Raw honey is much in demand as a health food among consumers today, writes Meera Murugesan

MOST people I know have a bottle of honey in their kitchen. It’s whipped open every time someone in the house has a cough or cold or is just feeling tired and weak.

Honey has been used for centuries as a medicine but there’s now a strong demand among the modern, urban consumer for this much prized healing ingredient. But not all honey is the same. Understanding what constitutes good honey makes the difference between getting a product that has health benefits versus one which just loads your body with sugar.

Cathie Tan Ah Tee, founder and managing director of Eco Bee Shop provides some insights into choosing honey.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RAW HONEY AND ADULTERATED HONEY?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines honey as a single-ingredient food with no added ingredients. Raw honey contains simple sugars such as glucose and fructose.

Adulterated honey, however, is made of high fructose syrup, flavourings, and colourings. Adulterated honey makes your throat dry and thirsty. It has a strong aroma but a flat, one-dimensional taste.

Authentic raw honey has an aromatic mellow sweetness to it. Raw honey also tends to crystallise naturally at room temperature. This should not worry consumers as the crystallisation process guarantees its quality and purity.

HOW CAN WE TELL THAT THE HONEY WE ARE PURCHASING IS OF GOOD QUALITY?

Good quality honey is not altered or blended with other substances.

Raw matured honey from honey bees normally has a moisture content of around 18-20 per cent whereas mature Melliponini (kelulut or stingless bee) honey can reach a moisture content of 25-27 per cent. Higher levels of moisture content can cause fermentation in honey which will affect its nutritional value.

Thus, it is not recommended to buy honey which has undergone fermentation. The alcoholic taste and large amounts of gas bubbles on top of honey are signs of fermentation. Raw matured honey retains all its antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. As raw honey is unprocessed, it also contains traces of bee pollen, propolis, wax, bee venom and royal jelly.


A wide range of Eco Bee Shop products using raw honey.

WHO SHOULD CONSUME HONEY?

Honey is good for people of all ages. However, infants below the age of 1 should not consume raw honey as it may contain spores from Clostridium Botulinum. This can cause infant botulism. Moreover, people who have a serious allergy to bee products should also avoid consuming honey.

HOW IS HONEY BEST CONSUMED?

You can consume honey with food and drinks or as it is. It is good to consume honey in the morning before breakfast as it can be easily absorbed by our body. You should never heat honey because the nutrients naturally found in raw honey can be easily diminished.

The hydroxymethylfurfuraldehyde, also known as HMF, can increase exponentially in honey upon heating. HMF acts as an indicator of heat and storage changes in honey.

HOW DOES ECO BEE HARVEST ITS HONEY?

Our honey is harvested in its matured state, and the moisture content of the honey is as low as 18 per cent naturally. This means our honey does not require any further heating to remove excess moisture. The honey that consumers normally buy in the market are usually harvested pre-maturely and has a high moisture content. In order to prevent fermentation, manufacturers heat the honey to remove excess moisture and this can destroy the high nutritional value of the honey itself.

Our mobile bee farming system also allows us to produce quality bee products without sucrose feeding, antibiotics and pesticides that can weaken the bees’ health. We not only produce honey but aim to save the bees and our environment as well.


Kelulut bee farm in the forest.

WHAT KIND OF BEE FARMING METHOD WORKS BEST?

To produce functional active raw honey, bees need a stress-free environment with less human disturbance. Thus, the beekeeping area must be filled with lots of flowering plants throughout the year. The forest is the best place to keep bees because that is where they belong.

However, there are many things influencing the flower blooming season in the tropical rainforest. Flowers will not bloom all year long and a fixed beekeeping area can barely meet the high demand of honey production with natural floral resources.

Our mobile bee farm does not limit our bees to a fixed type of flora because we carry them from one forest to another throughout southern Malaysia. Mobile bee farming exposes bees to abundant floral sources and also keeps them from pesticides. In return, bees provide pollination to the forests which enhances forest resilience to mitigate climate change.

NATURE’S NECTAR

RAW honey is the most original sweet liquid that honeybees produce from the concentrated nectar of flowers. Collected straight from the beehive, it is totally unheated, unpasteurised, unprocessed honey.

Mature raw honey contains the highest nutrients. The FDA states that any honey that has been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen is not honey at all. Processed honey tends to be heat pasteurised to reduce its moisture content, thus sacrificing the nutrients and enzymes naturally found in honey.

Adulterated honey refers to impure or artificial honey. This fake honey is honey that has been added with high fructose syrup, flavour, molasses, sugar syrup, flour, corn syrup, starch and chemicals to meet market demand for low prices.


Raw honey comes straight from its source.

THE HONEY TEST

Observation (Eyes)

Honey which is harvested before it is mature tends to have a high moisture content, making it very susceptible to fermentation. Mature raw honey, on the other hand, does not ferment due to its low moisture content.

Taste (Tongue)

Authentic raw honey tastes different compared to adulterated honey. Raw authentic honey has a multi-layered taste with different intensities of sweetness whereas adulterated honey usually just has a sugary, bland taste such as sugar syrup.

Touch (Skin)

Raw authentic honey can act as a natural moisturiser. Applying it onto skin and leaving it on for five minutes or so before rinsing, will ensure skin looks smooth and supple. Adulterated honey tends to leave an unpleasant roughness on the skin.

Hearing (Ears)

When opening the cap of the bottle, if a “pop” sound is heard, this means the honey has already fermented. The gas released from the “pop” sound is actually carbon dioxide, the by-product released by bacteria and yeasts.

Smell (Nose)

Authentic raw honey has a mild and somewhat pleasant aroma. If the honey that you buy has a strong pungent aroma, this may indicate that artificial flavourings have been added to the honey.

KNOW YOUR BEES

Apis Cerana/Apis Mellifera

This is the honey bee with a sting and branched plumose hairs on its body to assist in pollen collection. The honey produced by this honey bee is sweet in taste. It will produce pollen, royal jelly and propolis. The honey produced is good as a natural sweetener and has been used for health benefits since ancient times.

Stingless Bees (Kelulut)

There are three types of things produced by the stingless bee — honey, propolis and pollen. Stingless bee honey has a distinctive “bush” taste with a mix of sweet and sour.


Kelulut stingless bees produce honey with a “bush” taste.

Source: Eco Bee Shop