Ann Chilcott, Scottish Expert Beemaster, explores the popularity of raw honey.

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Currently in America there is a great movement towards producing honey that has not been heated or filtered and this preference is catching on in the UK. A friend who sells honey at UK farmer’s markets frequently is asked for raw honey. This may be partly due to the general trend towards the perceived benefits of raw food.

There is no legal definition of raw honey but it is either honey on the comb which is eaten along with the wax, or honey that has been extracted from the frames, as in the photograph, and run into jars after a short period of settling in the tank. Untreated honey requires less equipment for the smallholder but it takes longer to jar large amounts because the honey is quite viscous and runs more slowly than heated honey.

Smallholder:

The honey shown in the photograph could be settled in the tank at room temperature and run straight into jars instead of being sieved which will filter out bits of wax and small amounts of pollen. Alternatively some of the large bits of wax could be removed in the sieve and the unheated honey then bottled.

In a honey bee brood nest the summer temperatures will range from 32°C to 35°C but the temperature of the honey stored above in the supers will be less than this. Heating honey up to 37°C causes the destruction of nearly 200 components, some of which are antibacterial. Heating up to 40°C destroys an important enzyme called invertase, whilst heating up to 50°C for more than 48 hours basically turns the honey into caramel and the valuable honey sugars become analogous with ordinary table sugar. The delicate unique floral aroma and taste are also destroyed by heat.

The reason why honey is heated is so that customers may have the runny honey that many demand, and the product can sit on the shelves for at least six months in this condition before granulating. Honey needs to be heated to 54°C for 45 minutes minimum to achieve this state but large honey packers often heat above this temperature and filter varying amounts of pollen out of honey. Pollen and wax particles will cause honey to granulate more rapidly making it more viscous and less runny because the sugars become more tightly packed.

Misconception abounds that granulated honey is a bad thing so disabusing the public of this through providing more information about honey is important. Granulated honey retains its delicious flavour, and when spread on your warm breakfast toast it melts into it releasing the wonderful aroma and taste of truly high quality honey.

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This article fierst appeared in Smallholder magazine. To make sure you don't miss out subscribe or buy a copy from your local newsagent.