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A sticky situation
November 7, 2011 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Testing by Food Safety News has shown that more than 75% of the honey being sold in the United States does not qualify to be labeled for sale as "honey".

The key finding of the testing is that the vast majority of what is sold as honey in the United States has been subject to a process called ultra-filtration. This process removes all traces of pollen from the honey, which prevents the use of Melissopalynology (the study of pollen within honey) to determine the geographical and botanical origin of the honey.

The concern over ultra-filtration stems largely from the fact that it allows for the process of "honey laundering" -- transshipment of honey from countries from which import is banned through intermediary sources in order to circumvent the law. Such bans have been placed by the United States in the past in the wake of the presence of non-food-safe antibiotics in Chinese honey, and by the EU due to incidences of heavy metal and other contaminants in Indian honey.

The EU already has laws [pdf] specifying allowable filtration for honey.

In the United States, according to Food Safety News,
"The FDA has sent a letter to industry stating that the FDA does not consider 'ultra-filtered' honey to be honey," agency press officer Tamara Ward told Food Safety News.

She went on to explain: "We have not halted any importation of honey because we have yet to detect 'ultra-filtered' honey. If we do detect 'ultra-filtered' honey we will refuse entry."[1]
Despite this statement from the FDA, legislation aimed at establishing a "pure honey" standard in the United States has not yet gained traction.

1: See Food Safety News
posted by tocts (156 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
How the heck would antibiotics end up in honey?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:28 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Forwarding on to Sens. Leahy, Collins and Sanders.
posted by wensink at 8:29 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Occupy Hundred Acre Wood.
posted by phrontist at 8:29 AM on November 7, 2011 [45 favorites]


They give them to bees, obviously.
posted by empath at 8:30 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I knew I wasn't wasting my money by buying the good stuff. If it cristallizes, you're good.
posted by bq at 8:31 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a local (OK, he serves a fairly sizable region of Indiana and Illinois, but it's just one guy) honey supplier. Good news: the honey is fantastic and isn't filtered all to hell. Bad news: I saw this guy on an episode of A&E Hoarders not too long ago.

True story.
posted by phunniemee at 8:31 AM on November 7, 2011 [62 favorites]


Wouldn't removing all of the pollen also lead to uniformity of taste? I doubt that a fast food chain like McDonalds wants one packet of their honey to ever taste different than any other.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 8:33 AM on November 7, 2011


*opens mouth to make "honey laundering" joke*
*gets to the part about antibiotics and heavy metals*
*closes mouth*

The farmer's market near me had honey this weekend. I didn't buy any because I was short of cash, but I'm definitely buying some next week. Maybe I'll get some regular honey as well. My kids go through a lot of honey on sandwiches.
posted by DU at 8:34 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I didn't buy any because I was short of cash, but I'm definitely buying some next week

If you've got the money, honey, I've got the time...
posted by swift at 8:34 AM on November 7, 2011 [20 favorites]


It really surprised me when I went to the grocery store and began looking at the ingredient labels on the average priced honey. I was pretty shocked that none of them were pure honey, they all had wierd additives. The ones that didn't were really over priced. I found the local farmers market had pure honey for about half the cost and it tastes amazing. My experience was a wake up call for me to start checking ingredient labels, even on stuff that seemed like there should only be one ingredient in it. Very eye opening.
posted by HMSSM at 8:35 AM on November 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I just use tasty HFCS paste instead.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:35 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


"'Honey laundering': An international food-safety crisis"

Journalist-on-journalist back-patting: Is it getting too hard?
posted by griphus at 8:36 AM on November 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


>> I just use tasty HFCS paste instead.

I believe 'Bee Sugar' is the preferred nomenclature.
posted by JohnFredra at 8:38 AM on November 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


phunniemee: Bad news: I saw this guy on an episode of A&E Hoarders not too long ago.

I think he's afraid of heffalumps and woozles. After all, if honey is what you covet you'll find that they love it, because they guzzle up the thing you prize.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:41 AM on November 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Interesting side-note: I've noticed that, in the wake of these and other pieces of news, local honey producers have been one-upping each other to claim authenticity when it comes to their product. The downtown farmers market here in Madison (a weekly affair that takes over the entirety of the capital square) has no less than 3 different bootsh displaying live bee honeycombs behind plexiglass.
posted by thanotopsis at 8:43 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nope, it's honey sauce (which, according to a Facebook group, is no longer offered).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:44 AM on November 7, 2011


Seeking out a local source for honey should be a top priority for anyone who uses it - in addition to tasting better and supporting local farmers, there are the alleged benefits for people who suffer from allergies.
posted by jbickers at 8:44 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you've only had honey from the plastic little bear at the megalomart, you haven't truly lived. Buy local.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:49 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]



How the heck would antibiotics end up in honey?


Antibiotics are used to treat honeybee diseases, like nosema, American foulbrood, and European foulbrood.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:49 AM on November 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


I can't get more local than the hives in my backyard. However, some years are better than others as far as our production. So, I do buy from our other local beekeepers. When I can't, I'll grab some Gunter's honey from the grocery store. Gunter's is from Virginia and is pretty good stuff.
posted by onhazier at 8:50 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you've got the money, honey, I've got the time...

Wouldn't that be "... we've got your disease"?

Reminds me of the whole maple syrup reclassification thing (PDF) and the MAPLE Act. Funny stuff.

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

Yikes. Not so funny, but par for the course. Honey is something my family uses so infrequently that I usually suck it up once every few years and buy a pint of Marshall's.

The question to me is: why filter it to make a shelf-stable product? Isn't it shelf stable as is?
posted by mrgrimm at 8:50 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Local honey is the way to go. It can be made anywhere, and provides a pretty terrific value-added product for farmers which is useful in balancing out income over the non-produce seasons. Also, it's usually more flavorful and you can find surprising varieties that taste quite different from one another. Local honey makes a great gift when you're traveling (within national borders) because so much of the pollen and flavor is unique to the region (for instance, agave honey is pretty exotic in New England!).
posted by Miko at 8:50 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Comes in a bear, leave it right there."
"If it ain't artisan, it's got low pollen parts-per-million."
posted by Iridic at 8:52 AM on November 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


My mother-in-law makes a quarterly trek up to a small town in Idaho and always brings down large coffe-can sized cans of honey from a local farmer. It's dark and raw and only marginally filtered, cloudy as an overcast Sunday. It also crystallizes within a forthight, but damn if it isn't the tastiest honey I've ever had.

It may not always be practical or even sensible to buy local but in the case of honey I think it pretty much always is the better choice (unless you live in China, I guess).
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:52 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


> The question to me is: why filter it to make a shelf-stable product? Isn't it shelf stable as is?

Non-filtered honey tends to solidify in a month or so after bottling. Not a big deal at all, since you can just put the bottle in hot water to loosen it. But, consumers have been trained to only find homogeneous glops palatable.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:53 AM on November 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Unfortunately, the honey stand at my local farmers market charges a dollar am ounce, which is a little steep for me.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:53 AM on November 7, 2011


I'm lucky to have a local honey guy, who sells it at local farmers markets, as well as on the honor system in his yard. If you know where he lives, you can drive up, put your money into a little box, and pick up a jar of honey. If you're driving through California, you can MeMail me for his address, as I don't think he has it posted online.

And I think that my allergies were greatly reduced due to consumption of local honey in early spring, before my allergies usually got bad.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:53 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't it be more effective to just test for the antibiotics and heavy metals directly? If the issue is legitimate health concerns over agricultural contaminants, this seems like it would be the way to go, as it address the real concern, not just the marker. Also, it sure seems like it would be a whole lot easier and cheaper than hiring an expert to identify the pollen.

On a completely unrelated note, I know that honey made from the nectar of certain plants can be toxic or unpleasant. I wonder if the ultrafiltration has anything to do with that?
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:53 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


They don't allow you to have bees in here.
posted by fetamelter at 8:54 AM on November 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Bad news: I saw this guy on an episode of A&E Hoarders not too long ago.

Bees are hoarders, too; I imagine they get along well.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:57 AM on November 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Wow, that first article is well-written. Every time I'd find myself formulating a question it would be answered within five sentences. Why should I care? Here's why. How is it done? Here's how. What does it all mean? Here are the consequences.

Science journalism, take note: this is how it's done.
posted by lekvar at 9:00 AM on November 7, 2011 [44 favorites]


I wonder how much honey importation and "honey laundering" has increased in the U.S. due to the spread of Bee Colony Collapse. Not an excuse, but likely a reason.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:02 AM on November 7, 2011


Wouldn't it be more effective to just test for the antibiotics and heavy metals directly?

I was thinking the same thing. They can tell it is microfiltered but not test for contaminants directly? I think there is something that does not add up here. We want to ban the import of honey from certain places no matter what it contains I guess.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:04 AM on November 7, 2011


Non-filtered honey tends to solidify in a month or so after bottling. Not a big deal at all, since you can just put the bottle in hot water to loosen it.

Good point. I remember growing up as a child, honey was always liquid. I use it so infrequently, and I guess the good stuff for so long now, I forget that it's ever not solid. I agree it's annoying ...

but um, yeah, slice off a bit and heat for 5 seconds in a microwave. Or just put it on a hot piece of toast.

Unfortunately, the honey stand at my local farmers market charges a dollar am ounce, which is a little steep for me.

Yep, the good stuff is usually $12-15/lb. out here. Aforementioned Marshall's is usually $18 or so for 24oz, which is ... $.75/oz.

Agave sweetener (the real stuff) is cheaper, maybe $.25-.30/oz organic? I don't use much sweetener, but that's generally what I use, or plain sugar. Obviously depends how much you're using and what you're using it for...
posted by mrgrimm at 9:04 AM on November 7, 2011


Yikes. Once again, buying local seems to be the plan.
posted by Forktine at 9:05 AM on November 7, 2011


This makes me even more happy that two of my good friends have gone bee crazy recently. The male half of the couple was doing some work for an older gentleman in their neighborhood who has been showing them all the beekeeping ropes and this year looks to be the first that they'll have enough to start doing a little distribution. They had eight or nine hives in their back yard all summer. It was fun to hang out for a bbq and watch the little buggers zip around while we quoted Eddie Izzard.
posted by calamari kid at 9:06 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


These are my local honey people. They also do amazing furniture and kooky dvds and I love them in a romantic adventurer sort of way where I have fantasies about running off to join their apiarist group and never looking back.

Last month I bought my autumnal honey variety - I switched from the grassy notes of alfalfa to the mellower sweetness of wildflower, in a giant glass jar I can give back to them when it's empty and get filled up with whatever I'd like next. The honey guy - Ian - has had gruff chats with me about how honey is like wine or oysters; the enjoyment is one of local specificity. You can taste the place in it.
posted by Mizu at 9:07 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Reason number 2390839048 to buy local if it's within your grasp/means. Support your local beekeepers. I love me a pint or quart mason jar of honey with a big ole hunk of comb floating in the center for chewing on. And the flavor difference...... mmm.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:07 AM on November 7, 2011


They can tell it is microfiltered but not test for contaminants directly? I think there is something that does not add up here.

It makes perfect sense to me—you'd presumably have to test for each likely contaminant individually, which would be expensive and time-consuming, and you'd run the risk of missing novel or unexpected contaminants altogether. It's entirely reasonable to test for a telltale secondary factor like ultra-filtration.
posted by enn at 9:09 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


They can tell it is microfiltered but not test for contaminants directly? I think there is something that does not add up here.

I don't think it is so strange - remember that testing for stuff at the ppt level is considerably harder (and more expensive) than CSI makes it look. Testing for antibiotics or heavy metals or whatever may very well require a specific test for each target substance. It's pretty sensible to first run one test for evidence of tampering as a catch-all rather than testing for each specific contaminant directly.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:09 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


How the heck would antibiotics end up in honey?

Yeah I thought that too until I had chickens with a really bad cough and HAD to use them...Oxy Tetra-A Says for bees?!

Also if anyone has a remedy for Chickens with coughs that isn't frigging thermonuclear warfare... maybe I should make an askme...
posted by mrgroweler at 9:09 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


They can tell it is microfiltered but not test for contaminants directly?

It seems clear from the article that you can tell it's microfiltered simply by popping it under a microscope and looking for some pollen. Testing for specific adulterants would likely be costlier, and you'd also have to know exactly what you were looking for in order to choose the right testing method. Since they don't inspect it at all anyway right now, it seems unlikely that kind of protocol will be put into place.
posted by Miko at 9:10 AM on November 7, 2011


If anybody wants me I'll be living in the woods with a herd of goats, a swarm of bees and a shotgun. Thanks metafilter.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:11 AM on November 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


Removing the pollen precisely because it provides geographic tracking information is really, really shady.
posted by odinsdream at 9:11 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stagger Lee- Already halfway there just no bees til Spring when it is easier to get a queen. Also don't forget the chickens.
posted by mrgroweler at 9:12 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


...and a shotgun

...for the day when you finally need to walk further into the woods and put down Old Yeller-Black-Yeller-Black-Yeller?
posted by metaBugs at 9:14 AM on November 7, 2011 [28 favorites]


I just pulled down a jar I've had for...a while in my cabinet here at work. It's local; it's crystallized all to heck; it tastes like the bees were noshing on mint and citrus. Delicious.
posted by rtha at 9:16 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The "why not test for the contaminants" question becomes a lot clearer if you attempt to apply the same logic to human criminals. "Why not just scan for the fingerprints of all known murderers at the death scene to determine if a murder has been committed?" vs "Let's see if the prints have been wiped."
posted by DU at 9:18 AM on November 7, 2011


What a buzzkill.
posted by argonauta at 9:19 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the explanation, I am not firing on all cylinders right now.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:21 AM on November 7, 2011


I knew I wasn't wasting my money by buying the good stuff. If it cristallizes, you're good.

The economy stuff I have to put in porridge crystallizes. Though perhaps we don't filter in the UK.
posted by mippy at 9:24 AM on November 7, 2011


I will be carting bottles of African honey - one from "mountains" and the other from "rainforests" back for my parents - I tasted the honey here in a coffeeshop (served with ginger tea) and was just blown away.
posted by infini at 9:24 AM on November 7, 2011


I'm not sure about the statement that generic local honey crystallizes. Both the honey that my father produces (old-fashioned beekeeping, no doping the bees, etc.) and the stuff I buy from the farm down the road (who make the same claims) will keep for months upon months in the cupboard without any crystallizing. Perhaps it has to do with the region, type of nectar plants, etc.?
posted by introp at 9:26 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


No matter -- lately I've been catching more flies with vinegar.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:26 AM on November 7, 2011


Wow! I just received a text from Swedish pop group ABBA with their take on the situation:

"Honey honey, don't conceal it, ah-hah, honey honey."
posted by dracomarca at 9:26 AM on November 7, 2011


But I'm still curious like a few others upthread how the antibiotics or heavy metals get into the honey - is that what's killing our bees or is that in the plant nectar originally?
posted by infini at 9:28 AM on November 7, 2011


I try to by this stuff locally anyway, if only because I like to experiment with the different taste that different pollen sources provide. I'm mostly finished a jar of blackberry honey, and it is delicious.

But I'm still not convinced that this is a huge safety or food quality issue. Sure, it's bad for local beekeepers, and China should be discouraged and punished for this shit. But I don't see that the article alleges an actual safety issue beyond the "There may be something in there you didn't know was in there" issue. I'm sure that's true of almost everything I eat, but most of that stuff isn't going to hurt me at all, and there don't actually allege that anyone has ever been harmed by contaminants in honey. Or really that there's any appreciable risk of someone being harmed.

The one thing that's not in this article is information about concentration. Anything that's you have to measure in "parts per million" is almost certainly not something you need to give a damn about, at least not in something sold in containers that are smaller than box cars. In a pound-sized bottle of money, one part per million is the equivalent of about half a milligram.

The human gut is a pretty remarkable thing. The liver is even cooler. We're capable of ingesting a bewildering array of non-food substances with no ill effects, particularly when they're consumed in miniscule amounts over time. This is just something I refuse to care about.
posted by valkyryn at 9:28 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


I just catch and eat bees. They're free behind the 7/11.
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:28 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


The human gut is a pretty remarkable thing. The liver is even cooler. We're capable of ingesting a bewildering array of non-food substances with no ill effects, particularly when they're consumed in miniscule amounts over time. This is just something I refuse to care about.

Well, keep eating those paint chips, I guess.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:29 AM on November 7, 2011 [14 favorites]


I buy local honey by the quart. And that one time the while quart had a sort of nasty undertaste, I ate really a lot of honey to get through it faster to buy another quart from the same guy. So far, just the one nasty jar.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:34 AM on November 7, 2011


But I'm still not convinced that this is a huge safety or food quality issue. Sure, it's bad for local beekeepers, and China should be discouraged and punished for this shit. But I don't see that the article alleges an actual safety issue beyond the "There may be something in there you didn't know was in there" issue. I'm sure that's true of almost everything I eat, but most of that stuff isn't going to hurt me at all, and there don't actually allege that anyone has ever been harmed by contaminants in honey. Or really that there's any appreciable risk of someone being harmed.

Knowing where your food comes from is a good thing both in general and specifically. It sounds like producers are filtering out the pollen exactly because it identifies where the honey comes from. There's no other reason. It's an extra step.

Ask yourself what they gain by hiding the source of the honey.
posted by odinsdream at 9:34 AM on November 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


> "Comes in a bear, leave it right there."

What's Grizzly Adams got to do with this?
posted by davelog at 9:39 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


They can tell it is microfiltered but not test for contaminants directly? I think there is something that does not add up here.

As other have said, this is all about costs. It's probably possible to do a basic, qualitative pollen assessment on the spot with a good hand lens. Even a microscope count will not take long, or cost too much.

By contrast, commercial lab prices on contaminant metal analysis will run $100-$200 and take a few days, pesitcide and drug analysis can take longer and cost quite a bit more, up to a few thousad dollars per sample for forensic quality analysis and take up to months to complete.
posted by bonehead at 9:40 AM on November 7, 2011


I get my fix from rich dark Duchman's Gold buckwheat honey, from the Van Alten family apiary in Southern Ontario. I've been hooked on it ever since my doctor recommended it to help soothe a cough.

But if you want really unadulterated product, you can opt for their Raw Honey ("freshly extracted from the comb and bottled; so you may come across a piece of wax or two"), or even the Fresh Comb Honey ("Cut directly from the frame to your plate. Chew on this honey wax and allow the burst of fresh honey to trickle over your taste buds.")
posted by Kabanos at 9:40 AM on November 7, 2011


I am surprised that CostCo failed this test and Trader Joe's did well. I shop at both places and expected the results to be reversed (because I perhaps naively imagine CostCo to focus laser-like on the source of a given product).
posted by zippy at 9:43 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


valkyryn: "Sure, it's bad for local beekeepers, and China should be discouraged and punished for this shit. But I don't see that the article alleges an actual safety issue beyond the "There may be something in there you didn't know was in there" issue."

Ah, yes. Because China has never exported contaminated, dangerous, and/or deadly products before.
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:44 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Question: how hard is it to take the worst antibiotic-stuffed, heavy-metal laden, chalk-full of toxins and corn-syrup "honey" and add a little pollen from a pure source after the fact?
posted by brenton at 9:48 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


My kids go through a lot of honey on sandwiches.

Peanut butter and honey sammiches with toasted bread? Because just about everyone I know looks at me like I'm insane when I make one.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:48 AM on November 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Honey smugglers in Waziristan
posted by shothotbot at 9:48 AM on November 7, 2011


Best sammich ever!
posted by Go Banana at 9:52 AM on November 7, 2011


For reasons I can't explain, I happened to be reading the wikipedia article on honey last night. I was surprised to find a health hazards section. Botulism in honey? And then there's toxic honey depending on the plant the pollen comes from. Makes sense when you think about it, but I hadn't until now...

Honey produced from the flowers of oleanders, rhododendrons, mountain laurels, sheep laurel, and azaleas may cause honey intoxication. Symptoms include dizziness, weakness, excessive perspiration, nausea, and vomiting. Less commonly, low blood pressure, shock, heart rhythm irregularities, and convulsions may occur, with rare cases resulting in death. Honey intoxication is more likely when using "natural" unprocessed honey and honey from farmers who may have a small number of hives. Commercial processing, with pooling of honey from numerous sources, generally dilutes any toxins

Yikes!
posted by sbutler at 9:52 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


> Peanut butter and honey sammiches with toasted bread? Because just about everyone I know looks at me like I'm insane when I make one.

Those are totally awesome, though. What kind of monster would think otherwise?
posted by Horselover Phattie at 9:53 AM on November 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Question: how hard is it to take the worst antibiotic-stuffed, heavy-metal laden, chalk-full of toxins and corn-syrup "honey" and add a little pollen from a pure source after the fact?

this.

The idea that we publicize the fact that we won't test for actual contaminants, just suspect locations, seems ripe for gaming. We don't give beef from Wisconsin a pass on FDA inspection, I don't see why we should be giving a free pass to homegrown honey.
posted by nomisxid at 9:54 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Support your local beekeepers.

Their motto: "AAAAHHH I'M COVERED IN BEES!"
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 9:56 AM on November 7, 2011 [17 favorites]


Peanut butter and honey sammiches with toasted bread? Because just about everyone I know looks at me like I'm insane when I make one.

Known as Dr. Leslie's famous mix in my family. The first meal I learned to make by myself.
posted by calamari kid at 9:58 AM on November 7, 2011


The idea that we publicize the fact that we won't test for actual contaminants, just suspect locations, seems ripe for gaming. We don't give beef from Wisconsin a pass on FDA inspection, I don't see why we should be giving a free pass to homegrown honey.

While I agree that we should have safety standards in place, let's start with actually enforcing any standards at all for factory farming.
posted by odinsdream at 9:59 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


But I don't see that the article alleges an actual safety issue beyond the "There may be something in there you didn't know was in there"

The article specifically mentions heavy metal and antibiotic contaminants. You can argue and quibble about the concentrations of such contaminants but considering China's recent past safety record on infant formula and pet foods I think it is reasonable to stay away from the food products that country produces.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 9:59 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Peanut butter and honey sammiches with toasted bread? Because just about everyone I know looks at me like I'm insane when I make one.

I love those, but then I come from a family where my father eventually dispensed with using bread and just ate globs of honey and peanut butter mixed together. Sadly, thanks to diabetes he now eats that nasty fake "sugar free" honey. The diabetes and the eating fake honey are unrelated, I'm sure.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:00 AM on November 7, 2011


> I think it is reasonable to stay away from the food products that country produces.

Just as an aside, I try to avoid purchasing any food made in China mainly because it's quite ridiculous that the US should be importing so many common staples from there.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 10:01 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


If testing for pollen becomes routine, it seems an easy thing for an unscrupulous seller to add pollen to the product.
posted by exogenous at 10:05 AM on November 7, 2011


My favourite honey in the world is made by semi-nomadic Yemeni bee-keepers in Wadi Do'an, but actually getting it is very hard because of its value. Pretty common for common Syrian honey to be mislabeled as Do'ani because it's much more valuable.
posted by atrazine at 10:10 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


bonehead: As other have said, this is all about costs. It's probably possible to do a basic, qualitative pollen assessment on the spot with a good hand lens. Even a microscope count will not take long, or cost too much.

By contrast, commercial lab prices on contaminant metal analysis will run $100-$200 and take a few days, pesitcide and drug analysis can take longer and cost quite a bit more, up to a few thousad dollars per sample for forensic quality analysis and take up to months to complete.


I don't know, but I think the costs might easily be the reverse of what you think. I cannot possibly imagine that identifying plants from pollen grains, and then using that information to tie the honey back to a country can be easy to do. Think of how many plants are cosmopolitan, or have close relatives all over the world, or have become invasive outside their normal range. Testing for pollen vs. no pollen is easy; testing for the source of the pollen almost certainly requires real expertise, and it might be somewhat susceptible to gaming (throw in pollen from the right plants onto ultrafiltered honey), inconclusive results (what if the plants grow in both forbidden and permitted countries?), and some level of subjectivity.

On the other hand, heavy metal analysis probably just involves throwing a sample of the honey into a mass spectrometer. It's an easy, quantitative test that only requires basic lab skills. Antibiotics might be harder, but it's probably just another quantitative machine test.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:11 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Allegedly it's the bees collect pollen from qat flowers, but that sounds dubious to me)
posted by atrazine at 10:11 AM on November 7, 2011


Botulism in honey?

Bacteria are part of the environment and to be expected in natural products. If I really wanted to minimize my exposure to Staph Aureus I'd turn a flame thrower on anyone who tried to come near me.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:14 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just bought a jar of buckwheat honey from one of the local honey people at my farmer's market. It was a tough choice, she had about five or six different varieties. Why would I want to buy generic 'honey' at the supermarket when I can try so many different delicious kinds at market?

However, I haven't had honey on the comb in a long, long time. I should get some next time.
posted by sandraregina at 10:15 AM on November 7, 2011


(Allegedly it's the bees collect pollen from qat flowers, but that sounds dubious to me)

Yemeni bees: 93% better at Scrabble than other bees.
posted by phunniemee at 10:16 AM on November 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


Quick, to the bee mobile!
posted by Midnight Rambler at 10:17 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kid Charlemagne: Bacteria are part of the environment and to be expected in natural products. If I really wanted to minimize my exposure to Staph Aureus I'd turn a flame thrower on anyone who tried to come near me.

Botulism in honey has actual clinical significance. It's why you're never supposed to give honey to infants or very small children.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:18 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


So, what I've learned from this thread is the opposite of what ..bad things comes in bears.Yogi Bear's poster told me.
posted by inturnaround at 10:18 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That should read "So, what I've learned from this thread is the opposite of what Yogi Bear's poster told me...bad things come in bears."
posted by inturnaround at 10:19 AM on November 7, 2011


Analysis of heavy metals in honey can be done with a mass spec, but first you have to get rid of the honey. Otherwise you end up with caramel coated ion source (which is not as tasty as it sounds). A quick look says acid hydrolysis and hydrogen peroxide.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:21 AM on November 7, 2011


Both the honey that my father produces (old-fashioned beekeeping, no doping the bees, etc.) and the stuff I buy from the farm down the road (who make the same claims) will keep for months upon months in the cupboard without any crystallizing. Perhaps it has to do with the region, type of nectar plants, etc.?

Well, I can't help but notice they are talking in those articles about producing a "shelf stable" product, not a "cupboard stable" product. You're getting your dad- or farm- produced honey straight from the bees, basically. As opposed to at the end of who knows how long - in transit, in warehouses, on the store shelf - before it gets to your cupboard.

However this article does suggest that there are many factors and filtration is just one of them. The explanation sounds sensible enough to me, though - pollen and other particulates in unfiltered honey simply provide more nucleation points for crystals to form.

WRT buying your local honey producer's honey rather than Massive Honey Broker's honey - if you want to stock up at the farmer's market or local festival or whatever, I just discovered this (so much to learn even after all these years) - you can freeze honey to store it. Worked like a charm.
posted by nanojath at 10:21 AM on November 7, 2011


If I may blow my own horn, previously.

I don't use much honey, but I pretty much only buy it from local producers. The international honey trade is seriously freaky, and not in a good way.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:22 AM on November 7, 2011


The Staph Aureus on your skin has a much greater clinical significance. But neither the Staphylococcal or Clostridium genera have been found to alter their behavior in response to scientific literature and the burden falls on us.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:25 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


FTA:
Chinese honey has long had a poor reputation in the U.S., where - in 2001 - the Federal Trade Commission imposed stiff import tariffs or taxes to stop the Chinese from flooding the marketplace with dirt-cheap, heavily subsidized honey, which was forcing American beekeepers out of business.
That's the important bit, not the heavy metals or the antibiotics. No one is importing questionable honey to "Poison America!", they're doing it to make lots of money by dodging a tariff.

When the pollen is filtered out, the middlemen bringing in loads of cheap honey have plausible deniability when dodging the tariff. Without pollen, even they can't tell you exactly where it came from. If they get caught, they can claim ignorance and blame it on someone farther up the chain, likely in a different country.

If one of these tariff-dodging middlemen were to add "false pollen", then get caught, it becomes harder to deny responsibility and hide the evidence.

I suspect that adding a proper amount of the right kind of pollen to ultra-filtered honey might be also cost-prohibitive.
posted by graftole at 10:27 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Like you needed another reason to go to your local Saturday Farmer's Market. . .
posted by four panels at 10:31 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Identifying pollen is easy and cheap, I have done it with honey and with samples from a dog's fur. You need an optical microscope, i used one made for kids that costs less than $80, one of those microscope slides that has a graduated grid and a printed decision tree.

The decision tree goes something like: If it is spherical turn to page 3, if barrel shaped turn to page 7. You keep going until you arrive at pictures of 3 or 4 possible candidates and pick one.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 10:34 AM on November 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Why do so many of us just take it as a given that the small, local businesses selling food down at the farmer's market would never, ever adulterate their goods in the quest for profits? Your local used car dealer is a small local business too.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:36 AM on November 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


nanojath: "you can freeze honey to store it"

Oh man, that takes me back. My dad sometimes freezes the supers (the frames containing the actual honey) to kill off any wax moth larvae which might be hiding. Frozen cut honeycomb right out of the freezer is like the strangest, tastiest dessert treat ever.
posted by introp at 10:37 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actually, debating the relative difficulty of the pollen test and of testing for contaminants is unnecessary. The article actually mentions that many honey suppliers do their own in-house testing for antibiotics and adulterants, but only a very few labs do the pollen source test, and it's expensive.

Informative quotes:

Eventually, some honey packers became worried about what they were pumping into the plastic bears and jars they were selling. They began using in-house or private labs to test for honey diluted with inexpensive high fructose corn syrup or 13 other illegal sweeteners or for the presence of illegal antibiotics. But even the most sophisticated of these tests would not pinpoint the geographic source of the honey.

Federal investigators working on criminal indictments and a very few conscientious packers were willing to pay stiff fees to have the pollen in their honey analyzed for country of origin. That complex, multi-step analysis is done by fewer than five commercial laboratories in the world.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:38 AM on November 7, 2011


Bad news: I saw this guy on an episode of A&E Hoarders not too long ago.

I would like to state, for the record, that this is either a true story or phunniemee tells the same bald lies at meetups that she does online.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:40 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ayn Rand and God: Identifying pollen is easy and cheap, I have done it with honey and with samples from a dog's fur. You need an optical microscope, i used one made for kids that costs less than $80, one of those microscope slides that has a graduated grid and a printed decision tree.

The decision tree goes something like: If it is spherical turn to page 3, if barrel shaped turn to page 7. You keep going until you arrive at pictures of 3 or 4 possible candidates and pick one.


So you are suggesting that 'because there is a dichotomous key, they must be easy to identify?'

Every single biologist here - particularly the entomologists, botanists, and mycologists - just fell off their chair laughing.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:41 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Frozen cut honeycomb right out of the freezer is like the strangest, tastiest dessert treat ever.

"Now with hidden wax moth larvae!"
posted by nanojath at 10:41 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


nanojath: ...you can freeze honey to store it.
I'm confused; what do you prevent by freezing? I was under the impression that honey had a pretty good shelf life, on the order of decades, in any sealed container. The ancient Egyptians used it as an embalming agent, after all.
posted by Western Infidels at 10:45 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was under the impression that honey had a pretty good shelf life, on the order of decades, in any sealed container. The ancient Egyptians used it as an embalming agent, after all.

I was under the impression that they found honey in the crypts in pyramids and it was still edible.
posted by nevercalm at 10:50 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Question: how hard is it to take the worst antibiotic-stuffed, heavy-metal laden, chalk-full of toxins and corn-syrup "honey" and add a little pollen from a pure source after the fact?

That's probably the next step in the arms race between food inspectors and the crooked suppliers.

Apple juice used to have this problem. It's really cheap to make an artificial "apple juice" if you have access to the Sigma-Aldrich bulk chemicals catalogue. To separate the real thing from the fake, regulatory labs started to use the low concentration phenols and related sugar-like compounds to "fingerprint" juice. These chemicals were too expensive to add in bulk and so the counterfeiting dropped off.
posted by bonehead at 10:55 AM on November 7, 2011


Crystallized honey is totally edible, it just doesn't come out of the little hole on the bear's head as nicely.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:57 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


So you are suggesting that 'because there is a dichotomous key, they must be easy to identify?'

"This is an oak leaf' sounds like a reasonable task with an acceptable error margin. If you're talking about a complex and fluctuating taxonomic system, which is where research entomologists spend their time, I think you're talking about a different task.
posted by zippy at 10:57 AM on November 7, 2011


Also, while pollen identification and forensics might be a task for experts (I don't know), doing a particle size distribution for a transparent viscous sample with dark particles is one of the easiest things ever, completely amenable to automatic processing. Including calibration and QC, PSDs like this can be done in a few minutes with almost no operator intervention.

As a first tier go-no go test, optical particle sizing would have a lot to recommend it.
posted by bonehead at 11:02 AM on November 7, 2011


Just as an aside, I try to avoid purchasing any food made in China mainly because it's quite ridiculous that the US should be importing so many common staples from there.

I bought a gallon of white grape juice recently from Target - Source:China.
posted by Big_B at 11:03 AM on November 7, 2011


There is a ton and a half of material online about identifying pollen grains. it's important in archaeology and horticulture, among other fields, and looks like a common lab class assignment, too. A quick Google will reveal not only a number of visual guides, but plenty of studies detailing more specifically how pollen is used to pinpoint geographical sources. It doesn't seem to be as intensely mysterious as all that.

But as others point out, it's not so much that the goal is to identify specific pollens and argue that they come from China as it is to see readily that some honey has NO pollen, and thus learn that it must have been filtered.
posted by Miko at 11:06 AM on November 7, 2011


Gob, meanwhile, wonders how this will affect his honey business.
posted by incandenza at 11:17 AM on November 7, 2011


mitrovarr: i don't know about enthomologist and other taxonomists, but what i described was good enough for forensics, and i got paid to do it. I did not need to identify every single polen particle, just find species of intersest. In the case of the honey we just needed to find pollen from a citrus tree in enough quantities to prove that the honey had not come from within 50km. I did my job, and someone else proved that the hives in question had been stolen from a citrus grove and moved to a grazing field full of clover ans anise.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 11:21 AM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


And I think that my allergies were greatly reduced due to consumption of local honey in early spring, before my allergies usually got bad.

Local honey is an often-repeated homeopathic remedy for which there is zero clinical evidence. Bees typically pollenate flowering plants whose pollen is unlike the windborne allergens (trees, grass, weeds) that cause seasonal allergic rhinitis.

Also, the yellow pollen granules that collect on your car in the spring are too big to cause allergic reactions.

/allergy derail
posted by Fleebnork at 11:40 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have sort of a life list of honeys I've purchased, well over fifty, I think, because I've had 45 of the varieties in the drop-down list on this page, and some I like are not listed.

My favorites have been:

Horehound (the best by far)
Snowberry
Manzanita
Thistle
Buckwheat
Raspberry
Fireweed (usually mediocre, but incredibly good from a beekeeper friend)
Avocado
Basswood
Linden

I don't like alfalfa, and won't eat clover because I think it has a foul aftertaste, but I do like vetch, which is also a legume.

Tupelo, lavender, orange blossom, LeHua blossom and 'wildflower' I consider highly overrated.

I had quite a bit of Central American "jungle" honey, which was darker than black coffee and thicker than molasses, and yet stayed liquid in gallon jars in the cupboard for 2 years, but the taste was barely above the 50th percentile.
posted by jamjam at 11:41 AM on November 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Crystallized honey is totally edible, it just doesn't come out of the little hole on the bear's head as nicely.

Um, restless_nomad? That stuff... it's not honey. It's bear brains. Please stop shooting the bears and eating their brains; we need our bears. Well, most of our bears.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:43 AM on November 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Local honey is an often-repeated homeopathic remedy for which there is zero clinical evidence
(emphasis mine) Just because it's woo-woo instead of science-based medicine doesn't mean it's homeopathic. Homeopathy is a particular brand of woo that involves dilution.

Anyway, there's at least one relevant trial which I located using google scholar and of course it found that [n]either honey group experienced relief from their symptoms in excess of that seen in the placebo group.
posted by jepler at 11:52 AM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's probably homeopathic in the sense that small amounts of each of a wide variety of local pollens in honey are thought to allow you to build up some form of immunity to the full-scale onslaught of the same pollens in the air.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:56 AM on November 7, 2011


Why do so many of us just take it as a given that the small, local businesses selling food down at the farmer's market would never, ever adulterate their goods in the quest for profits? Your local used car dealer is a small local business too.

Seriously? OK. I'll address this straight up. Most of the time this food-adulteration biz has a really small margin per unit, so you need to produce at an industrial level for it to pay off for you. Probably doesn't work for real small local operators. There definitely are large industrial operations trying to pass as small local businesses, and they could definitely pull this off. Assuming they're never inspected.
posted by zomg at 11:57 AM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


The latest thing going round about using local pollen/honey to desensitize yourself suggests that you gradually consume a PINT of bee pollen. It doesn't work unless you eat that much! Yeah, right. I am very skeptical.
posted by zomg at 12:03 PM on November 7, 2011


It's probably homeopathic in the sense that small amounts of each of a wide variety of local pollens in honey are thought to allow you to build up some form of immunity to the full-scale onslaught of the same pollens in the air.

Can we please not do this derail? This is a case of someone mistakenly using the word homeopathy instead of natural, or home-remedy. It's a very common mistake, but no, this is not homeopathy in any sense.
posted by odinsdream at 12:07 PM on November 7, 2011


The decision tree goes something like: If it is spherical turn to page 3, if barrel shaped turn to page 7. You keep going until you arrive at pictures of 3 or 4 possible candidates and pick one.

It's the Republican primary, folks!
posted by storybored at 12:38 PM on November 7, 2011


zomg: Most of the time this food-adulteration biz has a really small margin per unit, so you need to produce at an industrial level for it to pay off for you.
I'm sure that's true when you're talking about the high-volume, low-margin business of industrial commodity foods. But the whole point of the locally-produced organic farmer's-market movement is to escape from that rat race. Those goods are expensive to make and expensive to buy. I'd think the smallest producers - the ones with the highest costs per unit harvested - would have the largest (percent wise) financial incentives to thin out their wares with a little cheap Chinese stuff.

I'm not claiming that actual small producers in the real world really do rip customers off this way, and I'd be just about the last person to defend giant corporations. I just think the "I trust this company because it is small and local and it uses the word 'organic' on the label" attitude is irrational.
posted by Western Infidels at 12:43 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why are you guys making it so complicated?

Trader Joe's Creamed Honey * 100% North American Clover Honey Product of USA * Unfiltered * Uncooked. Net weight 1lb - $4.49

Guaranteed American, cheap as dirt, both unfiltered and uncooked.

Yes, it's from a large corporation rather than a local business, and it's clover. But, frankly, unless I've personally inspected the process or know and trust the producer (in which case yes, absolutely I'd buy from them rather than TJ's), I'd rather take my chances with the QC at TJ's than trust that the guy with a stall at my local farmer's market has done everything on the up and up 100%.

Why would you ever buy random honey from a random store - why on earth take the chance? Not so much on account of heavy metals, antibiotics or contaminants, rather because you are very likely not buying 100% honey, or even 1% honey - a huge amount of what passes for honey is just a sugar solution sold as honey. And while I'm not sold on any health benefits from honey, if you are hoping for any such benefits, you're getting none from the sugar solution or even the 100% honey that's been filtered and cooked. And that's why TJ's unfiltered, uncooked, 100% North American at $4.49 a pound is a no-brainer.
posted by VikingSword at 12:46 PM on November 7, 2011


Except for the millions of unfortunate souls who don't live in TJ's market areas.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 12:49 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well obviously, TJ's is not the only source of good honey - I was using it as an example and illustration.
posted by VikingSword at 12:54 PM on November 7, 2011


VikingSword: Wow, Trader Joe's sure is swell! Thanks for the neighbor-to-neighbor tip!
posted by phrontist at 1:00 PM on November 7, 2011


I don't know or care if TJ's is swell. If you have a specific beef with the TJ's honey I mentioned - I'm all ears. Otherwise, I thought it was indeed a helpful tip for those who have access to a TJ's and are concerned with getting good honey at a good price. If you don't find it helpful, I'm sorry you had to read my comment. And phrontist, to put your mind at ease - disclosure: I have no financial interest in TJ's or any honey they sell.
posted by VikingSword at 1:05 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I happen to own one $100 microscope, which apparently is good enough to discern the form of different blood cells. Now this thread has me wondering: how much would it costs to arm every odd consumer with enough knowledge and instruments to actually test their own food/water/whathaveyou?
posted by elpapacito at 1:08 PM on November 7, 2011


The article read as 1 part decent science, 2 parts protectionism, 1 part Chinese food scare, and all PR.

"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.

No it not, but its a great position to advance, Mr American Honey Producers Association President.

"It's no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China," Adee added.

If its not a secret, there should be ample concrete evidence of that felony level accusation.

I see ounce of circumstantial evidence and pounds of presumption in this article. I think there needs to be more digging before we start accusing 80% of the industry of being honey smugglers. I think the Food Safety News hoped this ready-made outrage article would generate enough interest to prompt someone else from doing some real investigation and scientific research.

In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy by blueberry blossom honey from Half Moon Bay because its freak'n awesome
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:10 PM on November 7, 2011


I'm not claiming that actual small producers in the real world really do rip customers off this way, and I'd be just about the last person to defend giant corporations. I just think the "I trust this company because it is small and local and it uses the word 'organic' on the label" attitude is irrational.

Most of the people who have related their stories about local honey seem to trust their 'honey companies' because the 'CEO' of said companies would be happy to take them to their hives and show them where it came from.
posted by TheRedArmy at 1:54 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


One of my honey providers is (are?) the parents of my cousin's fiance. I know where they live...
posted by sandraregina at 2:05 PM on November 7, 2011


how much would it costs to arm every odd consumer with enough knowledge and instruments to actually test their own food/water/whathaveyou?

C'mon, most people don't even care enough to read food nutrition labels.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:05 PM on November 7, 2011


If you're in or around New York, I strongly recommend the Spotted Duck Apiary as a supplier of authentic, artisanal honey.

The guy that runs Spotted Duck Apiary, John, is very much into raising his bees in the most sustainable, chemical-free and considered manner. The honey is raw and unfiltered. I've been buying honey from him for the past few years and it is really exquisite.

(He also raises ducks and sells organic duck eggs, too!)
posted by darkstar at 2:46 PM on November 7, 2011


Well, for that matter, Spotted Duck Apiary ships all over. USPS Priority, $10 flat shipping for any amount in the US, I think.

(I don't have any financial interest in Spotted Duck Apiary -- just very impressed with their honey.)
posted by darkstar at 2:55 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why would you ever buy random honey from a random store - why on earth take the chance?

?! Take a chance? It's just damn honey, not syphilis. You do the same thing people have been doing since the dawn of civilization - you buy something from a guy once and if you like the thing, you kerp coming back. If not - you pass on next time.
TJ is nice, I shop there myself, but come on... How many different kinds of honey do the have?
posted by c13 at 3:55 PM on November 7, 2011


Dude, thanks for the link. Never heard this before.
posted by agregoli at 4:40 PM on November 7, 2011


I'm confused; what do you prevent by freezing?

Crystallization, mainly - I like honey you can pour. And while honey is remarkably resistant to biological contamination, in my opinion its color, flavor and aroma tend to suffer with prolonged storage. Freezing keeps honey in the state it was in the day you bought it. This was recommended to me by the honey producer/merchant.

It's an issue for me because I tend to go through honey fairly slowly. It's delicious and all but from a carbohydrate perspective it's not particularly better than consuming, say, corn syrup.
posted by nanojath at 5:47 PM on November 7, 2011


Ooo, Spotted Duck Apiary has the same breed of ducks as I do. That's awesome, they're rare.
posted by Lou Stuells at 7:04 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just use tasty HFCS paste instead.
Actually, pure HFCS is considered 'artificial honey' because it's actually almost the same thing, from a chemical standpoint.

Honey is about 38.2% fructose and 31.3% glucose. Not counting the 17% water, it comes out to 46% fructose and 37% glucose. (Then you have maltose, and some sucrose. Only about 3.2% of what's in honey is not sugar). HFCS on the other hand is 55% fructose and 42% glucose.

I find it amusing that people would freak out over HFCS but love honey despite the fact they are basically the same thing.
posted by delmoi at 7:51 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I find it amusing that people would freak out over HFCS but love honey despite the fact they are basically the same thing.

People freak out because HFCS is found in a whole bunch of processed foods. It wasn't like that 15 years ago. It's also a source of freakout because of all the agribusiness corn subsidies that push out more viable forms of sugar production such as beets or cane. Besides, it's that 3.2% that gives honey is particular taste. I was making a joke about HFCS, so please don't conflate that with honey.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:03 PM on November 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


It was a terrible year for bee-keepers, according to my brother: not a drop among his four hives. We are hoarding the pint he gave us last year, saving it as the Sovereign Remedy for sore throats.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:12 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


"This is an oak leaf' sounds like a reasonable task with an acceptable error margin.

It's specific enough to rule out Australia and Southern Africa.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:36 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Honey mixed with whiskey is The Sovreign Remedy for sore throats, bronchitis, and laryngitis!

On Chinese honey, there is some buzz, (egregious pun intended!) that part at least of Colony Collapse Disorder has to do with Chinese honey. I don't know if this is true or not, but China has a pretty bad food safety record. I like Bosnian heather honey. Every bit as good as Scottish heather honey only WAY cheaper.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:22 PM on November 7, 2011


I can understand how the mismanagement of hives in China might cause colony health issues in China, and I know that sometimes you have to give bees extra food to help them winter over. But for Chinese honey to be a significant factor, all these collapsing colonies are needing extra food, right? So doesn't there already has to be some pretty major mismanagement going on, or am I missing something.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:44 PM on November 7, 2011


Colony collapse, from my surface reading, is something that hit North America and Europe starting in 2006. Chinese honey then would then be filling a gap left by domestic producers. The cause of colony collapse is unknown, but one of the characteristics that leads to a diagnosis of colony collapse is that the colony's bees do not readily accept supplemental food, so I don't think lack of food is the cause.
posted by zippy at 7:40 AM on November 8, 2011


The cause of colony collapse is unknown...

Previously on Metafilter:
A leaked document shows the EPA under the Bush administration approved the pesticide clothianidin for widespread use on many crops, including corn, despite the findings from EPA scientists that it was a bee-killer. It may be responsible for the recent "Honeybee Depopulation Syndrome,"
posted by odinsdream at 9:02 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fucking Bush Administration. Nobody was safe from that turd, except his wealthy pals.
posted by darkstar at 9:11 AM on November 8, 2011


That's not true Darkstar - they weren't safe either!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:45 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


LOL! Jebus, that was classic.
posted by darkstar at 5:19 PM on November 8, 2011


I knew I wasn't wasting my money by buying the good stuff. If it cristallizes, you're good.

I've noticed that the cheapo honeybee brand I buy crystallizes within about two months, now, whereas it used to last FOREVER. Super annoying because I don't go through honey that quickly (and also, because it's in an "easy squeeze" bottle). That was the only reason I went with the cheap stuff, well that and because I normally buy honey when I'm feeling nostalgic for PB&H sandwiches, and it's the stuff that my mom used when I was a kid. :)
posted by antifuse at 8:35 AM on November 11, 2011


Just let it sit in a bowl of hot water for a while and it will sooth it again.
posted by bq at 8:54 AM on November 11, 2011


It will smooth out again. Argh.
posted by bq at 9:00 AM on November 11, 2011


Sure, that's all well and good. But usually the urge for a PB&H sandwich is a rare and fleeting occasion, and as soon as I see the crystalized honey, something else gets my munchy attentions instead.
posted by antifuse at 1:14 PM on November 11, 2011


Meanwhile, in the EU, we have pretty much the opposite situation: as per this Telegraph article and this Guardian one, pollen has to be declared as an ingredient in honey now, and if it can't be proven to be GM-free pollen, that's a problem.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:55 AM on November 14, 2011


Relax, Folks, it really is honey after all

First of all, we learned that missing pollen actually is not evidence of "ultrapurification." We visited one of the country's top-tier honey packers, Dutch Gold, in Lancaster, Pa. We saw raw honey getting pumped through layers of white filters. Before the honey hit the filters, a powdered sedimentary rock called diatomaceous earth was added.

This is a standard, widely used process. It removes all the pollen, along with dust, bees' wings, and, of course, the diatomaceous earth. But it is not ultrafiltration, which filters out much more and produces a sweet substance that is no longer, in fact, honey.

Why do packers filter honey? Removing microscopic particles keeps the honey from crystallizing quickly.

"Consumers don't tend to like crystallized honey," says Jill Clark, vice president for sales and marketing at Dutch Gold. "It's very funny. In Canada, there's a lot of creamed honey sold, and people are very accustomed to honey crystallizing. Same in Europe. But the U.S. consumer is very used to a liquid product, and as soon as they see those first granules of crystallization, we get the phone calls: 'Something's wrong with my honey!'"

There's an exception to this filtration process. Dutch Gold also packs organic honey from Brazil, and organic honey doesn't go through nearly as fine a filter. Clark says that this is because organic rules prohibit the use of diatomaceous earth in the filtering process.

posted by Comrade_robot at 7:25 AM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


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