Did my honey come from China? Choose the safest honey in your grocery store

Have you ever went to the grocery store, stood in front of the many kinds of honey and wondered if all those honeys could really be different?

Well, they are.

Some honey contains high fructose corn syrup, some contains cancer-causing antibiotics and some only contain health promoting pollens. Standing in front of that row of oval, rectangle and bear-shaped containers, these facts are not clear. Even after pulling every container from the shelf and pouring over its label literature, the facts aren’t mentioned. So, how does one decide?

If you have access to a farmer’s market or local beekeeper, the answer is simple. If you buy from someone local, chances are that the only ingredient in your honey is honey. However, very few places in the U.S. are crawling with farmer’s markets and small, organic farms. When relying only on big box stores, researching products and making informed consumer decisions is essential to getting the nutrients you need.

According to a test done by Food Safety News in 2011, “more than three-fourths of honey sold in U.S. grocery stores” isn’t true honey. 

Although several brands of honey contain additives, the main reason for Food Safety News’s findings is that three-fourths of U.S. honey does not contain pollen. The World Health Organization considers pollen-lacking honey unsafe because without the pollen, the honey cannot be traced back to a source.

The information put out by Food Safety News spurred a small media frenzy specifically surrounding honey imported from China. The obscuring of honey’s origin is concerning for this reason provided by KristenM on her blog Food Renegade:

“In 2001, Chinese beekeepers experienced an epidemic of the foulbrood disease that ransacked their hives. They fought off the disease with strong animal antibiotics, including chloramphenicol — a carcinogenic antibiotic that’s been banned by the FDA. As recently as 2010, the FDA confiscated $32,000 worth of imported Chinese honey that was contaminated with this drug.”

The FDA details its findings on Chinese honey as well as other Chinese imports here

A later study by Food Safety News also found that several U.S. honey brands contained Indian honey, which had been banned in Europe due to antibiotic contaminates, dangerous metals and lack of pollen. 

According to these studies, honey fraud is rampant, but that doesn’t mean honey should be ruled from the American diet. Honey has several health benefits, which were summed up nicely by dietician Kathy Egan for Food Safety News:

“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.”

Food Safety News also found that five out of seven organic honeys tested in stores contained pollen and were mostly produced in Brazil.

When you go to the store:

Be aware of the honey brands tested by Food Safety News that were found to not contain pollen. They are listed here

Be wary of store-brand honey unless it specifically endorses a local farm. 

Buy organic. According to Food Safety News, 71 percent of organic honey contains pollen.

Safeway’s O Organics line is certified organic by the USDA. In order for a product to be certified organic, the practices need to be reviewed by the USDA. As long as it is certified, somebody other than the company knows where the honey came from.

Read the label. Labels won’t tell you outright if your honey is safe, but there are hints you can look for. Some labels will give multiple locations for the product’s origin. It’s best to buy honey that only comes from the U.S. as the pollen in honey helps build the immune system to deal with the specific pollen it contains. If you live in the U.S., you are more often exposed to U.S. pollen.

Be aware that if it is “distributed” in the U.S. that does not mean the honey actually comes from the U.S.

If your grocery store sells a brand of honey labeled as local, this is your best bet! It may be a bit more costly, but it will benefit your health rather than harm it.

Trader Joe’s tends to carry a regional brand of honey, like the Desert Mesquite honey sold in their stores in the West. However, beware of the Trader Joe’s honeys that are vaguer about their origin.

The National Honey Board’s honey locator allows consumers to look for a local honey brand, according to state. 

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