Honey could be man’s first and most reliable source of sweetener. References to honey date back to in 5500 B.C.E whereas jaggery and sugar are more recent at around 5,000 years.
Throughout history it has been used as sweetener, as a marinade, in medicines and as a natural lip balm, moisturizer, or cough remedy.
So where does this sticky, extremely sweet and viscous come from, although 20,000 species of bees exist only 8 of them make honey which we can use. In India majority of our honey comes from below three types
Indian rock bees, Apis dorsata : The largest and fiercest of Indian honey bees, they also form the largest hives, with some hives giving up to 45kg of honey. These have not been domesticated and normally found on large trees and rock faces in semi urban areas and forests.
Indian honey bee (Apis cerana indica) : This is the domesticated species hailing from Asia and is more suitable to our climate. But commercial Beekeepers do not prefer these as they dont do well in travelling hives
European honey bee (Apis mellifera) : Most commercial beekeepers prefer these bees, they are milder, gather more honey and travel well when hives are moved from one area to another.
Indian stingless bee (Tetragonula iridipennis) : This would be an amateur beekeeper’s dream, tiny and stingless. But keeping them is tough as they prefer nesting in natural burrows and crevices and hollow tree trunks. Their honey is valued several times over normal honey as its supposedly highly medicinal
What is Honey ?
Chemically speaking honey is composed of monosaccharides fructose and glucose, and has about the same relative sweetness as sucrose (table sugar). But what sets this apart from sugar syrup ? Honey has minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Unlike sugar, honey also contains vitamins,antioxidants and several enzymes, in small amounts. Due to these properties honey is beneficial than all other sweeteners we use.
But we keep hearing that bee populations over the world are rapidly falling, but from the last decade honey prices in India have remained the same or have actually come down. Every year some new FMCG comes up with its own brand of honey and releases with 1+1 offers. How is this possible , the not so comfortable answer to this is that most of the honey is fake. We are paying discounted prices for bottles of colored sugar syrup which can be made for pennies. A much publicised 2020 study showed that all major brands were selling adulterated honey.
How could such large scale adulteration have gone unnoticed and not caught by basic tests used to detect adulterated honey, It’s because of the groundbreaking truth that there is actually no sure fire test for honey. All the honey tests touted, published and republished are just old wives tales.
Lets list out some of these fake tests being propagated over the years
The Thumb test: Apply a small amount of honey on your thumb, check if it is spilling like any other liquid, if it does then your honey is not authentic. Honey is supposed to be thick and it doesn’t drip.
If you have ever made a sugar syrup for baking, you will know that the more you boil the syrup the thicker it will become, so such syrup will not drip, adding color to it and labeling it as honey will not make it honey. This test will actually fail unadulterated pure honey as honey is not thick all over the year, during monsoons the nectar itself gets diluted and consequently the honey collected during this time is not as thick and sticky compared to summer honey.
Water Test: In a glass of water, put a spoon of honey, if your honey is dissolving in water then it’s fake. Pure honey has a thick texture that will settle at the bottom of a cup or a glass.
This is again a fake test propagated over decades, Pure honey will dissolve in water, if it doesn’t dissolve why are we even adding it to our teas and lemon juices.
Crystallization test : The whole premise of this test is pure honey does not crystalize. But Pure honey crystallizes all the time based on the ratio of different sugars in it. Actually some types of Honey which have very less moisture and have high glucose content will crystallize as soon as its harvested
Fire Test : To try the heat test, dip a matchstick in honey and light it. If it burns, then your honey is adulterated. Some sources claim if the honey burns than its adulterated
So which one is true? Pure honey can and will catch fire based on the moisture in it only at different temperatures. Honey has sugar, which is fuel for a fire and it will burn.
These myths and tests date back at least a few centuries, and were not accepted by professional beekeepers nor scientists but were kept being propagated until they became common knowledge. The truth is different types of pure honey can cover a large range of density, flammability, and other characteristics so none of these tests hold any water
So are there no tests for Honey? How does Crème de la crème experts test honey
The below two tests are used by Honey experts
Pollen Identification : In its rawest form, honey will contain pollen, Which has been carried back from the flower by the bee. Although it’s minuscule it can be seen under microscopes. Each grain of pollen based on which species of flowering plant it came from is distinct from pollen from another species. So if someone claims the honey as acacia honey it will have acacia pollen. If its sugar syrup or some cheap honey imported from china it wont have acacia pollen or no other pollen
Each of the pollen in the above slide comes from a different species of flowering plants and can be used to find out where the honey came from and also if it’s actually honey.
NMR spectroscopy : Running a honey sample under a NMR spectrometer will give an ECG like reading. Each hill and trough in this output corresponds to various sugars,pollen, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants present in the pure honey.
This till date is the most dependable test for purity of honey. But the cheapest spectrometer starts from 20 lakhs and goes all the way to a few crores. Just running a sample would cost around a few thousands. Chinese honey adultrators are currently trying out ways to beat the spectrometer and in a couple of years will create fake honey which will be able to pass this test.
So why should you buy honey if there is no way of knowing if it’s pure? Honey can be called as the by-product of Beekeeping, the actual service provided by the bee is pollination. Without Bee pollination most of our food we eat cannot be grown. This ecological function cannot be done by any machine or new invention
Why Buy Honey from Farmizen : When you buy honey from Farmizen you are buying it directly from a farmer not a honey blender which most of the branded honey makers are.
The biggest adulterant you should actually care about when buying honey is actually an antibiotic called Chloramphenicol (CAP) which is a broad-spectrum antibiotic used by commercial beekeepers to treat honeybee larvae diseases. When you buy from major manufacturers you are buying blended honey from different countries like china which is the largest producer of honey but where no regulations on use of this antibiotic exists there.
Indian regulators have not yet set standards for the pesticides and antibiotics residues in honey, so it is not even checked, so even though if the honey is pure it could have these dangerous residues.
None of the farmers who sell honey on farmizen use any pesticides or antibiotics, for these organic farmers the honey bees are of great importance not for the delicious honey these busy little animals produce but the irreplaceable service of pollination they provide and thereby ensure our food production. So don’t worry about the various thickness, colors and flavors these honeys come in as they depend on seasons and enjoy the wholesome honey.