Buying Honey

Here are my tips for buying honey, both for purchasing honey as ethically as you possibly can, avoiding contaminated honey, and the different types of honey available.

During my talks about bees, I have come to realise that many people do not understand why or how honey is made (see the links at the bottom of this feature).

Unfortunately, humanity has already lost touch with many of the aspects of food production, nature and the environment that supports us, although I'm hopeful we are seeing a reverse of this trend.

But enough of that for now, let’s get back to our tips for buying honey!

Buying honey 

Just one word before we go any further – this website is visited by people from all over the world, and opportunities to buy honey from independent beekeepers or retailers may not be a possibility for some people. Hopefully there are some useful ideas for most visitors to this site. 

1. Buy local honey if you can

honey stick dripping with golden honey

If possible, find a beekeeper you can trust, who is local to you. Buying honey locally will not only cut down on air miles, it will provide you with the opportunity to ask them questions about the way they keep their bees.

If you are not able to find a local beekeeper, try finding an on-line supplier whose ethics seem good. You could also try your local delicatessen or farmer's market - you may find some lovely suppliers there.

2. Buying organic honey

Firstly, the reality of Organic Beekeeping is exceedingly complex, and in some countries, the standards for organic certification of honey are so strict they are unworkable for the majority of beekeepers. In addition, standards may vary by country.

Buying honey that is certified as organic may not always be quite what it seems.  What you can do, is strive for the ‘as near as possible' standard. Again, find a local beekeeper, and ask them questions as above!

UPDATE: This page was written some time ago.  Regulations change and evolve in different countries.  Check your own country and regional regulations regarding the production of organic honey, because the above paragraph may not apply in your region.

3. Pay a fair price for your honey

honey bee visiting pink geranium flower.  Bees work hard gathering nectar from flowers with which to make honey

Not only do honey bees work very hard to make honey (see How Do Bees Make Honey), individual beekeepers go to a lot of effort and some expense to bring the honey to you!  If you are used to purchasing cheap, mass produced honey (perhaps combined with corn syrup),  and you then try the real stuff, you will usually notice a significant difference in taste!

So why not try real honey, and savour it!  And read more about standards in cheap so-called “honey” - in this report from 2012 (copy and paste the link into your browser):

4. Buying honey from a high street supermarket

Perhaps your only option is to purchase from a supermarket. In this case, my recommendation would be:

  • despite the fact that organic beekeeping and certification of organic honey is not straightforward, I do recommend it over other honeys if you must purchase from the supermarket.  Read more about organic honey. OR as a second choice;

  • look for terms such as ‘woodland honey’ or ‘heather honey’. In these situations, hopefully the bees have had access to organic foraging opportunities, even if the land is not actually certified as such (although there is no guarantee the area will be free of pollutants!). However, please note, the bees and bee hives may have been treated with veterinary medicines.

  • always look for pure honey, and check for other ingredients (unfortunately, requirements to label for added ingredients may vary by country). 

You can read more about some of the honey that has found its way onto supermarket shelves by visiting my page about high street supermarket honeys.

5. Buying different types of honey

If you are buying honey, no doubt you will have noticed a vast choice available, such as:

  • Single blossom honeys
    This is when bees have foraged primarily on one type of flower, such as heather, acacia honey, orange blossom or clover.

  • Mixed flowers
    Such as wildflower or meadow honey.  On the other hand, local beekeepers may offer honey where bees have had the opportunity to forage on a wide variety of garden and wild flowers.

  • Flavoured honeys
    Honeys spiked (or infused) with herbs and spices, such as ginger, cinnamon or chilli.

  • Honeys with claimed health benefits
    An obvious example would be Manuka honey.

Buying honey is also a matter of consistency and presentation:

  • set honey
  • runny honey
  • cut comb honey (which is runny honey, but with chunks of honey comb also in the jar - the honey comb is edible)
  • comb honey - you may find a beekeeper or specialist supplier who will allow you to purchase honey still in the comb - some beekeepers prefer it this way!

At the end of the day, the choice is yours!  But on behalf of the bees though, why not:

  • buy ethically
  • see honey as a precious treat

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