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Unheated raw honey?

At the farmers' market they sell unheated raw honey. Is this better than the bottle stuff you get in the supermarket? What are the benefits of unheated raw honey? Any downside? Do they heat it to kill any bacteria that may be in it? I know you shouldn't give it to infants and young children.

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  1. Raw honey is wonderful, it has much more flavor than pasteurized honey. It's naturally antibacterial and has been used as a dressing for open sores.

    1. I'm not sure of all the benefits of raw honey, but it's the only thing that keeps me going this time of year with my allergies . I take local raw honey for my allergies which works better than any perscription drug I've ever tried.

      I'm sure it contains a wide array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids too.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Infomaniac

        Wow I've heard about honey being good for allergies. Is it only raw honey that gives you this benefit?

        1. re: Infomaniac

          For the record, "local" is the key word. It works because bees gather pollen from the local plants that you're allergic to, then the allergens in the honey are introduced to your body in such a way that your immune system can kick in. But it won't work with raw honey from an area where you don't live. Had a girlfriend who read about raw honey as a way to treat her allergies, so she bought some raw honey from Hawaii. She lived in Las Vegas! But the honey was delicious. It also doesn't work if the bees don't gather pollen from whatever kind of plants you're allergic to. For instance, many grasses. Raw honey works better for some people than for others, depending on your allergies.

          1. re: Caroline1

            Eh I live around DC so I'm not sure if there are alot of beekeepers around. Pollen levels are pretty high and driving me nuts

            1. re: takadi

              takadi...you'd be suprised. I know there was a huge honey section at the MD state fair last year, which implies to me that there are a number of local honey producers. I'd imagine that it's similar over on the NoVa side if that's where you are. Def. check out farmers markets.

        2. FYI: Honey is the only food item that does not spoil.

          1. The downside of untreated raw honey is that it will crystallize when you get it home, and it will need heat treatment aka pasteurization to become liquid. It probably won't have a fine grain as it crystallizes, so it may be somewhat rough in texture. Most people would be hard pressed to tell the difference in flavour between raw and pasteurized, but what you will get with raw is untreated dust, pollen,and insect parts that have escaped the filtering.

            Having said that, the farmers' product is way better than the commercial product, which can, and does , include darker honeys from abroad, mixed in with a nice light local product.

            3 Replies
            1. re: jayt90

              All honey will crystalize in time. Raw honey is usually quite fresh if you buy from a good source, and think of how long bees store it. Not likely to crystalize before you use it up. Well, if you like it. If it does crystalize, you don't have to heat it to "pasturization temperature" to reliquify it. Just sitting it (in the jar) in a tub of warm water for a while should do the trick.

              1. re: Caroline1

                One advantage of pasteurized honey is is the opportunity the producer has to produce a creamy texture into the solid or liquid honey. As the honey cools from the modest pasteurization temperature (160F), a special fine textured crystal starter is introduced. This will enable the entire vat to crystallize in a soft, creamy pattern, easy to spread without liquifying again.

                1. re: Caroline1

                  I believe Caroline is right. I've bought raw honey and it's been liquid throughout the entire time I had the jar. And I remember long ago my parents bought honey (not raw) that was crystallized.

              2. Raw honey is fabulous- definitely give it a try. Good beekeepers can do all kinds of neat things with their honey, like helping the bees produce single-variety honeys that take on the fragrance and flavour properties of certain plants (eucalyptus, clover, honeydew, orange blossom, buckwheat, lavender, tupelo, etc).

                Regular supermarket honey is mixed to become more uniform (and boring, in my opinion) and often the bees are fed plain old sugar syrup so that they will produce (instead of getting everything from flowers). It's nothing like what you get with locally produced honey.

                Beware, though- bees should not be located near certain poisonous plants, or the honey can become poisonous. You should be fine, but there's no harm in being on the lookout for dangerous symptoms (dizziness, nausea, convulsions, etc).

                14 Replies
                1. re: sfumato

                  Where exactly do you get raw honey?

                  For those with limited resources, is buying "high quality" honey from the supermarket passable, or is raw honey is a totally different ballpark?

                  1. re: takadi

                    We get ours from friends with a farm and hives in Maine when we're lucky, and when we need to buy it we get it at Russos in Watertown (www.russos.com). We were there today and they had local honey from at least 3 different beekeepers, including Reseska Apiaries (http://bostonhoneycompany.com/Our_Pro...). I LOVE their Boston Honey Company line.

                    I think "high quality" honey just won't be the same if it's not labelled "raw." It could be very good, but it will probably have been processed, which means you're not getting a lot of what you get with raw honey.

                  2. re: sfumato

                    I have never heard of bees being fed sugar to produce honey. In my area (Ontario) they are given sugar syrup to get through the winter. None of this sugar gets into the honey crop. It may be different where you live, but I would want to see a document , or paper, or at least a url that this occurs.

                    Takadi, check out farmers markets or countryside sources in your area.

                    1. re: jayt90

                      My grandfather kept about six bee hives for our fruit trees when I was a kid, and while we did live in southern California, I can't imagine having to feed bees sugar in the wintertime, no matter where you live. They store honey for future food. But a beekeeper in a cold climate might have to do something to keep his bees from swarming and moving to a warmer climate!

                      As for feeding bees with sugar water, no one does that! There is a huge problem going on in this country right now, though I'm not sure whether it is global, but bees are vanishing. Quite worrisome since without bees, so many of our crops will vanish, especially fruit. Either that or it would be prohibitively expensive if it had to be pollinated by hand. Beekeepers make handsome money by moving their beehives from farm area to farm area for pay from the farmers.

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        No one does that! Yes, they do. The simple fact is that bees in northern climates need sugar syrup in the winter months because all of their honey has been removed in the autumn. As for bees being moved from one state to another (I did not say province) for crop pollination, this raises the stress level of the insects, and many bees succumb to this.

                        Swarming has nothing to do with moving to a warmer climate, and everything to do with bees following a territorial move by a new queen.

                        1. re: jayt90

                          Okay. I just Googled "feeding bees sugar water," and it is done. But it's not something that would have been done when my grandfather kept bees. To me it is downright illogical and not good practice. Think about it: If raw honey does things to boost the human immune system, what must it do for bees? Sugar water may keep the bees in a hive that has been (stupidly) stripped of its honey from starving, but what kind of colony health is it promoting?

                          And just to hairsplit a little further, when bees migrate, they follow the queen, therefore bees do swarm to migrate. I know. Semantics! '-)

                          1. re: Caroline1

                            I only know the honey industry in Ontario, where I worked before attending grad school. Fall stripping of the hives and winter feeding is universal in northern climates, and hasn't changed for a century, as a matter of cost. Sugar syrup is inexpensive to make, and the honey plus wax too valuable to leave on the hive over winter. Your reasoning is not going to change the industry.
                            Here is my home town neighbor's site
                            http://www.munrohoney.com/facts.asp

                            1. re: jayt90

                              I've looked over your home town's neighbor's website and it says absolutely nothing about how much or how often or when to artificially feed bees, nor is there a word about the impact that artificial feeding may have on the overall health of the hive. But now I am wondering if feeding bees sugar water has in any way contributed to the vanishing bee problem. hmmmm...

                              I'm not experienced with huge bee keeping projects. My grandfather only kept about six hives for our own fruit trees, and if there was added benefit to the citrus growers surrounding us, that was fine. But he would never take all the honey from a hive. As he sorted through the hives, he would say something like, "This flats for us, this flat is for the bees."

                              It seems logical that the allergy modifying benefits to humans from raw honey must certainly be diminished in raw honey taken from artificially fed bees.

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                Munro's has used sugar every winter that I can remember.
                                Vanishing bees is not a problem in southwestern Ontario, or Canada, because transporting bees great distances from one crop to another is rarely done. It is done frequently in the U.S. where there is a much wider range of fruits, and growing seasons, not to mention remuneration for moving bees.

                                If I were a bee hobbyist, I would follow your grandpa's practices, although the temperatures might be too cold for the bees to feed on crystallized honey in sub zero weather, while sugar syrup remains liquid. However, I'm not in that business, and other factors have to be considered to get a hive through the winter. If leaving the bees with their own honey would work, then businesses would do it.

                                Honey producers like Munro's have to winterize several thousand hives, in many locations, and the use of sugar is a no brainer for them, as it has been since 1914. I want to re-emphasize, and you can verify by e-mailing Davis Bryans at Munro's, that the sugar syrup is completely consumed by the colony in early spring, and the newly hatched bees, multiplying rapidly, bring in fresh nectar for their own use as soon as the dandelions appear. I note that they do sell raw honey in the comb, and there is no trace of white sugar in this or their pasteurized products.

                          2. re: jayt90

                            They will also swarm if they've outgrown their space, regardless of what the queen does.

                        2. re: jayt90

                          If you're responding to my post, I'll point out that I did say that they're fed sugar syrup, and not just plain sugar.

                          I understand that during hard times/long stretches of bad weather it can become necessary to supplement the bees' diets, but the longtime beekeepers I know (all located in Maine) say that they prefer not to do it if they can help it- they believe that it affects the quality of the honey if it's done regularly just to encourage more honey production. So I'm taking this advice from them, honestly. If you want to believe wikipedia, it says the same thing on the "honey" page ("Transparent and reluctant to thicken honey can also indicate its being a result of feeding the bees with sugar syrup or even sugar itself, which is bad both for the bees and for the honey they produce, as naturally they are supposed to feed on flower nectar").

                          I guess the idea that my beekeeper friends have is that it's like putting grow lights in chicken coops- that it does make them lay more eggs than they normally would during the winter months, but it's not natural and it affects the quality when you mess with those natural processes. And they think it dilutes the honey, of course, as I said before.

                          1. re: sfumato

                            I have not heard of this in Ontario or the midwest: feeding bees sugar syrup when there are no flowers because of bad weather.
                            Syrup is strictly a winter food, for the small number of bees that make it through the cold months.

                            The Wiki article also points out that honey can be ultrafiltered and will remain clear afterwards. I was not aware of this, but it explains how some supermarket honey may never crystallize.
                            I have an expensive jar of eucalyptus honey that remains clear after a year.

                            1. re: jayt90

                              If you google "feeding bees sugar syrup" you'll find loads of information on this practise. Clearly it's hotly debated!

                              1. re: sfumato

                                Well, it's worth asking about, if we are inclined to pick up honey at a market, or in rural sources.
                                One of the Wiki articles showed a concentration of honey production in the Great Lakes states and provinces, as high as any other area except northeast China. The season is short and steady in the Great Lakes area, progressing rapidly from dandelion to fruits, clover, alfalfa,buckwheat, and ending with goldenrod, from April to October. There is no need to feed sugar syrup until December, and then only until March, for the few bees that live through the winter.
                                But it is worth asking these apiarists if they know of feed supplements going on anywhere. It's kind of like asking a farmer if he knows someone practicing veterinary medecine without a licence. There is always someone willing to break the rules.