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Testing the purity and quality of honey is important so that you are sure you are getting all the benefits that are typical of honey. Indeed, pure honey has many benefits and uses. Its health benefits make it a food that many people love. The health benefits include healing properties, boosting your body’s immunity from diseases, contributing to healing colds, and richness in antioxidants.
Many beekeepers, retailers and sellers of honey, are honest and sell high-quality pure honey. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous sellers in the market who have low-quality and impure honey that they sell you. Read on for information about how to go about testing the purity and quality of honey.
High-quality honey has a very specific composition. Despite its country or region of origin, it has low water content and high sugar content. Pure honey is often honey that is packaged in its natural form with all its components as harvested from the beehive.
Solid or particulate components of honey are usually pollen grains. There are some people who are allergic to some or all types of pollen grains. Beekeepers usually sieve their honey to remove pollen grains to save such people from suffering allergic reactions. Even the honey that a beekeeper has sieved to remove pollen grains, is still of high quality since nothing is added to it.
Why is there Impure and Low-Quality Honey?
Beekeepers usually produce pure honey that is of the highest quality. However, as the honey passes through the market supply chain to reach you, some dealers may adulterate it. They usually do this so that they can increase their profits.
Commonly, honey is impure and low-quality when anything is added to it. Honey can also be of low quality when its handling causes removal or destruction of the desired components of the honey.
Poor storage of honey is a major contributor to low-quality honey. Light reaching the honey causes destruction of antioxidants and other useful volatile components. Consuming such honey does not confer you with the full set of health benefits you aim for.
In researching and learning about honey purity and quality, you come across the word ‘additive’ many times. An additive is a substance added to honey and which makes the honey impure. Sugars and water are the most common additives of honey. Bad honey handlers add sugar in one or more of many forms including in powder form and syrup form among others. They also add water to the honey to increase its volume. A major desired outcome for any person adulterating honey is to increase the amount of ‘honey’ they have at a low cost. They then have larger profit margins when they sell off their large amount of cheaply produced ‘honey’ to unsuspecting consumers.
Examining the Purity and Quality of Honey Before Buying
Testing the purity and quality of honey starts well before you even buy the honey. Early analysis of the purity and quality of honey that you are interested in buying involves visually checking the honey, smelling it and tasting it. This is the best approach, especially where you can get a sample of the honey from the seller. Be tactful when acquiring the sample since most sellers do not allow you to open a jar of honey before you buy it.
1. Honey Color
Honey has a yellow to light-brown colour. Very dark honey is often an indicator that the honey has come into contact with sunlight and suffered browning. This is, however, not conclusive because some honeybee colonies may produce dark-coloured honey when they forage on some types of plant flowers. The colour of honey is representative of the flowers and plants in a region and comes in a wide range. Beekeepers and honey sellers may also store, package and sell honey in darkened containers. Such containers make identifying the true colour of the honey they contain difficult.
2. Tasting the Honey Sample
Tasting a sample of the honey that you are about to buy is great. There is a wide allowance when it comes to the taste of honey. Odours and tastes of the nectar from the main plant flowers that honeybees foraged on persist in honey. This means that the taste varies by the region where the honey was produced and the season when it was produced. Some honey may even lack a clear taste and instead present you with a blend-like taste due to being produced across one or more seasons using more than one type of plant flower.
Despite these allowances, any weird taste in the honey should be a red flag for you. Weird tastes are such as a fermented taste, a burned taste, and a metallic taste among others. Another aspect of the taste of honey to take into account is that pure honey has a taste that vanishes within a few minutes. Adulterated honey has a lingering taste because of the sugars that are often the additive of choice for unscrupulous honey dealers.
3. Stickiness Test for Honey Purity and Quality
With a sample of honey available before purchase, check the honey for stickiness. Pure honey is not as sticky as adulterated honey. Additional sweeteners in impure honey make it stickier than pure honey. This is because the adulterators of honey add sweeteners in large amounts to mimic the sugar concentration in honey. Sweeteners, however, have different characteristics when at high concentrations from the natural sugars in honey and thus change the behaviour of honey.
Pure honey is viscous. This means that it is thick and does not flow easily. Honey with additives in it gets light and runs across surfaces quickly. It also comes off scoops and pours out of jars quickly.
4. Honey Purity Laws
Branded honey in containers is a popular presentation by sellers. Laws require merchants to declare the ingredients of foods they sell. Honey packaging has a list of ingredients that you should read. Look out for additives as a red flag. Added flavours in honey are also an indicator that you are just about to purchase impure honey. Dishonest honey sellers may avoid writing the full list of ingredients in their honey products. This makes reading the list of ingredients an inconclusive method of analyzing the purity and quality of honey before you buy it.
Honey purity laws are a protection that governments put over honey consumers such as you. They help ensure that merchants only sell you honey that meets the set quality standards. In the USA, the state of Florida has a law requiring merchants to use packaging that displays all additives when the honey is both manufactured and sold in Florida. Beware of ‘honey blends’ and ‘honey products’ sold in such a jurisdiction since they do not fall under the honey purity laws.
Many countries, however, do not have any laws or standards relating to honey purity. Some countries and some jurisdictions in the USA have published guidelines that merchants should adhere to. If they do not enforce the guidelines, only the merchants who wish to follow the guidelines do so. This leaves you at risk of getting honey with compromised purity and quality. Find out the honey purity laws that apply in your area and their enforcement status so you know if to trust honey labels.
European Union Honey Purity Law
In the European Union, any product sold as honey must not have any additives. Prohibited additives include the antibiotics and compounds that beekeepers use to treat honeybee diseases. Honey that has defects which seriously affect the taste of the honey is sold as ‘baker’s honey’ that is intended for use in processed food only.
The USA does not have mandatory testing for honey purity and quality. In the USA, the government allows antibiotics to be present in honey in trace amounts. You should, therefore, be on the lookout as you buy honey so that you get that which has the lowest amount of such possible contaminants. Additionally, do not take any honey packaging that has the USDA logo to mean that the honey it contains in it is pure.
5. Scientific Testing Equipment
A refractometer is an electronic device that checks the composition of fluids. You can use it to check the refractive index of honey. Only a drop or two of honey is needed to test the honey using a refractometer. It gives you a reading which corresponds to the amount of water in the honey. Having a lot of water in honey is not good. It is a pointer that the honey is not pure.
In a laboratory setting, you may use a spectrometer to test the quality of honey. The mass spectrometer allows for your detection, separation and analysis of various molecules in honey. You can then tell if the honey is of good quality. Sugars in honey are easy to analyze using this equipment. Some sugars that are added to honey, however, may go undetected. Unfortunately, this method of testing the purity and quality of honey is not readily available to beekeepers and honey consumers.
Home Tests for Purity and Quality of Honey
Consumers and users of honey need reliable tests for the purity and quality of honey. Over the years, several tests have proven to give consistent results in testing the purity and quality of honey. These tests are now adopted among honey users as the most suitable methods to know if honey is pure and high-quality. They are easy to perform at home and in beekeeping operations.
Home tests for honey purity and quality do not need expensive equipment or materials. They are fast and easy to carry out and give quick results. Common tests that give you usable results include:
1. Water Test
Pure honey does not dissolve readily in water. For this test, you may use cold or warm water, but not hot water. Put some water in a glass and then put some drops of honey in the glass of water. You may stir the water lightly or not.
The drops of honey under testing for purity and quality should drop to the bottom of the glass of water if the honey is pure and high-quality. Visually notable dissolution of the drops of honey in water is an indicator that the honey you are testing may be adulterated.
2. Paper Test for Purity and Quality of Honey
For this test, you are required to have a paper towel or napkin. Place the paper towel on a flat non-absorbent surface such as your kitchen bench. Put a few drops of the honey you are testing on the paper towel or napkin. Pure honey remains on the napkin. It is not absorbed into the napkin and does not wet the paper.
Honey that wets the paper has too much liquid content and is not pure. The high liquid content is very likely to be a result of adulteration that involved the addition of some water to the honey. Even with a matched addition of sugars to honey, adding water to the honey causes it to fail the paper test for purity and quality of honey.
3. Heat Test
Pure honey caramelizes when it is heated. Additionally, pure honey does not get bubbly or foamy when heated. Use a stick or the tip of a spoon with a few drops of honey for this test. Subject the drops of honey on a spoon’s tip to heating and observe its behaviour.
If it becomes foamy or bubbly, the honey is not pure. If it forms a dark brown caramel that hardens further when you remove the source of heat, the honey is pure. Carry out this test with caution. Pure honey is flammable and, therefore, you should ensure you take precautions for your safety.
4. Flame Test
You will require a candle wick or cotton bud for this test. Pour honey onto the cotton bud tip or onto the wick of a candle. Light the tip with honey with a match-stick flame. Pure honey burns in a short burst of flame or smoke when exposed to the igniting flame for a long time. This is because the honey has very little water and a lot of sugar. The sugars burn and leave a brown mess.
Honey that is not pure does not burn. It has water which does not allow combustion to take place. Additionally, its sugar content is not high enough to allow for burning.
Another method of carrying out this flame test for the purity and quality of honey is by dipping the tip of a matchstick into the honey you are testing. Next, strike the matchstick against your matchbox to light it. The matchstick should light and burn through the honey if the honey you are testing is pure. If it is not pure honey, the matchbox may light up but not burn the honey on its tip.
5. Thumb Test
Place one or two drops of honey on one of your thumb fingers to carry out this test. Pure honey remains on the finger without spilling or dripping off the finger. This is a test of the viscosity of honey. You may further test the viscosity of honey by putting a drop of the honey on a steeply sloping surface.
As long as the drop is from pure honey, it sticks to the surface and remains in place without even dripping. Honey that has impurities in it is not viscous enough. It drips and flows when drops of it are put on a sloping surface.
6. Bread Test
The unique composition of honey comes into play in this test. In this method, have a slice or two of bread. Spread the honey under testing onto one side of the slice of bread. Leave the slice of bread with the side onto which you have applied the honey facing upwards. After a few minutes, the honey on the bread turns crunchy and crispy. If the slice of bread turns soggy, the honey you applied to it has additives.
Impure honey turns the slice of bread soggy because of its high water content.
7. Vinegar Test
Prepare a mixture of 2-3 drops of vinegar and a bit of water. Add a tablespoonful of honey to the mixture of water and vinegar and stir. If the resulting mixture foams up, the honey is not pure.
In this test, it is best to add vinegar last if you mix all three materials in one container.
Signs that Honey Could Be Pure
Lookout for some telltale signs that show the honey you are interested in might be pure. They are not conclusive, so do not rely on these signs only. You are likely to find that honey is pure if you see the following:
- You are buying the honey from a local beekeeper you know or at a farmer’s market – The local beekeeper may be your friend, someone who a friend recommended to you, or even a reliable or reputable beekeeper in your area.
- Honeycombs taken from the hive and sold without further honey extraction – There is a minimal chance that the honey you buy in capped honey cells is adulterated. However, some beekeepers feed their honeybee colonies too much sugar syrup and therefore produce low-quality honey.
- The honey is crystallized – Crystallization is a natural process that occurs in honey. The high concentration of sugars causes them to crystallize and the sugar crystals drop to the bottom of the honey container. Crystallized honey is likely to be pure honey.
How to Buy Pure Honey
Ultimately, getting pure honey of high quality depends on a varied mix of choices, observations and deductions. Not all merchants selling honey have adulterated their honey. Some have high-quality pure honey on offer, while others have low-quality adulterated honey. Those selling honey that is not pure cause disrepute to the honey market. Avoid the unscrupulous merchant if you ever identify one or more of them.
It is best that you buy honey from tested, approved and reliable sellers. Often, these are beekeepers and merchants who have sold honey for many years and therefore have a reputation to take care of. When you get a honey seller that meets your needs for pure and high-quality honey, stick with them. You should also recommend the seller who has good quality pure honey to your friends. This locks out the bad merchants that have low-quality impure honey from the market.
Additionally, go for honey sold in reputable environments such as agricultural fairs, in beekeeping exhibitions and farmer’s markets among others. The merchants in such environments take care to sell only the best honey they have and maintain a good reputation. Most of them are local beekeepers and merchants who stand to suffer the loss of customers if they sell impure honey that is of low quality.
Honey Purity Myths
It is important that you stick to what is true when testing the purity and quality of honey. There are several falsehoods that you might come across in your search for methods to test the purity of honey. Common myths that we know of are:
- Ants only eat impure honey – Ants are a sugar-loving insects in nature. They readily eat honey and other sweet substances if they can reach them. You cannot depend on testing with sugar ants to determine if your honey is pure. Additionally, getting the ants with which to perform this test can be difficult for many people.
- Mixing honey and alcohol is unproven – Beekeepers have hotly disputed this myth for years now. It surfaced around the year 1893 and has plagued honey-consumption circles since then. This myth has two opposing claims around the dissolution of honey in alcohol and methylated spirits. One claim is that the honey that is impure dissolves in alcohol or methylated spirit and turns the solution milky. In this claim, pure honey stays undissolved in alcohol or methylated spirit. A second version of the myth has pure honey dissolving in the alcohol or methylated spirit, and impure honey staying undissolved. These two conflicting versions of the test are unproven.
Honey made by honeybees is a healthy food. There are some honey sellers that sell you adulterated honey and honey products. It is great when you avoid buying honey that is not pure. You avoid experiencing any bad effects that you could have met by using impure honey.
The tips and methods for testing honey are simple to carry out as you purchase honey and at home. Results from the tests are a good indicator of the purity and quality of honey. To get all the health and nutritional benefits you want from honey, use several of these methods and go with the most consistent result of the tests; the sample subjected to testing the purity and quality of honey either fails or passes the tests consistently.
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