Over the last few years, there has been a move towards eating whole foods. Whole foods are those that are still close to their natural state, foods that have either not been processed, or minimally processed. Honey is one of the foods that have come under the spotlight.
The debate about raw honey vs. honey that has been pasteurized and which is healthier has been raging for some time now. Which is healthier? In this post, we will see if we can answer that question.
What Is The Definition Of Raw Honey?
According to the National Honey Board, raw honey is honey that has not been heat-treated or pasteurized in any way. It is the honey that is in its most natural state out of the honeycomb. Raw honey may or may not be strained, but we will go into that in more detail later.
How Temperature Determines Raw Honey
If you have ever worked with honey in the winter, you will know how it can solidify. It is something that most people never think about, but all honey is actually slightly heated in the hive. When the bees are active, the internal temperature of a hive goes up to around 95ºF.
That means that all honey is technically heated before it comes out of the hive. The raw honey definition then can be stretched a little to include honey that has been heated to no more than 95ºF because this would still be classified as in its natural state.
Pasteurized honey, on the other hand, is very different. This is honey that has been heated to at least 158ºF. There are a few reasons for pasteurizing the honey:
- It kills off fungal spores that may be present in the honey, and that may cause it to ferment.
- It kills off spores of Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that is dangerous for children under the age of a year. According to the Mayo Clinic, this bacterium can be fatal for infants.
- It helps prevent crystallization.
How Texture Determines Raw Honey
What we think of as raw honey is opaque and has a milky color. The honey is usually solid and may have specks in it. This is not just the honey, though, it is also scrapings of beeswax, propolis, royal jelly, pollen and bits of bees.
The solid consistency is as a result of the beeswax that has hardened. There are a lot of health benefits to eating these extra bits, so it’s not a big deal if that is what you get. If you really don’t like the idea of the wax and other bits, you can look for strained honey or “pure honey” instead.
Essentially, the difference between raw honey and pure honey boils down to a whether it has been strained or not. Just keep in mind, that “pure” honey should still contain pollen.
Straining Vs. Filtering Raw Honey
Raw honey can be the stuff that we have been taught to expect – the opaque, more solid version that still contains beeswax. Or it can be strained and reasonably clear. It is all about the processing.
Understanding how the honeycombs are “processed” will make the difference clearer. When honeycombs are harvested, there are two main options – either grind the combs up, wax and all or placed them in a centrifuge.
If the latter option is chosen, the wax caps of the combs are first cut off, and then the combs are spun. The centrifugal force forces the honey out but also leaves bits of beeswax, pollen, etc. in the honey.
Again, the beekeeper has a couple of choices here – they can leave the wax and other stuff in, or they can strain it out. They can apply either method without pasteurizing the honey, and so it will remain raw. The strained honey, however, is more liquid and easy to pour.
An alternative process is to filter the honey. Filtering is similar in that it removes the solid wax bits, but it also removes the pollen as well. Many commercial producers make use of a technique called pressure-filtering that keeps the honey at a high temperature so that it is easier to pour.
The problem with filtration is that the heat used often ends up pasteurizing the honey and removing the beneficial pollen bits. Honey may also be processed through ultra-filtration. This results in a liquid that is easy to pour and that won’t crystallize. According to the FDA, however, this can no longer be classified as honey.
Raw Honey Vs. Organic Honey
Raw honey can be organically produced but is not necessarily so. Raw honey is just honey that has not been heated. Check with the beekeeper about their production methods or ask for their organic certification if you are unsure.
How To Eat Raw Honey
Raw honey can be used to sweeten beverages and food, or used as a spread. It should be reasonably easy to spread if kept at room temperature. If it is very cold outside, and the honey is more solid, you can pop the container into some hot water for a few minutes to help melt it.
You should avoid heating it in the microwave as this will have the same effect as pasteurization.
Raw Honey Dangers
Most adults are perfectly safe eating raw honey, even if it does contain Clostridium botulinum spores. Our immune systems are perfectly capable of killing of this bacterium.
People who have severely compromised immune systems or those that need to take immune-suppressant drugs can eat raw honey as long as they can see that it hasn’t fermented, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you have a pollen allergy, you should not eat honey raw at all.
Raw honey can be dangerous for infants under the age of twelve months because their immune systems have not fully developed yet.
In general though, raw honey is a safe, whole food with a significantly higher nutritional value than pasteurized honey. It also contains beneficial enzymes that aid in digestion, can help to boost immunity and help to fight viral and bacterial infections.