You've probably heard of raw honey—but should you be eating it? Here's what you need to know.
Honey is hot right now—and from blended honey cream to dried bee pollen, there’s an exciting new crop of artisanal honey products popping up in stores. Scan the labels on any of these products, and you’re likely to run across the term “raw honey.” This common honey buzzword tends to cause a stir. What exactly is it? And how is it different from regular, or commercial, honey? Is it healthier? If you’re interested in trying raw honey, keep reading.
What is Raw Honey?
Raw honey is simply honey in its purest form. Also called pure or unfiltered honey, raw honey is unfiltered and unpasteurized, meaning it has not undergone any processing whatsoever. If you’ve ever purchased honey from a local beekeeper, it’s likely that this is raw honey.
The truth is, honey has been cultivated and consumed since ancient times—and rest assured, the Egyptians weren’t squeezing it from a plastic bottle shaped like a bear. Most likely, they were using pure, unprocessed honey—A.K.A. raw honey.
So, how exactly do you get raw honey? Plants produce nectar and pollen, which bees collect. Bees take the pollen, which acts as a natural fertilizer, from one plant to another. The bees then take the nectar back to the hive, process it into honey, and store it inside honeycombs. While this honey serves as a vital food source for the bees, they naturally produce more than they need to ensure they can survive a cold winter. This is where beekeepers enter the picture—they harvest the excess honey from the hive by extracting it from honeycombs.
Because raw honey is unfiltered, it may contain pieces of pollen or honeycomb. As a result, it has a cloudy appearance that’s quite unlike commercial honey, which is the kind that’s most often sold in grocery stores.
Raw Honey vs. Honey
The major difference between raw honey and honey is the degree of processing. Commercial honey is pasteurized, or heated to a high temperature, and filtered to remove the pollen and other impurities. The resulting honey has a smoother consistency and is easier to drizzle from a bottle. However, pasteurizing also removes honey’s naturally-occurring nutrients and antioxidants. Many consider this practice completely unnecessary, as honey does not need to be pasteurized in the same way as milk because it is highly acidic and a natural bacteria inhibitor.
The other big difference is appearance—commercial honey is clear and has a golden tint, while raw honey is opaque and milky.
Because raw honey contains pollen, it’s also more likely to crystallize over time—a natural process that occurs due to honey’s extremely high concentration of sugar. The texture is gritty and may be unappealing to some, but it’s perfectly safe to consume.
Health Benefits of Raw Honey
Honey, raw or commercial, is also a well-known home remedy to soothe a sore throat or suppress a persistent cough. On top of this, honey boasts natural antibacterial properties that can aid in healing wounds, burns, and ulcers on the skin.
Honey has a lower glycemic index than white sugar, but is it necessarily a healthier sweetener? Sort of. Because honey has a more concentrated flavor than sugar, you don’t need to use as much of it to achieve a sweet taste. On the other hand, honey is still considered an added sugar—and you should aim to keep your consumption of it at a minimum.
However, there are several health benefits you can reap from eating raw honey. First off, raw honey contains flavonoids which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Secondly, raw honey also contains oligosaccharides, prebiotics that feed the good bacteria in your gut.
Some believe that raw honey can fight seasonal allergies—but studies suggest that this is more myth than actual fact.
How to Use Raw Honey
Raw honey's thick, creamy texture makes it a delicious sweetener for plenty of foods. Try spreading it over toast, stirring it into oatmeal, adding it to smoothies, or mixing it into salad dressing. You can use raw honey in recipes in the same way as commercial honey—but we don't reccomend using it in baked goods that are exposed to higher temperatures. Substitute raw honey in this delicious Honey Cider Vinegar Dressing recipe, then try it out in these delicious recipes:
Where to Buy Raw Honey
The best place to buy raw honey is from a local beekeeper. Peruse your nearest farmer's market for a stand that sells local honey. Health food stores, such as Whole Foods, are also likely to stock raw honey. Labeling lingo such as "organic," isn't as meaningful, since there is currently no established USDA organic standard for honey. Instead, find a local beekeeper or brand of raw honey you like—and stick to that. Make sure to store your honey at room temperature in a cool, dry place such as a kitchen cabinet.