For 8,000 years, humans have used honey in its raw form for food and medicinal purposes. Today, much of the honey on supermarket shelves is “conventional” – meaning that it is processed with heat and filtered.
The growing demand for minimally processed foods has made commercial raw honey a popular alternative. Brought to you directly from the hive, raw honey retains special nutrients that are otherwise removed by processing.
This article will explore the important differences between raw and conventional honey.
Raw honey, pure and simple
Genuine raw honey is sourced right from the honeycomb. Safe to eat, its commercial form is unfiltered and packaged without added heat, giving it a somewhat cloudier appearance than regular honey.
Packed with plant-producing antioxidants, raw honey is a good source of these immune boosters. Without the intense heating process found in conventional honey, raw honey retains antioxidants—along with pollen and propolis, naturally produced by honey bees, which humans have found beneficial to health for centuries.
Only honey products labeled as “raw” on the label contain the extra benefits that honey bees put there in the first place:
Produced by bees as they gather flowering plants, bee pollen is only found in raw honey. Known also as ambrosia, this nutritious bee food contains antioxidants along with infection-fighting, pain-relieving, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Bee pollen contains varying amounts of vitamins A and C, and amino acids, plus small amounts of other nutrients including calcium and magnesium.
Honey bees use sticky bee propolis to seal and protect their hives. Research indicates propolis may have anti-inflammatory and antifungal benefits for both bees and humans.
In addition, bee pollen contains a number of vitamins and minerals.
Pasteurization removes bee propolis and bee pollen from conventional processed honey.
Other raw honey benefits and tips
Found in varying amounts depending on the floral source, the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes in raw honey have long been used to treat coughs, sore throats, indigestion, sleeplessness, and other ailments.
Consult your health provider before using honey for medicinal purposes. Only sterilized and inspected medical-grade honey should be used to treat wounds.
Children 12 months and under should not consume any form of honey. Anyone who’s allergic to bee pollen should avoid raw honey and other bee products, especially if the allergy is severe. Don’t eat or use raw honey without first consulting your doctor.
The National Honey Board has conducted extensive study and research about the history of raw and conventional honey, and their nutritional and medicinal properties.
Raw honey isn’t always organic
Some raw honey is organic, some isn’t. Keep in mind that organic honey can be processed and pasteurized just like regular honey.
Look for sustainably produced and harvested products labeled with the organic seal of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with organic and non-GMO certification by Quality Assurance International (QAI) and the Non-GMO Project, whose verification ensures a sustainable ingredient supply chain.
Conventional processed honey
Uniform in color and texture, regular commercial honey (both organic and non-organic) is pasteurized before being packaged.
An intense heating process is used to enhance color, smoothness, and shelf life. It also removes crystallization, which is a normal occurrence in all honey but won’t affect the flavor or quality of raw honey.
Note that regular honey—both organic and non-organic—may also contain added sweeteners such as corn syrup or brown rice syrup, which is never the case with honey in its raw state. No matter what type of honey you buy, look for the True Source certification label, which indicates the product is pure honey.
Choosing raw honey
For starters, look for the word “raw” on the label. Other labels like “organic,” “pure,” and “natural” don’t indicate that it’s raw.
Also watch for sustainably produced and harvested products labeled with the organic seal of the USDA, and organic and non-GMO certification by QAI. Bee farms that follow USDA and QAI guidelines earn these designations.
In addition, Non-GMO Project Verified certification ensures a sustainable ingredient supply chain, while True Source Certification verifies the country of origin and protects the viability of commercial beekeeping in the United States.
Raw honey storage tips
- To extend raw honey’s long shelf life, store it away from light in a firmly sealed container at room temperature.
- Raw honey tends to crystallize faster than conventional honey, but briefly heating the jar in a pot of hot water will liquefy it. Crystallization doesn’t affect taste or quality.