There’s More To The Highly Filtered Honey Story

The following is from Vaughn M. Bryant, Professor and Director, Palynology Laboratory Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University in response to the BUZZ sent out yesterday from Food Safety News regarding honey and pollen. He sees The Rest Of The Story when it comes to the honey filter question. There’s less than we imagined, and he offers the following….

I look at about 150 honey samples a year for importers, exporters, and local beekeepers.  What is said in the Food Safety News Release you put out yesterday in your BUZZ notice is true. 

However, what is also true is that once the pollen is removed, and all honey does have pollen unless it is a pure honeydew, it is not possible to determine either the nectar source or the geographical origin of the honey.  There have been some attempts to do this by using the isotopic signatures of honey, but thus far this has not proven effective or reliable.

Once honey is filtered, and we suspect the illegal Chinese honey that is still entering the US market is being highly filtered (but not Ultrafiltered), then it can no longer be traced to its geographical origin.  Also, when any highly filtered honey is mixed with honey from another region, such as the local honey in a SE Asian country, then the only pollen that will appear in the honey is the pollen from the SE Asian country.  However, by examining the pollen concentration values of those honey samples we can still determine that they are a blend of both filtered and unfiltered honey, but cannot determine the origin of the filtered portion.

Yes, the USDA does encourage honey to be highly filtered so it will appear crystal clear of any impurities, but that is the problem.  Once any honey is highly filtered we can no longer determine where it comes from….whether from domestic sources or from foreign or illegal sources. (Consumers, be careful what you wish for. Ed.). 

Another problem is that the majority of honey I have examined, which is currently being sold in supermarkets nationwide, contains no pollen.  Jars of honey I have examined claim to be sage or thyme honey, orange blossom or tupelo honey, buckwheat or sourwood honey, and yet with no pollen present in those jars we cannot be certain of the true nectar contents. As such anyone can remove all the pollen and then call clover or rapeseed honey anything they might want to call it.  With no pollen as proof, clover honey could be labeled orange blossom, sourwood, tupelo, or sage honey because there are no USDA or FDA rules that demand truth-in labeling in terms of the type of honey that is sold in the USA. 

In my many years of experience I have found that locally-produced honey is usually full of pollen and is most often authentic in terms of what it claims to be.

Vaughn M. Bryant
Professor and Director, Palynology Laboratory, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University

(The above brought to you by CATCH THE BUZZ (Kim Flottum) Bee Culture, The Magazine of American Beekeeping, published by A.I. Root Company.)