Adulterated Honey: What's in Your Cabinet?

April 18, 2014

Honey, the sweet fluid produced by honey bees, has long been rumored to have a multitude of healing powers; but with much of the production coming from overseas, are you really getting what you pay for?

Honey, the sweet fluid produced by honey bees by adding enzymes to the nectar of flowers, has long been rumored to have a multitude of healing powers with everything from relieving a sore throat, allergies, or a stomachache, to using it as a facial mask for healthy skin. But shopping for honey isn’t as simple as one might think; there has been some controversy in the past few years about “adulterated” honey, so how can we be sure we are getting honest honey?

The FDA recently issued guidance following requests from True Source Honey, the American Beekeeping Federation, and other related agencies seeking a standard US definition to promote fair trade and a standard product. The guidance focuses on labeling honey with added sweeteners and other substances, and on the possible contamination with illegal pesticides.

Over half of the 400 million pounds of honey Americans consume each year is imported, and often not pure honey—mixed with corn, cane and other sugars.  Following the guidance, companies will be required to label any honey that is not pure, or even food containing this honey, with “blend of sugar and honey” or “blend of honey and corn syrup,” depending on the ingredients.

Why should you care? With pure raw honey you might get more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties.  Pure honey contains sugar (glucose and fructose) as well as minerals (iron, calcium, phosphate, potassium, magnesium, and more). While many of the medicinal properties attributed to honey require further research, the natural process of honey gives it anti-inflammatory properties that you may miss out on in an adulterated, sugary substitute.

For example, a 2012 randomized, placebo-controlled study published in the journal Pediatrics found that natural honey (recommended by the World Health Organization as a cough remedy) was superior to a placebo in alleviating a night-time cough associated with upper respiratory infections for children older than one year, as reported by

Keep in mind that sugar still makes up the majority of pure honey.

What to look for on labels? While some American beekeeping groups have developed “pure honey” certifications that are helpful, you still have to watch out for terms like “natural” which are not formally regulated on food labels. If you’re serious about your natural honey, it’s best to stick with organic or raw honey that hasn’t been processed and is produced in the US, or shop at your local farmers market for local honey, where you can actually speak to the beekeeper.

Do not feed honey to infants.