Raw unheated honey is a small percentage of the annual honey consumed in the United States. Most of the honey sold in America like 83% is imported from another country and heated to a high temperature of 145 F to maintain the liquid state and sold in plastic squeeze bottles. The average shopper is often unsure what raw honey is and what it might look like.
In practice it's pretty simple: raw honey is honey extracted from the honey combs and packaged with no or minimal heat. A bee hive can see temps up to 100 F inside the hive and anything much above that is heated honey and no longer raw. Raw honey will crystallize and turn solid within a few months to a year of being harvested.
There are several variables to consider before buying raw honey. Here are five I consider the most important.
Buying direct from the producer is an important criteria in order to get the best raw honey. The beekeeper or producer's contact information should be included on the label. The ability to talk or communicate to the beekeeper is critical to establish the authenticity of the honey. Social media like Instagram or Facebook etc is also useful to research the source.
Flower or season specific
The art of making good honey is finding places where there are ample and unique nectar sources. Across most of the United States we have lost many areas of plants trees and shrubs that produce honey. Extra research and networking is more important than ever for beekeepers to find excellent bee yards to produce top quality raw honey.
Honeybees can make a distinctly different crop of honey from the different spring summer and fall flowers. In areas of poor forage the honey produced has less diversity of nectar sources and hence less complexity of flavor and potential health benefits. In some diminished areas for honey production, there is less distinction between seasons.
Many people look for seasonal honeys from their local area for allergy relief. Find a beekeeper that has seasonal honey from different seasonal flowers is the best solution.
One of the benefits and enjoyment of raw honey is knowing the location where the honey was made. There are thousands of plants, trees and shrubs that honeybees can make nectar and honey from and they vary by location and climate around the world.
Connecting your raw honey purchase with a place is important to fully appreciate the complexities of the changes in land use and climate have on the present and future of honey production in the United States.
Honeybees collect nectar to make honey. Nectar is too wet or full of water when its brought into the hive to be called honey. A healthy well populated hive will move air through the hive to dry down the moisture levels to under 18% which is the percent moisture required to call honey U.S. Grade A in America.
Low moisture is important for storage of honey for honeybees and humans. It's the most important quality variable and is normally the top points awarded category of criteria used for honey tasting contests at state fairs.
Wild yeasts abound in nature and are found in raw honey. Higher moisture levels above 18% water can initiate fermentation of the honey. A fermented jar of honey is under pressure and while it may be crystallized it can still have bubbles suspended in the semi solid honey and liquid foam may also be present on the top. It often has a sour flavor and aroma and should be thrown out. While it wont make you sick its not what honey should be and is considered unfit for sale by the industry.
The lower the moisture level the more concentrated the flavor. A 10 % reduction in moisture starting at 18% is 16.2% and a notable difference in texture and flavor. Below 16 percent moisture or so raw honey in its liquid state is thick and hard to work with and to dispense.
The year of production
While raw honey is famous for having an indefinite shelf life, fresh honey has more aromatic qualities, flavor nuances and active enzymes. The year of production should be on the package or at least the date when it was packaged.
Outside of the industrial packed, foreign honey most domestic honey does not have a date on the package. Being able to establish a relationship with a beekeeper can fill in that void of information.
Honey is a seasonal crop just like other foods, In North America the harvest is roughly June to September with August being peak harvest season in the former honey belt of the Upper Midwest.
Only buying fresh honey ensures the best value for your money plus best flavor and optimal medicinal benefits
Note: For more in depth information on raw honey see this link