 hives in multiple states produce 7 million pounds of honey each year, told Food Safety News that “honey has been valued by millions for centuries for its flavor and nutritional value and that is precisely what is completely removed by the ultra-filtration process.”
“There is only one reason to ultra-filter honey and there’s nothing good about it,” he says.
“Raw honey is thought to have many medicinal properties,” says Kathy Egan, dietitian at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. ”Stomach ailments, anemia and allergies are just a few of the conditions that may be improved by consumption of unprocessed honey.”
But beyond pollen’s reported enzymes, antioxidants and well documented anti-allergenic benefits, a growing population of natural food advocates just don’t want their honey messed with.
There is enormous variety among honeys. They range in color from glass-clear to a dark mahogany and in consistency from watery to chunky to a crystallized solid. It’s the plants and flowers where the bees forage for nectar that will determine the significant difference in the taste, aroma and color of what the bees produce. It is the processing that controls the texture.
Food historians say that in the 1950s the typical grocery might have offered three or four different brands of honey. Today, a fair-sized store will offer 40 to 50 different types, flavors and sources of honey out of the estimated 300 different honeys made in the U.S.. And with the attractiveness of natural food and the locavore movement, honey’s popularity is burgeoning. Unfortunately, with it comes the potential for fraud.
Concocting a sweet-tasting syrup out of cane, corn or beet sugar, rice syrup or any of more than a dozen sweetening agents is a great deal easier, quicker and far less expensive than dealing with the natural brew of bees.
However, even the most dedicated beekeeper can unknowingly put incorrect information on a jar’s label.
Bryant has examined nearly 2,000 samples of honey sent in by beekeepers, honey importers, and ag officials checking commercial brands off store shelves. Types include premium honey such as “buckwheat, tupelo, sage, orange blossom, and sourwood” produced in Florida, North Carolina, California, New York and Virginia and “fireweed” from Alaska.
“Almost all were incorrectly labeled based on their pollen and nectar contents,” he said.
Out of the 60 plus samples that Bryant tested for Food Safety News, the absolute most flavorful said “blackberry” on the label. When Bryant concluded his examination of the pollen in this sample he found clover and wildflowers clearly outnumbering a smattering of grains of blackberry pollen.
For the most part we are not talking about intentional fraud here. Contrary to their most fervent wishes, beekeepers can’t control where their bees actually forage any more than they can keep the tides from changing. They offer their best guess on the predominant foliage within flying distance of the hives.
“I think we need a truth in labeling law in the U.S. as they have in other countries,” Bryant added.
Source: Food Safety News