Raw Honey: All You Need to Know

Raw Honey: All You Need to Know

Raw Honey Guide: Is Raw Honey Good for You?

Yes, raw honey is good for you, and the medicinal and health values of raw honey have been widely recognised since ancient times. For example, cave paintings in Spain at least 8,000 years old show people collecting honey.  The ancient Egyptians used raw honey as a salve for all sorts of skin maladies, including the treatment of wounds and as a digestive remedy. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) wrote that pale honey was “good for sore eyes and wounds” It is also a popular treatment prescribed in traditional and herbal medicine, and by indigenous people.

In recent times, medical research has shown that the natural compounds preserved in raw honey have many health benefits including anti-microbial, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and even anti-cancer activity against different types of tumors. Other Australian research has shown that some honeys, including Jarrah, have strong prebiotic power, and are very beneficial to sustain a good gut micro biome. Research has also shown that natural honey offers other health benefits, including a role in treating gastroenteritis and peptic ulcers safely.  Honey’s ability to inhibit the growth of fungi, yeast, some viruses and Leishmania, a parasite, has also been studied.

With all of these medicinal and good health benefits, it’s no wonder raw WA honey, like that packed by Forest Fresh, continues to be valued for both its culinary uses and it’s health benefits.

What Is Raw Honey?

So, what is raw honey? How is it different from conventional or regular honey?

From the term ‘raw’ itself, you can get an indication of what raw honey is.

Raw honey is extracted and packed in a way that preserves nearly all the beneficial natural compounds introduced from the nectar source and the bees that made the honey. Honey contains about 180 different compounds and many are fragile chemicals that are damaged or destroyed by the typical processing used to produce some of the cheaper honeys.

Raw honey is not subject to any type of harmful processing or pasteurisation.

Raw honey is extracted from the honeycomb, packaged and ready to consume, with minimal processing steps. It is filtered to about 200 microns to remove chunks of beeswax that mixed with the raw honey during extraction, but that’s it for the processing!  Some cheaper supermarket honey may be subject to heat treatment and ultrafiltration as a means of extending the time before it crystallizes, but this treatment destroys much of the goodness.

So, when you see the label ‘raw honey’, it’s not a new food fad. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. It’s the original, most natural form of honey you can ever have access to as a consumer, other than honey in the comb. The only thing that can beat this is if you collect the honey yourself from the honeycomb.

Is Raw Honey Better than Regular Honey?

Now that you have a fair idea of what raw honey is, you might be wondering: Is raw honey better than regular honey?

Yes, it is!  While most types of honey give some health benefits, raw honey is much better as it contains all of the beneficial compounds that can be damaged or destroyed by heat, plus retains nutritious bee pollen and propolis.

Raw honey is made up of seven main types of ingredients:

  1. Carbohydrates (sugars); 80-85% by weight.
  2. Water; 15-20% by weight.
  3. Particulates (pollen and propolis).
  4. Enzymes (proteins from either the plant nectar or the bees that start chemical reactions in the honey).
  5. Organic Acids (produced by reactions between enzymes and carbohydrates, and which boost flavour).
  6. Phytochemicals (up to 200 chemicals from the nectar, including antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, plus chemicals that give colour and enhance flavour).
  7. Minerals.

Ingredients 3-7 collectively comprise less than 1% of the honey.

Processed honey is subject to heat-treatment (pasteurisation), ultra filtration and, sometimes, dilution with water. Sometimes cheap supermarket grade honey made with locally sourced honey is diluted with Chinese made honey that is often extracted too early or contains fake honey. Adding this unripe or fake honey reduces the cost to the packer and supermarket, potentially allowing them to make a bigger profit at your expense.

Pasteurisation (typically heating the honey to 60 °C) destroys most of the enzymes plus can damage or alter some acids and phytochemicals.  Ultra-filtration removes all of the beneficial pollen and propolis, and is intended to slow down the crystallisation process or disguise the origin. Water can be added to the honey up to 20%, which is the maximum allowed in most countries. 

Pasteurisation is used to kill yeast spores that very rarely find their way into honey, but even without pasteurisation, raw honey is naturally resistant to bacteria and other dangerous pathogens due to peroxide activity, low moisture level and high acidity.

Raw honey is generally safe for human consumption, although it is recommended that infants under 1 year old are not fed honey as they are susceptible to botulism spores which may be present. Health professionals advise against feeding raw honey to babies 12 months or younger.

Raw honey is generally more nutritious than regular honey as it retains the pollen, propolis and other beneficial properties which may be removed or destroyed during pasteurisation.

Characteristics of Raw Honey

In order to distinguish raw honey from conventional honey, one must consider the characteristics of raw honey, which are as follows:

  • Not subject to pasteurisation or heat treatment,
  • Lightly filtered only to about 200 microns to remove beeswax chunks,
  • Unadulterated, so it does not contain fake honey made from sugar syrups.
  • Pure - not mixed with pasteurised or imported honey or diluted with water

Although most raw honey crystallises with time, it can easily be liquified by putting the open jar of raw honey in a container of warm water (about 43°C maximum) and stirring it carefully until the crystals dissolve. Alternatively, you can put the open (microwave proof) jar in the microwave, and warm in 5 second bursts, stirring between each burst so as not to overheat, until it is fully liquid again.

But don’t forget - Forest Fresh Jarrah honey should not crystallise, so if you want permanently liquid honey, buy this product.

Health Benefits of Raw Honey

raw honey benefits

After learning about the nutrients found in raw honey that are lost during processes like pasteurisation, the next question likely to arise is: Is raw honey better for you? If it is, why is raw honey good for you?

We can answer this question by discussing the health benefits of raw honey.

Please consult your health care provider before undertaking any new health regime involving honey.

1. It is antibacterial and antimicrobial.

The antibacterial and antimicrobial properties of raw, natural honey have been known since ancient times. It works great on wounds, burns, minor cuts and other skin concerns. Honey has a low pH level and contains hydrogen peroxide and glucose oxidase, which work together in destroying harmful pathogens (bacteria, fungi and some viruses).

 

 

2.  It can be a strong Prebiotic.

Some Australian raw honeys, like Jarrah, have a strong prebiotic effect, feeding the good bacteria in the intestines and producing very beneficial short chain fatty acids like butyrate, a chemical that performs anticancer and anti-inflammatory functions by suppressing the activity of specific immune cells. These functions are believed to contribute to its role in preventing colorectal cancer and inflammation.

 3. It is naturally nutritious.

Aside from containing powerful antioxidants that counter oxidative stress, raw honey also contains amino acids and vitamins, such as niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid, as well as minerals. These include calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.

And while honey is sweet just like sugar and contains fructose (which should be consumed in limited amounts), some studies show its beneficial effects on treating diabetes mellitus and on glycemic control. Some research has also shown that honey can improve cholesterol levels.

4. It has anti-inflammatory effects.

The high phytochemical content of raw honey gives it anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial to the brain and other organs. These anti-inflammatory ingredients are especially helpful in fighting inflammation in the hippocampus. 

5. It is rich in antioxidants.

Raw, natural honey contains compounds with antioxidant effects, such as flavonoids, phytochemicals and ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Pasteurisation or heating reduces or destroys some of these compounds, so consuming raw honey means you get the optimum antioxidant benefits it provides.

6. It provides cough relief.

Raw honey also offers effective cough relief, just like over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines. In some herbal medicine practices, honey is used together with other herbs like garlic, ginger, oregano and lemon to alleviate cough. It is especially useful when treating cough in children who may need a safer alternative to conventional cough medicine.

7. It can alleviate diarrhoea symptoms.

Raw honey is consumed to soothe indigestion and manage diarrhoea symptoms. It can shorten the duration of diarrhoea and its high sugar content has an effect on the bowel similar to oral rice water and sucrose. 

how is raw honey made

How Is Raw Honey Made?

As mentioned earlier, raw honey is the most natural, minimally processed form of honey extracted from the honeycomb. But how is it made?

Raw honey is a gift to the world from members of the honeybee family.  Over many millions of years, bees have evolved the process to convert the simple sugary substance of nectar (a sugar rich liquid made by flowering plants to attract pollenating insects and other animals to the flowers) into nutritious, long-lasting honey that then becomes the principal source of carbohydrates and other essential substances for the bee’s survival.

Commercial beekeepers have many colonies of selectively bred bees that love to collect nectar and make lots of honey; much more than the bees need.  Good beekeepers only take surplus honey from the hive, and never force the bees to go out foraging if they don’t want to.

On sunny days, worker bees go out into the surrounding environment to forage for nectar from flowering plants, and when they find some, they ingest it into a special honey sac in their bodies to transport it back to the hive.  While in transit, they absorb some of the water from the nectar (it is usually about 80%), plus insert cells containing enzymes.

Back at the hive, the worker bee passes the slightly altered nectar to a house bee who removes more water and adds more enzymes before placing the mix into a honeycomb cell. Over the next week or so, the nectar mixture slowly ripens, which involves dehydration, down to less than 20% water (typically 15-17% in WA), and the enzymes reacting with the sugars to break them down into more easily digestible forms, plus creating other beneficial chemicals.  Only after the honey is fully ripe do the bees place a wax cap over the cell.

Raw honey is what the beekeeper produces when gently extracting honey from the frames containing the ripe honey.

how to tell it's raw honey?

How to Tell If It’s Raw Honey

It is very hard to tell the difference between raw honey and processed honey.  If the honey is in a clear container, you can do the following:

Look at the top of the honey for a thin layer froth with some very small grains.  These are particulates like pollen, propolis and wax that went through the filter, but have now floated to the top because they have a lower density than the honey. The froth can form on the top of Active honey after the packing process, as the small amount of agitation and mild heating can stimulate a little bit of peroxide production.

Turn the container upside down and watch how the honey flows to the bottom of the container. Raw honey from Western Australia will be very thick and flow slowly.  Processed honey can be more runny if water is added during the pasteurisation and ultra-filtration process.

It is even difficult now to detect fake honey from pure honey, to the extent that it is estimated that up to one third of all honey sold in the world is a fake product, mostly made in China.

The best way to ensure you buy good, raw honey is to only deal with a reputable supplier like Forest Fresh, or any other small supplier with very close links to beekeepers. 

Is Pure Honey and Raw Honey the Same Thing?

Is there a difference between raw and pure honey? Is raw honey better than pure honey?

With all the marketing-speak people are exposed to, it’s easy to get carried away and become confused over the terms used by honey producers or brands.

However, some might think there isn’t any difference between raw honey and pure honey because they assume they are one and the same thing.

Pure’ simply means that there are no natural or artificial additives in the product, such as colourants or flavourings. It does not say anything about whether the honey is raw or pasteurised, so pure honey may be used to refer to raw or regular honey.

But if a honey product is called ‘unfiltered honey’ or ‘unprocessed honey’, it should refer to raw honey. That’s the honey the way bees made it, kept in a jar for your convenience.

Is There a Difference Between Raw Honey and Natural Honey?

Yes there is.  As long as the “honey” is made by bees it can be called natural honey. There are many honey producers in the world who feed their bees with a sugar solution made to look like nectar.  The bees will convert this syrup into a type of honey, but of course it will not contain any of the phytochemicals or minerals in nectar that give honey its colour and flavour.  Long-term feeding of sugar syrup is also very bad for the bees, as they rely on these chemicals for their good health.

There is also a very cheap product, produced in some countries, that can be called “natural honey”. This product is made by force feeding sugar syrup to bees, then extracting the liquid before it has ripened to honey, starving the bees and forcing them to collect more syrup. The extracted liquid is then dehydrated to about 20% moisture in a factory before being sold as natural honey that can be blended with genuine honey to produce a cheap supermarket grade product.  Cheap “natural honey” from a supermarket that is made from “local and imported products”, may well be made from this.

Is There a Difference Between Raw Honey and Organic Honey?

Yes there is, but it is a bit confusing.

In general, all certified organic honey is raw, but not all raw honey can be organic. Raw honey can be contaminated by chemicals, whereas organic honey can’t.

The experienced beekeepers that supply Forest Fresh all produce raw honey, which would qualify as organic because it is collected from within native forests or rangelands and extracted using low temperature methods. These beekeepers transport their hives into the forest for a honey flow, then subsequently move to another forest site when the flora at the first stops flowering. However, few of our beekeepers are certified as it is not worth the expense.

There is also a large number of semi- or non-commercial beekeepers who keep their bees permanently at an urban or semi-rural site.  The honey they produce can be called raw if it is extracted at low temperature, but it can’t be organic as it is likely contaminated by herbicides, pesticides or other chemicals that are commonly used by gardeners or others in these environments.  Certified Organic bee sites must be more than five kilometers from any type of agricultural or industrial activities.

Consumers looking for good raw honey should only buy from experienced and reputable suppliers like Forest Fresh who have a deep knowledge of the local apiary industry and know how to select the best pure, raw and natural honey from the best beekeepers.

raw honey health risks

Raw Honey Health Risks: What to Look Out For

Can you get sick from raw honey? As mentioned earlier, raw honey is generally safe for human consumption. However, there are also raw honey health risks, such as the risk of infant botulism ( do not give honey to children under 12 months of age) or allergic reactions.

Other possible health risks of consuming raw honey include the following:

  • Honey intoxication: Although rare, some people experience a drop in blood pressure, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting after consuming raw honey. This may be caused by grayanotoxins, which accumulate as bees get nectar from different plants. Honey derived from the nectar of certain species of rhododendron is known to contain grayanotoxin. Therefore, it helps to purchase honey with a known, safe origin.
  • Honey allergies: Since raw honey is minimally filtered or unfiltered, it contains pollen grains. People who are allergic to pollen may experience adverse reactions after consuming raw honey. So, if you or your family have known sensitivities to pollen, it would be best to avoid raw honey altogether.

    Raw Honey by Forest Fresh

    If you’re looking for a trusted name in pure, raw, natural honey, then look for the Forest Fresh label.

    Forest Fresh is a WA-based family business that supplies fresh, high-activity honey from the forests of southern Western Australia. We offer raw Jarrah, Marri honey and Karri honey sourced from our qualified beekeepers who are among the most established and experienced in the state..

    To experience all the benefits of raw honey, make sure you only buy from reputable brands like Forest Fresh.