What is raw honey? In short, raw honey is the state of honey right as it’s collected from the hive. Raw honey hasn’t undergone commercial filtering or processing, and nothing has been added to or extracted from it.
The honeybees do it all, of course! How do bees make honey? This is an amazing natural process that honeybees kick off by traveling from flower to flower and collecting nectar. They then return to the the beehive where they regurgitate the nectar into the individual cells of the honeycomb.
At this point, “honey” is nothing more than nectar. But once the enzymes from the bee saliva and bee pollen interact, the nectar is transformed into the complex structure of honey, which is actually considered a whole food. We often think of raw honey as just another sweetener or substitute for sugar. And while raw honey is sweet and tasty and can be added to many dishes and drinks, it is anything but a simple sweetener. See the Sugar vs Honey article for how the two compare.
The exact make-up of honey varies according to several factors, including the flowers from which the honeybees collect nectar, weather and climate, soil conditions, and the traits of the bees themselves. But generally, raw honey consists mostly of sugars (roughly 75%) and water (roughly 20%). The remaining percentage of raw honey consists of nutrients, minerals, acids, and enzymes. For a full breakdown of each of the components of raw honey and how they interact, read the Nutritional Value of Honey article.
The complex structure of raw honey is also delicate. If it’s altered, raw honey loses the properties that make it so nutritional and beneficial to our health. For that reason, you should eat raw honey uncooked or slightly heated. Heating raw honey over 95 degrees Fahrenheit or 35 degrees Celsius will neutralize its healing and health benefits. The ideal temperature to store raw honey is between 50 degrees and 70 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees and 21 degrees Celsius. If you do this, your raw honey will last literally forever. It never spoils! Another amazing characteristic of raw honey.
While raw honey never expires, one of its distinguishing characteristics is that it granulates or crystalizes over time, meaning it turns from a flowing liquid to a solid state. How fast this occurs depends on the type of honey and other various local factors and conditions.
Processing, which includes pasteurizing and filtering, takes away that granulation or crystalizing factor to make it look more appealing to consumers, but this also removes the many raw honey health benefits. Raw honey is NOT processed for safety reasons as you might think.
Commercial filtering makes honey look better by removing “unsightly debris” such as bee and pollen parts. But removing pollen from raw honey decreases its nutritional value and also makes it unidentifiable in terms of knowing where it comes from, which can lead to fraudulent labelling. According to Food Safety News, tests show most store honey isn't raw honey.
The pasteurization of honey involves heating it at very high temperatures to improve its appearance and smooth out its texture. Unfortunately, this also kills the nutrients and the properties of raw honey that make it so good for us.
Some words included on labels that describe honey are “natural,” “pure,” and “real.” None of these are the same thing as raw honey.
Natural honey means that the honey contains only natural ingredients. If you see this on a label, it means that other natural ingredients might be added. Natural honey is most likely processed.
Pure honey means that nothing, natural or otherwise, was added to the honey. Pure honey is most likely processed.
I’m not really even sure what “real honey” means. We’ll just say it’s not imaginary.
For honey to be raw honey, it cannot be commercially processed or filtered. Some raw honey is manually filtered by beekeepers, and that does not affect the beneficial traits of the raw honey.
There are some risks associated with eating raw honey. Pregnant women and children under the age of one year should not eat raw honey due to the risk of botulism, a very rare but potentially fatal disease. You should also avoid raw honey if you're allergic to bees or bee pollen.
Believe it or not, that’s the quick answer to “What is Raw Honey?” Stay tuned for where to get raw honey...