Raw Honey

Raw honey is in the main one of the luxuries in life that only those in the know can enjoy. Unless you absolutely are certain otherwise, assume what you are buying at the supermarket has been heated to some extent, and may well be adulterated. 

By Bernard Preston

Honey runny versus crystallised

Runny and set honey

This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 1st August, 2019.

What's special about raw honey? An enzyme called glucose oxidase, added by bees to the raw nectar, is vital in the production of hydrogen peroxide, the agent that gives it its antibacterial activity.

Glucose oxidase is particularly heat labile.

It's the presence of this enzyme that makes honey a special ingredient in the treatment of varicose ulcers and burns, for example.

It's also the reason, more controversially, why honey is used by some paediatricians in the treatment of diarrhoea in infants.

I say controversially because there are in total eight reported cases of infants who contracted botulism, thought to be after eating raw honey. But these toddlers were all probably exposed to common dirt; earth where the bacterium is found.

What's more there are about 100 cases of infant botulism in the USA every year, probably none of which were exposed to raw honey. There are very few families that have ever had the joy, and perhaps the danger, of enjoying the sublime unprocessed product of the bee.

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Decapping trough

Unheated honey is a very special food in my opinion. The taste is divine, the micronutrients invaluable, and the (heat- and light-labile) enzymes very beneficial in digestion.

One of the difficult decisions I have had to make concerns the hot knife vs fork honey decapping debate. After years of prevarication I have switched.

The gleanings from this decapping are problematic; we used to put them out for the bees to clean up, but unfortunately they pick up any diseases in that honey too. My solution is making honey mead.

Unprocessed honey, only available from your local small beekeeper, also is usually only lightly filtered, allowing small particles of pollen and the wax cappings into the honey. These are beneficial for people suffering from asthma, hayfever and sinusitis.

But all honey, raw or commercial, must be eaten in conjunction with fat, fibre and preferably protein too. For example, in an oats porridge or muesli, or on a cheese and honey buttered whole wheat sandwich. Why...?

Beekeeping equipment

There are few hobbies in which you can recoup your basic costs of your beekeeping equipment in the first year. Good honey is such a valuable product, really mostly quite unavailable, that you can, should you desire, charge the earth for.

Discerning folk will pay a premium. I don't, perhaps I'm a fool. But good old-fashioned greed isn't one of my weaknesses.

I have kept bees for more than half a century and still the insects keep their fascination. It ranks above gliding, trout fishing, carpentry, even gardening and all my other hobbies.

You could do it too; actually beekeeping is the rave even in inner cities. Provided you don't have African killer bees like I do; they are possibly too dangerous to keep in the city.

The basic beekeeping equipment cost really isn't exorbitant and like I said, you'll recoup it in one season. Unheated, totally unprocessed honey is magnificent.

Yesterday a feral swarm arrived unannounced and took up residence in a pile of old beehives behind my garage. Bringing my granddaughter home today, aged only four, the scent turned her nose. Bees, yes and they brought umpteen pounds of honey with them, and the smell was divine.

Beekeeping is for all to enjoy.

feral honey bees arriving

How to start beekeeping

Beekeeping has become in vogue. It's one way to relax, to help the environment, and to build a greener world. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere which has in the main very tame Italian bees, then you can keep a swarm on a balcony, or in your backyard; being in a built up area isn't a problem. Start by reading manuals or going to courses on how to start beekeeping; then you can have raw honey and eat it!

It's also about the only way to get raw honey, unless you know a local beekeeper.

African bees are another story; they are positively dangerous.

Bees workforce

Honey bee traps

Honey bee traps are usually placed a few feet above the ground.

Bee traps on a tree stump

In countries with indigenous bees, America isn't one of them, trapping bees is as easy as putting up an empty hive on a tree stump. During the honey flow when the bees swarm is easy to increase your apiary.

Phytochemical Foods

May and June are the exciting months in South Africa; walking passed the apiary and there's a divine scent of flowers pervading the whole garden; it's all about raw honey and phytochemical foods.

The bees are busy collecting nectar and turning it into raw honey, rich in phytochemicals.

They are the fragrances that give onions their aroma when you chop them, sweet basil leaves when crushed and the rich fragrance of a lime when you handle the fruit and leaves, for example.

There are literally thousands of these phytochemicals and nectar from flowers is rich in them.

After the bees collect this dilute syrup and start to fill the cells in the hive, it must be concentrated to give honey its unique supersaturated qualities that make it impossible for bacteria, viruses and yeast cells to survive.

The sugars in the honey literally suck the water our of bugs, destroying them by osmosis.

Watch near the entrance to the hive with a pair of binoculars and you'll see bees fanning air into the hive; it passes over the honeycombs removing the moisture, in the same way as wind passing over the ocean becomes water laden.

It's this vapour, rich in the smells of a million flowers that you can delight in whilst walking through the garden with an apiary hidden away somewhere.

Of course, most of these delights remain in the raw honey; it's what makes honey on bread such a delight. It is not just the sweetness of sugar or syrup but the rich flavour of flowers.

Raw honey can truly be described as one of the many phytochemical foods, rich in a thousand micro scents to tantalize your palate.

Is honey fattening?

Yes and no; it's certainly has a high calorific value. However what makes a starch fattening is how quickly it turns to sugar in the blood stream; that is what the glycemic index measures.

So the white starches, and in particular the refined ones, have very high GI's.

White bread, potatoes, refined rice, cakes and cookies are very rapidly turned into sugar calling for an insulin rush, storing it as fat.

Even processed honey has a surprisingly low glycemic index; add to that the protein and fat in the pollen in lightly filtered raw honey and it's lower still.

Non-caloric artificial sweeteners, known as NAS, are a dangerous alternative. By altering the metabolic pathways in the bugs in the intestine, known as the microbiota, they induce metabolic disease in humans. (1)

Unhappy microbiota also allow pathogens to gain a foothold; researchers have now established beyond doubt that it's where the twisted tau proteins that cause the neurodegenerative like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease come from.

This is a vast and complex subject, but let it be said that enjoying complex, unrefined carbohydrates, known as 'resistant starch', that pass through the small intestine undigested, instead feeding the microbiota in the colon is hugely important for our overall health. They are much less fattening and promote wellbeing.

Honey, cheese and lettuce sandwich

Savour it on low GI bread with a slice of cheese and lettuce and the whole sandwich becomes a decidedly low GI food.

You think making your own bread is a labour of love taking up hours? It takes me literally five minutes every morning to make this Panera bread menu recipe. Combine the aroma of freshly baking bread with raw honey and you have a food beyond description.

Add some protein and fat to your Panera bread menu recipe and you have healthy low GI bread; it's simple. You can make it yourself in a jiffy. The stone ground whole wheat flour is what makes your home made bread so healthy.

Raw Honey

Crystallised honey week 1

This is what it's all about. If you want it, you either have to find a local beekeeper who is enthusiastic about raw honey, or start to think about how to start beekeeping yourself. Start by joining a local association.

Then it's the basic beekeeping equipment and of course your first hive.

Whatever you do, don't get into saccharin and the like; the artificial sweetener side effects.

The gleanings of honey by the way make a wonderful braggart; you will need some basic equipment for making beer hydrometer readings.

Making honey mead is one of my many passions.

To preserve the planet we need to nurture out honeybees; after all one in four mouthfuls that we eat is pollinated by them. One way is to plant indigenous trees for bees; and of course others too.

Bees wax solar extractor

Wax is a natural and very valuable byproduct of beekeeping; far too special to burn in candles. Getting it out of old combs is the very devil unless you make bees wax solar extractor.


» » Raw Honey

Sources and references

1. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota @ Nature.com

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Hilton, KZN

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