Beautiful, raw, glistening honey contains amazing antibacterial and antioxidant benefits. The United States’ demand for honey reached a record consumption level of 618 million pounds last year. But the truth is that honey is the third faked food in the world behind milk and olive oil.
Honey is in high demand because it’s viewed as a healthier substitute for processed sweeteners and like we’ve seen in other industries, the demand is too high for American beekeepers to, well, keep up. Honey made in factories is cheaper to produce and it’s often offered commercially at prices that are below fair value which means that our local beekeepers struggle to compete. Some beekeepers rent their bees for the pollination of almonds, for example, instead of for honey production. As a result, the U.S. imports 70% of its honey. We imported 433 million pounds of honey in 2020 from India, Argentina, Ukraine, and Brazil, with Vietnam topping the list of suppliers.
And just like we’ve seen when something is in high demand, it can lead to a barrage of counterfeits in the market. Natural, raw honey is harvested from honeycombs and only gently filtered for debris while fake or counterfeit honey is diluted with syrups from sugarcane, rice, beets, or corn. Processed honey doesn’t contain the low sugar and antioxidant benefits of the real liquid gold. China has grown to be the largest producer of honey even though its number of hives has not increased over the years. This raises concern over the practice of “honey laundering,” which is passing off honey diluted with sugary syrups, drugs, and lead and dumping it in large quantities in the U.S. market labeled as Vietnamese or Thai honey.
We’ve seen honey pop up as an enticing ingredient for feel-good, natural beauty products. It’s being used more and more as a sweetener as we become conscious of our sugar consumption. But the increasing demand has sacrificed our honey’s quality and harmed our domestic beekeepers. Last year, commercial beekeepers in the U.S. joined a collective lawsuit to seek millions in damages from the major honey importers because the unbeatable prices of fake honey lost them business.
You know you’ve got fake honey if it’s thin in consistency and clear because it doesn’t contain any pollen. If you really want to ensure that you have a real batch, support your local farmers and businesses who source from them.
Did you know? Understanding where your products come from and how they’re made is key to tracing instances of human trafficking or shady practices in the global supply chain. The more educated we become as consumers, the better decisions we can make to effect change.