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Honey Standards

Honey standards and certification are an important way for consumers to know what they are getting. With standards it is easier to trust the quality and source by simply checking the label of the honey we buy. Without standards, if it is labeled, “Pure Honey”, what does that mean? Does it also contain corn syrup as well as ‘pure’ honey? Unfortunately this is a possibility.

Standards begin with a common definition and description. An excellent definition of honey comes from the World Health Organization (WHO) Codex Alimentarius (CA) for Honey, “Honey is the natural sweet substance, produced by honey bees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants or excretions of plant-sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of there own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in honeycombs to ripen and mature.

For the description of honey, it continues, “Honey consists essentially of different sugars predominantly glucose and fructose. The color of honey varies from nearly colorless to dark brown. The consistency can be fluid, viscous or partly to entirely crystallized. The flavor and aroma vary, but usually derive from the plant origin.

In the definition, you may have read, “…excretions of plant-sucking insects…”!? That doesn’t sound too appetizing. How does that relate to the honey we know? You may be surprised to learn, much of the worlds’ honey is made partly or entirely from sweet excretions of insects rather than nectar from blossoms. It is called honeydew, fir or forest honey. It is much loved by those who prefer a darker and stronger tasting honey. There are two official types of honey based on their source:

- Blossom Honey or Nectar Honey; the honey which bees create from nectars of plants.
- Honeydew Honey; the honey which bees create mainly from sap secreted by insects (Hemiptera) from the living parts of plants or secretions of living parts of plants.

Enforcement of these standards varies by country. In United States there is no inspection or enforcement. Honey may carry the USDA seal, but there are few federal standards for honey, no government certification and no consequences for making false claims. This is directly from the USDA Rules and Regulations,  “…honey does not require official inspection in order to carry official USDA grade marks…there are no existing programs that require the official inspection and certification of honey…

The best method for determining the quality of honey produced in the USA is to know the local producer and ask them about their honey and production procedures.

Factors that comprise the standards of honey

1/ Composition and quality factors

  • Honey should not contain any food ingredients other than honey.
  • It should not contain any objectionable matter, flavor or odors from processing or storage.
  • It should not have fermented.
  • Don’t remove any pollen or constituent matter
  • Not heated or processed so that the essential composition is changed.

2/ Authenticity in Respect of Production

  • Heating and filtering within proscribed limits and labeled if outside those limits as, “pasteurized” or “filtered”
  • Sugars used to feed bees should not adulterate the honey (i.e. Sugars should not be added to honey or fed to bees during honey creation also known as honey flow).
  • Non-ripe honey may not be harvested nor water added. Honey is ripened in the hive by evaporating water until it reaches a certain water content and is capped by the bees in the honeycomb.

3/ Authenticity in Respect of Labeling and Descriptions

  • Honey may be labeled according honey removal process. Extracted, by centrifugal force of decapped combs. Press or pressed by pressing combs. Drained by draining decapped combs.
  • Honey may be labeled according to the style. Honey, in a liquid or crystallized state or a mixture of the two. Comb when in the comb or cut comb or chunk when containing parts of the comb.
  • Botanical source. Predominant floral source (see single flower honey) or type; floral or honeydew, fir or forest honey. Honey labeled as from a single floral source cannot be blended with other honey (must meet minimum concentration requirements as well).
  • Geographic or topological source. The country region or specific location within a country with corresponding honey characteristics.
  • Species of bee. Most honey is produced by Apis Mellifera, but there are many other species with unique characteristics of honey.
  • Organic, raw (unheated), natural. To be labeled as organic honey, must be based on organic production procedures. As raw honey, requires production and storage at, or under maximum hive temperature. As natural honey, is a always mislabeling since all honey is natural.

4/ Contaminates:

  • Free of heavy metals in amounts that become a hazard to health.
  • Not exceed maximum limits of pesticide and veterinary drugs.

5/ Hygiene

  • Follow general  principles of food hygiene

Honey standards criteria

Many of the standards have specific measurable criteria.

  • Composition: moisture content, fructose, sucrose and glucose percentages
  • Type (blossom or honeydew): conductivity
  • Floral source: pollen analysis

Recognizing and Protecting the Sources of Honey

The authenticity of the origins of food and agricultural products is of great importance to consumers, as well as local producers. In many countries, foodstuffs including honey, are identified by their location through regulatory means.
In the European Union, this is regulated by the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) and the Protected Designations of Origin (PDO). This is similar to, and inspired by, the Appellation systems used in other countries. such as the Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) France, the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) Italy, the Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) Portugal, and the Denominación de Origen (DO) Spain.
In the United States, American Viticultural Area (AVA) is used to identify and designate specific wine growing regions.

PDO

PGI

AOC

Recognizing and protecting regional foodstuffs from around the world (including honey) is important as they are in danger of being lost. The international organization, Slow Food supports small producers and farmer’s markets and catalogs their quality food products. Food cataloging is done through the activity, “The Ark of Taste”. From Slow Food, “The Ark of Taste aims to rediscover, catalog, describe and publicize forgotten flavors. It is a metaphorical recipient of excellent gastronomic products that are threatened by industrial standardization, hygiene laws, the regulations of large-scale distribution and environmental damage.” They have already identified many rare honeys from around the world. (see USA Ark of Taste, Slow Food Italy – founding country)

Slow Food

Examples of honey standards from several countries:

United States
- USDA Standards for Grades of Extracted Honey

Florida Standard of Identity for Honey. Florida is the first state to officially identify what honey is and does offer some purity guidelines:
- Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: Standard of Identity – Honey

World Health Organization of the United Nations:
- World Health Organization (WHO) – FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS – CODEX STANDARD FOR HONEY (pdf)

European Union:
- EU Council Directive 2001/11o/EC Relating to Honey (pdf)
- PDO, PGI, TSG Database of Origin and Registration – DOOR

England
- The Honey (England) Regulations 2003
UK Food Standards Agency-Honey (pdf) (enforcement details)

Canada
- Honey Regulations [C.R.C., c. 287]

France
- Decree No. 2003-587 of 30 June 2003 adopted in application of Article L. 214-1 of the Consumer Code in respect of honey (Google translated to English from French) (Original French version – Décret n°2003-587 du 30 juin 2003 pris pour l’application de l’article L. 214-1 du code de la consommation en ce qui concerne le miel)

Germany
- German Honey Regulation – HonigV (Google translated to English from German) (Original German version – Deutschen Honigverordnung (HonigV))

Italy
- National Beekeeping Registry Decree – Description (Google Translated to English from Italian)

Next: Raw honey; Why is it better?

22 comments to Honey Standards

  • Savio HAKIRUMURAME

    Thank you very much to allow me asking questions. I’m a professional in charge of animal disease surveillance in the directorate of inspection, country Rwanda. I’d like to know what WTO regulations says about the issuance of sanitary certificate in terms of international trade to avoid the dissemination of diseases of honey bees trough their product. I’m asking this question Because all the above regulations i came to read, only talk about quality and hygiene, so what about the concern of diseases dissemination through international trade of honey.

    Thank u, looking forward to hearing from you

  • Hi Savio:

    Investigating and perhaps becoming a member of the the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE – http://www.oie.int) may be a viable approach. Among the formal obligations of OIE Members is the submission of information on the relevant animal disease situation – including zoonoses (infectious diseases transmitted between animals and humans), present on their territory – in the most timely and transparent way. From the OIE website, “By acquiring and maintaining its official status, a country demonstrates transparency and helps to promote animal health and public health worldwide, thereby gaining the trust of its trade partners, neighbouring countries and the international community as a whole.”

    Bee diseases recognized by the OIE.

    Acarapisosis of honey bees
    American foulbrood of honey bees
    European foulbrood of honey bees
    Small hive beetle infestation (Aethina tumida)
    Tropilaelaps infestation of honey bees
    Varroosis of honey bees

    Contacting the OIE may lead you in the right direction.

    …Scott

  • John Forrester

    I have seen Tupelo Honey in the grocery stores labeled as “pure” and “fancy”. Is there a difference or has corn syrup or other sugar additives been mixed with the honey. Is there a difference in the two terms?

  • Hi John:

    The terms “pure” or “fancy” do not mean anything. There are certainly no standards that mention them. Color is often cited in the grading of honey, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the honey. It is more of a classification.

    When you are buying honey in the supermarket, you can’t rely on the labeling to determine the purity or processing of the honey. I try to buy honey that has been bottled by the producer or bee keeper. It will have the bee keepers name or company name on the label. At best, very large bottlers/distributors of honey use honey from all over the world and blend it together to make a consistent (but undifferentiated) product. If the honey was called Tupelo and it was actually produced in Florida, then you have a better chance of it being authentic as Florida is one of the few states with a honey standard.

    …Scott

  • Josh

    Scott,
    I work for a large company that does various testing on foodstuffs of all different kinds. Currently, I am working on a method that will determine the diastase number of a honey sample to determine whether or not the sample has been stored properly, heated or pasteurised. This method is relatively new in comparison to the Schade method you may be familiar with but still reports in the same units as the Schade test. We at the company have begun to see that the push here in the United States is to test honey more stringently. We have lab that is a world leader in authenticity testing over in Europe but we are interested in testing the market here in America. Are there any tests that honey producers would like to be made more readily available? Are there go-to tests that honey producers use to test composition and purity of their honey? Perhaps moisture, conductivity, and dissolved solids? We are trying to cater to clients’ needs and any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, -Josh-

  • Hi Josh:

    There are few government standards, so the need for testing/certification is generally low. Florida and California are moving towards better honey standards as are a few other states such as Wisconsin and North Carolina. Take a look at their standards to get an idea of what testing/certification might be useful.

    The main concern in the USA (and Canada) currently is of foreign, unsafe honey. A 3rd party test for antibiotics, heavy metals and lack of pollen that hides origin would be of interest. Possibly for heating as you are doing with diastase for the therapeutic market. Moisture content is easily tested with a refractometer for Government standard guidelines.

    “Additive-free” would also be of interest to the organic market.

    Most people are uneducated when it comes to honey quality and varieties, so a consumer-focused test/certification may be premature. But in the long run, the trend is for greater information about foods. It is only a matter of time before the marketing of honey by variety, quality and location becomes commonplace. It is accepted for wines and cheeses by most. I believe the key to the successful marketing of honey this way will be 3rd party verification of floral source and quality. A test for this could be crucial to earning trust in the consumer market. In the USA, we have varietal honey commonly sold for Tupelo, Sourwood, Star Thistle, Buckwheat, Blueberry, Orange Blossom (citrus), Clover and Sage and many more sold in specialty quantities. But there is no 3rd party verification of the actual pollen content of any of these honeys.

    …Scott

  • Scott,

    I’m looking for honey standard of the Middle East. I have been trying for many days , but gotten nothing yet. Do you have any ideas about it?

    Teresa

  • philip

    my bee hive was colonized on July 7,2013. what date or month do I expect to get honey Or how many weeks or month will I get matured honey to harvest? thanks.

  • Hi Philip:

    I am a new hobbyist beekeeper, so my opinions should not be given too much weight. Variables affecting the answer to your question:
    - How many bees did you start with? Was it a wild swarm or a package of bees or a split hive?
    - What part of the country is the hive located? When does winter begin and end.
    - What is the plant life within 2 – 3 mile diameter? Crops, grassland, forest, varied, parkland?
    - What kind of hive do you have? Langstroth, top bar?

    In the very best case. 20,000+ bees, long summer, mild short winter, Langstroth hive, strong melliferous plants in reach, then I believe you could harvest a modest amount of honey this year. With a strong queen you could have an excellent year 2014.

    In the most challenging case; 5,000 bees or less, short summer, long cold winter, top bar hive, average plant life there is no chance. However, with a strong queen, you could have a good 2014.

    My first hives were started in March from packages using two top bar hives, in the Chicago suburbs. One hive produced about a gallon of honey the first year and survived the winter, the other was weak and I didn’t harvest any and it didn’t survive the winter.

    In any case, stick with it! You will soon have a lot of honey if all goes well, and if nothing else, a fascinating hobby.

    …Scott

  • Hi Teresa:

    Since the middle east is made up of many different countries, each with their own laws and practices, it is difficult to generalize. However, work is being done to define agricultural guidelines for food standardization and of course, many honey producers make excellent, high quality honey. But with no enforced standards (ironically similar to the USA), you can not be sure of the honey you buy. Not to say I wouldn’t purchase honey from countries in the middle east. I have purchased honey directly from beekeepers there that sell online. Also, friends have brought honey from Turkey that I found delicious. Of course, the easiest way to ensure the best honey is to buy the honeycomb. It is often served that way in Turkey.

    …Scott

  • Ghazal

    Hi,
    I would like to obtain quality certificates for honey to be used in the middle east, any suggestions on what would be a credible certificate other than those approved by the FDA, CFIA and WHO?

  • Yoba Nyancho

    Hi
    I am bee keeper so i would like to supply you with pure natural raw honey ?

  • raju

    i have forest raw honey in large quandity.how i find honey byers.

  • Hi Raju:

    Tell us more about your honey. What kind of trees? Where are you located?

    …Scott

  • Cephus

    raju
    I am interested in buying forest raw honey in 2014.
    Send me the info Scott asked.
    We are extremely strict honey producers so it could take a while to buy some if we decide to.
    Thanks
    Cephus

  • Jade

    What is the difference between raw honey and mature honey?
    What is the benefit to human body?

  • Hi Jade:

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘mature’ honey. Do you mean that it has been capped properly by the bees, and has the correct moisture content? Sometimes, honey is harvested before it is ready, then the moisture content is reduced with a vacuum evaporator.

    Raw honey is honey that has been capped properly by the bees and has not been processed or filtered. It can be in the comb–this is the ideal raw honey. Or extracted without heat or fine filtering. Only strained to remove larger particles.

    For honey benefits see: http://www.honeytraveler.com/health-properties-of-honey/.

    …Scott

  • Hi Ghazal:

    Sorry for the late reply! Take a look here: http://www.honeytraveler.com/types-of-honey/organic-honey/, in particular this one for organic standards, such as they are, http://www.honeytraveler.com/types-of-honey/organic-honey/example-honey-quality-standard/

    …Scott

  • Ghulam Sanaie Satti

    I am a beekeeper in Afghanistan and i want to know about the granulation of honey. some customer don’t like the granulated honey, how we can keep the honey in liquid form for a long time in jar?

  • Hi Ghulam:

    If you read this site, you will know that my preference is for raw, unprocessed honey as this retains all the nutrients and healthful properties of the honey, not forgetting the aroma and taste! Crystallization is one sign that the honey is unprocessed. So I don’t find it a problem. It is very easy to gently warm up the jar of honey and return it to its liquid state.

    Why do people prefer the liquified honey? One reason is that some honeys crystallize poorly. The crystals may be large, hard and irregular. You can’t spread it easily and it doesn’t feel good in the mouth. Of course some honeys crystallize beautifully and are spreadable, smooth and delicious. The other reason is they like the look of the honey when it is liquid.

    The problem with the usual production methods of keeping honey in the liquid state is that they degrade the honey.

    My first advice is to cream the honey. some of the best honey I’ve ever had was creamed honey created by talented beekeepers who had perfected the art of creaming honey. IF done well, it is a low temperature process that doesn’t degrade the honey, and it retains a wonderfully smooth, even texture.

    So number two, is to provide instructions of how to heat the honey to bring it back to liquid state. What most people don’t realize is that you don’t need to reheat the honey every time you want to use it. Heating is not ‘melting’ the honey, it is de-crystallizing the honey. It stays liquid for a number of weeks afterwards.

    Number three. This is not advice, but information. The other ways to retain the liquid state are to microfilter the honey to remove the small starter crystals and/or heat the honey to dissolve the starter crystals. This temperature is far above the point of safety for the quality of the honey. Micro filtering and heating both degrade the taste and healthful properties of the honey. I don’t condone these methods.

    …Scott

  • Marie

    Aloha, We are located on the island of Kauai in the State of Hawaii. Our partner is wanting to export our honey to Japan. One of the requirements is a certificate of analysis. How do we go about getting an analysis for our local honey? Will await your response. Mahalo Nui (thank you very much)

  • mark falter

    Hi Scott, appreciate your informative page.

    Do you know if there are any federal inspections required for packing raw honey?

    Regards,
    Mark

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