Friday, March 9, 2012

Heat treated supermarket honey

Peter Bray of Airborne Honey Ltd (NZ) has sent a well written statement about the heating of honey and the loss of quality. The quality of honey on NZ shop selves varies. Imported honey (currently happening, but illegal) is imported because it is cheap and therefore quality will be much lower than "home-made". You should note that honey is bacterial resistant and does not require processing to make it safe.

I will say more on this topic of heating honey later. Please comment below and tell me what you think and how it works for you.


The question on heating, raw, pasteurized etc. is the single biggest question we get from consumers.   Since there is no legal definition of "raw", it is difficult to compare claims.  Some think raw is "uncooked", "unheated" etc. To others it is closer to "raw materials" in meaning.

However retail honey is usually presented with visible impurities removed (bees legs, wings, wax particles etc.)  and in a processed state - it has been extracted, packed in bulk containers (drums, pallecons etc) re-liquefied, strained, perhaps creamed, and then packed into retail containers.  The degree of heating to liquefy and the amount of filtering or straining is where most changes can occur with the removal of pollen, reduction of enzymes, volatiles and other flavouring agents etc.

The US market is unusual that virtually all honey is sold in a liquid form, even when the sources are fast crystallizing honeys such as Canola.  To achieve this they filter all particles (including pollen) from the honey that might act as a nucleus for crystals to form around. They also heat it to ensure that all crystals are liquefied.  Here in New Zealand, more than half of the market is creamed honey (crystallized) so fast crystallizing honeys can be processed into creamed honey products and slow crystallizing honeys turned into liquid honey packs.

As you know Airborne has a patented liquefication process for our honey.  We assess heat damage by routinely measuring HMF (see on every incoming sample and every outgoing product we produce plus we collect and measure samples of various honey brands from supermarket shelves all over New Zealand for HMF along with a range of other parameters including pollen.

We can say definitively from this process that some manufacturers are removing significant amounts of natural pollen from honey in New Zealand and some are applying significant amounts of heat.  This is not consistent but overall it is significant.

So How Do We Stack Up?

We know that Airborne's HMF levels are consistently the lowest in the country - a reflection on the lack of heat induced changes in our product.  Our average is 6ppm for our finished products and the country average for other manufacturers is 27ppm.  Some products are over 100ppm (our standing record was 1,132ppm!) and there are many over the EU regulated limit of 40.  However not all this is due to processors damaging the product they are handling.  There is still a significant amount of damage done by beekeepers at extraction time and during storage.  Some of this is deliberate due to beekeepers storing their "manuka" honey at elevated temperatures in and effort to increase their NPA scores, a natural reaction to being paid on those scores (rather than on quality parameters assuring a manuka source).

For our own products we print the HMF and pollen levels on each and every jar so consumers can see for themselves the quality they are getting.

If consumers are interested in the quality of their product, they should read the labels carefully, and read any material that the manufacturer makes available, websites being a prime source.  They should also contact the manufacturer if they have any further queries.

Peter Bray
Airborne Honey Ltd
PO Box 28, Leeston 7682, Canterbury”

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