Rather, I should say “honey” is beginning to show up on your grocery shelf that most likely isn’t real honey.
Years ago the Chinese government began a program of heavy subsidy to its honey producers. The result was that a tremendous amount of extremely cheap honey was being dumped into the U.S. market. The honey producers lobby took two steps: they asked the federal government to put a steep tariff on Chinese honey (so that U.S. producers wouldn’t be run out of business), and they began having Chinese honey tested for content and purity.
Investigators discovered that most Chinese honey was heavily laced with antibiotics (some of them illegal in the U.S.), and that what was often labelled “honey” was actually the result of feeding the bees high-fructose corn syrup instead of letting the bees forage for wildflowers and cultivated plants.
And now another discovery has been made: a lot of Chinese honey (and honey from unknown origins and packed by U.S. companies) now contains no pollen.
The official excuse is that American tastes demand crystalline-clear product, and the lack of pollen is the result of a high-pressure filtering process. The more likely reason is that such honey comes from bees that never see a flower in their six-week-long lives, and whose origin now cannot be determined.
Some interesting discoveries were made by Vaughan Bryant, a melissopalynologist from Texas A&M University:
- 76% of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed, The stores include TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop, and King Soopers.
- 100% of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.
- 77% of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target, and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.
- 100% of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s, and KFC had no pollen.
- Every sample bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated, amount of pollen.
Honey without pollen cannot be traced to its origin, and in truth it cannot be confirmed as to whether such material came from bees feeding on plants or bees feeding from buckets of high-fructose corn syrup. You can’t even prove it is honey at all.
The lesson here is that just like any other pursuit of quality food, whether it be honey or meat or produce or whatever, it is always best to buy local, from someone you trust.
As Michael Pollan has said, “Cheap food is an illusion. The real cost of the food is paid somewhere.”