Buying sustainable honey can be a challenging task. It definitely takes a bit more than blindly following the ‘organic’ certification. But doing some personal investigation can be truly rewarding, as consuming this golden nectar comes with many nutritional, medicinal and flavourful rewards. Honey might actually be one of my all time favourite sweeteners. Yes, it tastes sweet, but with a depth that sugar often lacks. I call it ‘wine like’ since the flavour of wine depends on many different aspects. For example the grape, the year, the region, the barrel, the production method and the maker. When you buy the same brand and type of peanutbutter over and over, you kind of know which taste you’re going to get. This is not the case with wine, nor is it with artisan honey. Every jar has its own unique flavour. This is because honey is made by living beings who move. They collect nectar from a specific area in a specific country, from a specific selection of flowers or trees, during a specific season. And then a new year starts, which brings forth a brand new taste because the combination of these elements slightly differs. All of these aspects (and more!) contibute to the distinctive flavour profile of honey.
I’d go as far as to say you actually get to become ONE with a location and a season by eating the nectar of the worker bees labour.
Since honey is made by living beings I find it extra important to make sure this natural process is managed and guided in an ethical and sustainable way. Below I’ll share 4 things I look out for when I’m buying sustainable honey.
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4 FACTS TO CHECK WHEN BUYING HONEY
(to make sure it is sustainable, ethical, nutritional and medicinal)
When honey bees are kept according to European organic standards, it ensures a level of quality and ethics. (note: USDA is supposedly less strict) In The Netherlands, where I live, in order to produce certified organic honey you need to abide by strict regulations. The beehives need to be from organic, natural and non-toxic materials. The wings of the queen bee can’t be clipped. The bees can only be fed with organic matter. And the location of the beehives is of great importance. These need to be situated in a place with more than 50% organic and or wild vegetation, and no polluted areas, in a 3 kilometer radius from each and every beehive.
There’s only one certified organic honey brand in The Netherlands, called De Oase. But there are many more that do abide by the same rules yet are too small to be able to pay the large fee to carry the SKAL certification. This makes it extra important to do your own research when buying sustainable honey.
This is one of the reasons why I prefer to purchase local honey. Buying local makes it easier to ask for information, for example how the honey has been produced. I often e-mail my food producers to enquire about their techniques! Not just beekeepers!
Local means I even get to visit the place where the bees are kept. I can use my own eyes and ears to make a decision on whether or not I think their (the beekeepers) way is aligned with my ethics.
Local honey is made by neighbouring bees that use local and seasonal nectar and pollen. By consuming this honey you get to ingest the nectar and pollen from your area, which may help with hayfever related complaints. And as I said before, when you eat local honey you become ONE with your location and the season. I am convinced eating food that is grown here and now helps you to be more in the here and now, more present. This can be extremely beneficial for people who catch themselves worrying or dreaming about the past or the future.
Bees are an indispensable part of nature, and thus our agriculture. By buying organic and local you also stimulate ethical bee keeping practices in your province or country and help nature to flourish, so we may get to harvest the fruits of our labour. To say it bluntly, without bees no food.
A lot of the organic certified honey, from larger brands, comes from Latin America. Honey bees are not native to these areas. Bees that are kept here compete with indigenous pollinators, who suffer consequently. By buying local honey you do not support these unsustainable practices elsewhere.
In nature wintertime means no flowers and no pollen, so no production of honey. During these times bees rely on the surplus stock they have been building during the other seasons. They feed from their own pantry. They eat their own honey. Many honey producers change this natural process because honey is of commercial value. They harvest the surplus and instead feed the bees (cheaper) sugar syrup during winter. I prefer to support beekeepers and honey producers who respectfully let their bees follow their natural ways, to honor as nature intended, and let bees feed on their own stock. Plus I’d like my honey to be from flowers, not from sugar syrup please.
Last but not least, I check if the honey I purchase is raw. This means it has not been heated above 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit. At big industrial production facilities honey needs to be heated in order to get the crystalized syrup out of the huge 300 kg barrels. Heating also makes filtering easier and less time consuming. Efficiency, and therefore profit, drive these practices. Companies that put profit above ethics and quality are never on my yes list. Furthermore, heating honey kills the enzymes that are naturally present. Enzymes are important as catalysts for all processes in the body. They basically help you function well. Raw honey also contains bee pollen, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It contains bee propolis, a glue-like substance that helps keep the hive together. Propolis has anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. Raw honey is therefore not only of nutritional value, but also medicinal. Honey is rich in antioxidants and although there have not been a lot of studies done to see the effect of heating on antioxidants in honey we know from trials that heating does decrease the antioxidant levels in all other foods. One plus one is two. Antioxidants help protect the cells in your body from the damage of living and breathing. They slow down ageing and degeneration.
Some regular -big brand- honey products may not be 100 procent honey but contain added sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup or rice syrup. Another reason to buy from an artisan local organic beekeeper who produces honey with the utmost care for his bees, his environment, the quality of his honey and you the consumer.
For health reasons, honey is not advised to be consumed by children under the age of 1 year old.
What do you look for when buying sustainable honey?
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