You may have seen it at the food co-op or the whole foods store near the 'regular' honey - it's usually whitish, thick like peanut butter, and may have some unidentified floaties included that are explained on the label as healthy bits of pollen and propolis. It's no wonder that I get some very strange looks when selling raw honey at the market and it looks just like 'regular' honey. How can that be?
Our honey is 100% locally produced Wildflower Honey with no additives. Why do we call it Wildflower Honey? Well, the truth is that in our area, nectar sources vary widely, and this is a nice way of saying that the bees visit a wide variety of flowers and trees to gather nectar and pollen. This gives our honey a beautiful variety of flavors and colors – some of which even show up as stark variations in color while the honey is still in the comb.
Once spun from the comb, our honey has been strained through a mesh screen to remove larger bits of wax, propolis (bee glue with some excellent antimicrobial properties – see What’s Propolis?) and other debris, but has not been filtered which removes the pollen grains that help the body resist seasonal allergies. Also, we do not heat our honey unless we are left with no other choice due to crystallization in a storage vessel. This minimal processing is how we are able to label our honey as “raw honey.”
RAW HONEY: WHAT IT IS & WHAT IT ISN'T
Raw honey is simply honey that has been extracted from the comb, strained through a stainless steel or cloth strainer, and bottled. That's it. There is no restriction on nectar source or location. Raw honey has not been pasteurized, heated beyond ambient temperatures or filtered. This is where the confusion starts, however. Ambient temperatures here in western Wisconsin when we extract could be anywhere from 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Some producers will heat up the honey house to much warmer temps to get the honey to flow better at extracting time (we don't), but to truly call honey 'raw' the honey should not be heated or pasteurized. Why does heat matter? When honey is heated the inherent naturally occurring antimicrobial and antiseptic properties are damaged. The native pollens and propolis that exist in small quantities are also degraded, so you lose all of the benefits of consuming local honey. Truly raw honey that is purchased locally (more on this later) provide numerous health benefits. Raw honey is just regular honey that hasn't been filtered or heated. This brings me to my next point...
That white, thick spreadable honey in the jar labeled raw honey at the food coop is indeed raw honey - raw honey that has crystallized. That's right... crystallized honey... the stuff that many people throw out at the bottom of the jar. For more on whipped or cremed honey, crystallized honey and why you should never ever throw it out, see the previous blog post The Truth About Crystallized Honey. Producers purposely crystallize raw honey that you buy at the store for a number of reasons - mostly long term storage and appearance.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Raw honey can and should look just like any other extracted honey. There are many producers of raw honey so skip the store bought stuff and take advantage of all of the health benefits of locally produced, raw honey.