Next week is “National Honey Week” and although my bees have been tucked up for the winter, in fairness I am not sure they would care too much to wave the flag for honey.

Honey is just another jar on the supermarket shelf, isn’t it? It is very easy, as with most foods, to take it 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.

I tend to talk about bees to anyone who will listen – or who can’t get out of earshot so I was delighted to have a long conversation about them with Sarah of Bermondsey Street Bees. As a commercial producer of artisan honey she really knows some of the industry secrets and so I asked her to be our guest writer this week to tell us all about them.


From: Sarah Wyndham Lewis of Bermondsey Street Bees

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.

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.

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 - and how to find it.

featured products

Exmoor Wildflower Honey, 330g

Exmoor wildflower honey is the result of spring-to-autumn wilderness forage on beautiful Exmoor. Nectar and caramels open into a long succession of flowers with a pleasing silkiness.

Oxfordshire Summer Honey, 330g

Oxfordshire summer honey, produced in the Cotswolds, is upfront with bright elderflower, apricot and opal fruit/peardrop tastes. These transform into a lingering and surprisingly warm finish to make delightfully delicate honey.

Yorkshire Heather Honey, 330g

The fabulously flowery nose of this Yorkshire heather honey heralds a burst of bittersweet barley-sugar and cinder toffee tastes and granular texture. Warm, with a rich glow on the palate.

Devon Honey

Croakham Farm summer honey has a light floral flavour and is produced by our own bees using non-intensive, traditional methods...

Devon Spring Honey

Croakham Farm oilseed rape honey has a light and delicate flavour and is produced by our own bees using non-intensive, traditional methods.

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