22 Oct

National Honey Week

Next week is “National Honey Week” and although most bees have been tucked up for the winter, quite wisely trying to avoid Storm Brian, we will be waving the flag for bees and honey.Honey bee

How do you think of honey? Is it just another jar on the supermarket shelf, or does it conjure up happy memories or associations? My granny was a huge honey fan, she always chose the finest Manuka, not for spreading, but for its medicinal properties. A cut or graze, even a small scald would be dressed with Manuka, a spoonful for a sore throat. A lesser honey would be a teatime or breakfast favourite used in the “classic way”. Quite honestly we could all learn a trick or two from my granny, she lived into her 90’s and tutted at the concept of banned food groups, “a little of what you fancy does you good” was her motto! It is very easy, as with most foods, to take honey for granted. Actually, beekeeping is a very time consuming business that Man is making evermore difficult through the transportation of diseases and pests around the globe and through the spraying of cocktails of chemicals to keep our crops healthy but, as current research suggests, is at the expense of our vital pollinators. In the last few years fields of oil seed rape have been found to have large patches left unpollinated due to a lack of bees. Beekeepers are a rare breed, of dedicated fanatics and are almost as rare as bees themselves.

WHAT IS RAW HONEY –
AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

The term ‘raw‘ describes honey that has neither been heated above natural hive temperature nor micro-filtered. It is simply spun or crushed from the comb and filtered at ambient temperature through a mesh coarse enough to allow the pollens held in suspension to pass through. After that, it is either put straight into jars or stored for future packing.

Left in this natural state, raw honey is a ‘whole’ food, packed with nutrients. These include amino acids (proteins), vitamins B,A,C,D,E & K, active enzymes and a range of minerals. Honey straight from the hive has been esteemed for thousands of years as both food and medicine. The anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties of raw honey are now being analysed by modern medicine, making it the subject of research in several key fields. I am a keen user of honey, and truly believe that is has more to offer us than just its exceptional sweetness. I substitute sugar with honey in baking so that I can [probably unjustifiably] tell myself that at least the sweetness is not just empty calories. I will be consuming a “super food”and a natural food although I realise that cooking does break down a lot of benefits….

So why isn’t all honey sold raw?

Sadly, bulk honey is one of the most tampered-with food products on Earth…right up there with wine and olive oil. Sold as a commodity on world markets, it is then subjected to commercial processing, severely diminishing its nutritional and active components. Blending to optimise profit, excessive heating and filtration are amongst the worst practices. This is why good honey bears a very different price tag to commercial honey, like a goof oil or wine, the care and attention takes time and efgort and time is money.

For the overwhelming majority of the international food industry, honey is purely a sweet commodity; bought as cheaply as possible from many different sources and blended to what they see as an acceptable – and endlessly repeatable – standardised colour and viscosity. It has to meet extremely low supermarket price points (making adulteration with cheaper sweeteners such as corn syrup tempting…) and must retain ‘shelf appeal’ as long as possible by delaying the natural crystallisation process.

To achieve all this, honey is subjected to a series of industrial processes. These include pasteurisation (extreme heating) and micro-filtering to remove as much pollen as possible. This is not only because pollens naturally cause crystallisation but also because stripping out native pollens removes the traceable ‘DNA’ of honey, making its origins invisible.

This allows honey from under-regulated countries to make it into the mix. These tend to be the world’s largest honey producers, such as China, where beekeeping processes can be corrupt, including routine dosing of beehives with antibiotics which then get into the food chain. Countries suspended from trading honey on world markets can get around this by trans-shipping through third parties in a process known as ‘honey laundering’.

If you are looking for authentic, straight from the hive, raw honey, you need to check labels carefully. Descriptors that should alert you to commercially blended, cooked and filtered products include ‘Blend of EU and non-EU honeys’ or ‘Blend of non-EU honeys.’ You’ll be surprised how regularly you see it.

The best way to find nutritionally and flavourfully complete honeys is to buy direct from local beekeepers, small honey producers or trusted retailers who have sourced quality raw honeys. Thankfully, it’s becoming more easily available. Artisan beekeepers in the UK and Europe, decimated by cheap imports for decades, are now starting to win back ground as more and more consumers become increasingly aware of the real benefits of raw honey – true honey.

HoneycombWe are lucky enough to have our own honey man Graham Watson, he delivers his honey by pedal power so when it comes to an ethical, local food stuff it couldn’t be more innocent.We have just started stocking his honeycomb too which is undeniably delicious served on crisp, white toast, smudging the waxy comb into the crust is a joy, as is eating it!! *Licks Lips*