When is honey not honey? When you buy it at an American grocery store, apparently—the majority of honey sold in U.S. supermarkets and drugstores has been processed into nutritional oblivion, according to Food Safety News. In fact, it’s been so ultra-filtered it doesn’t even meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s standards to be considered honey.
Testing of more than 60 jars, jugs and plastic bears of honey found 76% was entirely free of bee pollen, which is what gives honey many of its vast medicinal and nutritional properties. Any product that’s had the pollen filtered completely out of it isn’t actually considered honey, according to the FDA. Without the pollen, that honey you’re buying is nothing more than sweet-tasting syrup.
Some of the honey brands with no traces of pollen included: Busy Bee Organic Honey, CVS Honey, Giant Eagle Clover Honey, Kroger Pure Clover Honey, Market Pantry Pure Honey, Natural Suee Bee Clover Honey, Safeway Clover Honey, Wegman Clover Honey and Winner the Pooh Pure Clover (see the full list here).
Honey producers told Food Safety News that the reasons they filtered their products so much were because “North American shoppers want their honey crystal clear” and “the grocery stores want processed honey as it lasts longer on the shelves.” But removal of all pollen from honey “makes no sense,” Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, said.
“I don’t know of any U.S. producer that would want to do that. Elimination of all pollen can only be achieved by ultra-filtering and this filtration process does nothing but cost money and diminish the quality of the honey,” Jensen said.
“In my judgment, it is pretty safe to assume that any ultra-filtered honey on store shelves is Chinese honey and it’s even safer to assume that it entered the country uninspected and in violation of federal law,” he added.
Ultra-filtering honey makes it impossible to tell where the honey actually came from. A previous investigation from Food Safety News found at least a third of honey sold in the United States had been imported illegally from China, some of which was tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals.
Your best bet, if you want honey that’s actually honey, is to buy it from a local source—100% of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmer’s markets and co-ops had the full amount of pollen; honey from Trader Joe’s and PCC market was also up to pollen par. As far as honey sold at typical drugstores and supermarkets went, organic brands were less likely to be ultra-filtered, with five out of seven organic honeys tested full of pollen.