Is Your Honey Pure?
Honey is known since time immemorial for its medicinal and food purposes. With this knowledge, you happily add a spoonful of honey to your lemonade after your run in the morning. You give your child ginger-honey concoction before school for a cough-free day. But was the honey you just had pure? Are you aware that all the leading brands of honey available in the Indian market have been found to violate FSSAI standards?
But to understand adulteration, let us understand how honey is produced.
Honey is a golden colored viscous liquid made by honeybees from the nectar (a sugary liquid) they collect from flowers. First of all, I would like to mention that the honeybees put in a lot of effort to make the honey. The entire process of making honey is laborious and time taking.
Unfortunately, in modern times, this process has been tampered with in numerous ways in order to increase honey production. Adulteration of honey means it is impure, artificial or contaminated. Glucose, dextrose, molasses, sugar syrup, invert sugar, corn syrup, or any other similar product may have been added to it.
Following are the ways in which honey has been found to be adulterated in India:
- Addition of antibiotics:
The beekeeping industry uses antibiotics to control and prevent diseases. These drugs find their way to the bees. Drugs are also used as growth promoters to increase the production of honey. Several leading brands of honey - Dabur, Baidyanath, Patanjali Ayurveda, Khadi Gramodyog, and Himalaya - had high levels of two to four antibiotics, according to an investigation done by the Centre for Science and Environment. Even brands from Australia and Switzerland had antibiotics in them. Fun fact – these brands would not be allowed to sell their honey in their own countries due to stringent regulations. But due to lack of food standards in India, they are allowed to sell in the market here. Since May 2010, there has been a ban on the import of Indian honey in the EU countries because of the presence of antibiotics.
- Honey produced from jaggery, sugar, molasses:
Surprise, surprise! Honey can be produced without flowers! How? Let’s see! In order to increase production, beekeepers feed sugar or jaggery to the bees. This produces pure but unnatural honey (not to mention unhealthy!). This form of adulteration is difficult to detect as the honey has been produced from bees after all.
- Honey with added fructose syrup:
The first thing you should do before buying a jar of honey is read the label and check that the ingredient list does not contain ‘high-fructose corn syrup’ or commercial glucose, two additives that are frequently used to ‘stretch’ the honey and keep it from solidifying. All honey is liquid, but with time they tend to solidify, or ‘crystallize’ into a substance resembling grains of sugar. The addition of artificial sugars allows the honey to stay in a liquid state for a long duration of time. If you buy a jar of honey that is already crystallized, it is pure. If your honey is liquid, you can wait a few days to see if it solidifies or throw it in the fridge to accelerate the process. If the honey never crystallizes, there is a high probability that it is adulterated honey.
China is one of the biggest exporters of such adulterated honey. India too faces a major issue here as middlemen and farmers add fructose syrup to increase volumes.
- Honey you are consuming might be non-vegetarian:
Unfortunately, due to the mass production of honey, many times brood frames where larvae of bees exist are put in churning machines where they get mixed with honey. There have been times when dead bees have been found in the containers where honey is collected. Broken honeycombs are hand-squeezed to extract honey (we all know where those hands might have been!) Honey containers are reused without being properly cleaned and might have been exposed to dirt.
To be safe for consumption, the honey must be packed in hygienically clean, wide-mouthed glass containers or in acid-resistant, lacquered tin containers, or in other suitable containers. With glass-bottle packing, one does not have to worry about harmful substances from plastic leaching into the honey, or the plastic not being food-grade. The screwed caps for the glass containers should be of non-corrosive and non-reactive material and should be provided with washers to avoid spilling.
The key findings from the lab tests conducted by a consumer organization, Consumer Voice found out that:
- Except for Zandu, none of the tested brands of honey conforms to C4 sugars requirement.
- None of the brands, including Zandu, conform to the other test parameters for purity and authenticity as per the requirements of new notification by FSSAI.
- None of the brands is pure honey.
- There were smaller brands which might be selling pure honey, but they are unable to mass-produce.
So the next time you pick up a bottle of honey, do be aware! Check the sources and be sure to read the label!