Is that honey in your honey bear actually honey? Well, yes and no. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, honey that has been ultra-filtered and no longer contains any pollen isn’t honey. Unfortunately, however, the FDA isn’t exactly checking to make sure what you get labeled as honey actually meets this standard.
Let’s start off with a little bit about what honey is. We all know that bees make it, but how? Many of us think of honey as bee vomit, but this is not true. Honey begins its life as flower nectar, which is collected by bees, naturally broken down into simple sugars and stored in honeycombs. The unique design of the honeycombs, coupled with the constant fanning by the bees’ wings, causes evaporation to take place, creating the thick, sweet liquid we know as honey.
Why do we associate honey with bee vomit then? Well, it is true that honey begins its transformation from nectar by coming out of a bee’s mouth. The honey bee sucks and collects the nectar from flowers using its long proboscis and stores it in a special stomach, completely separate from its true stomach for digestion. You could really think of this “honey stomach” as more of a nectar storage area, from which the bee then, upon arrival to the hive, deposits in honeycombs.
Back to the honey bear, though. As you recall the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that honey without pollen isn’t honey at all. It’s just another sweetener.
Over the years though, the FDA hasn’t been inspecting honey for pollen content. So ultra-filtration has taken hold, to meet the demands of the American people to have a stable product, that is exactly the same every time they buy it. Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down, and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen.
Why remove the pollen? Well, pollen is where the unique flavors of honey come from. Each flower’s pollen tastes unique, giving each batch of honey its own unique flavor. Now while most of what type of flower a bee accumulates pollen from can be controlled, it can’t be completely controlled. If you let a swarm of bees out in an orange orchard almost all the pollen and nectar those bees collect will be from orange flowers, but an unknown percentage will, however, be from other flowers in the vicinity. This variance leads to the honey tasting slightly different, and if there is one thing most Americans hate, it is buying the same food and it tasting slightly different for any reason. Thus, the removal of pollen.
Now for all you naysayers who think pollen doesn’t matter, I dare you to go to your local farmer’s market and buy some raw honey. Honey that hasn’t been processed in any way. The first thing you’ll notice is the color variance. Raw honey can range from golden amber to dark brown. The second thing you WILL notice is the taste. You may think you’ve had honey before but with the pollen still in it the taste becomes more complex and interesting, and each raw honey you try will surprise you in new ways. No two will ever be the same. And that’s how it should be.