Raw honey is one of the luxuries in life that only those in the know can enjoy. Unless you are absolutely certain otherwise, assume what you are buying at the supermarket has been heated to some extent, and may well be adulterated.
What's special about raw honey? An enzyme called glucose-oxidase.
It is added by bees to the nectar from blossoms; it is vital in the production of hydrogen-peroxide, the agent that gives raw honey its antibacterial activity.
Runny and set honey
This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 13th May, 2021.
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 is 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 is 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; ours is one of them.
One of the most nasty conditions on the lower leg, a varicose-ulcer is best treated with a patented medicine that consists mainly of raw honey and herbs.
"My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the comb are sweet to your taste. "
- Prov 24
Unheated honey is a very special food in my opinion; in moderation. The taste is divine, the micronutrients invaluable, and the heat-labile enzymes very beneficial to 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; they have been heated. We used to put them out for the bees to clean up, but unfortunately they may pick up diseases too. My solution is making honey-mead.
Unprocessed honey, only available from your
local small beekeeper, is also 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 on a wholewheat cheese sandwich. Why you may well ask?
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 it; much will be given to family and friends most likely.
Discerning folk will pay a premium. I don't overcharge, and perhaps I am a fool. But good old-fashioned greed is not 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 and carpentry; and even challenges gardening and all my other hobbies for pride of place.
You could do it too; actually it's the rave even in inner cities. Provided you do not have African killer-bees like I do; they are possibly too dangerous to keep in close proximity to humans and animals.
The cost of basic beekeeping equipment really is not exorbitant and like I said, you'll recoup it in one or two seasons; such is the value of unheated, totally unprocessed honey. Connoisseurs will pay a premium for it, and rightly so.
Yesterday a feral swarm arrived unannounced and took up residence in a pile of old hives 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; unless someone in your family is very allergic to the venom in their stings.
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 the relatively tame Italian specie, then you can keep a swarm on a balcony, or in your backyard; being in a built-up area is not a problem.
Start by reading manuals or going to courses on how to start beekeeping; then you too can have raw honey and eat it!
It is also about the only way to get raw honey, unless you know a local beekeeper.
African bees are another story; they are positively dangerous and must be treated with great respect. They can turn on you in an instant for no known reason.
Honey-bee traps are usually placed a few feet above the ground.
In countries with indigenous bees trapping them is as easy as putting up an empty hive on a tree-stump. During the honey flow when they swarm it is easy to increase your apiary.
Even in Florida in the USA with no indigenous-bees, for example, feral colonies abound and can be easily captured.
May and June are the exciting months in South Africa; walking passed the apiary there is the divine scent of millions of flowers pervading the whole garden. It is all about raw-honey and phytochemical foods.
The bees are busy collecting nectar and turning it into raw-honey, rich in
phytochemicals, and the pollen which contains the protein and fats that they too must have.
These are the fragrances that give onions their aroma when you chop them, sweet-basil leaves when crushed and the rich scent of a lime when you handle the fruit and leaves, for example.
There are literally thousands of these phytochemicals in the nectar and pollen from flowers; they are rich in what pretentious people call "floral-notes". It is indeed a wonderful scent.
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 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 that wind passing over the ocean becomes water-laden.
It is this vapour, rich in the "floral-notes" of a million flowers that you can delight in whilst walking through a garden with an apiary hidden away somewhere in a protected-corner.
Of course, most of these delights remain in the raw honey; 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; over fifty of them.
Is honey fattening? Yes and no, let it be said; it 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.
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So the white-starches, and in particular the refined ones, like cake flour have very high GI's.
White bread, potatoes and refined rice are all
very rapidly turned into sugar calling for an insulin rush, storing it
as fat; cakes and cookies too.
But even processed honey has a surprisingly low glycemic-index; add to that the protein and fat in the pollen and it is reduced even further.
Non-caloric artificial sweeteners, known as NAS, are a dangerous alternative. They alter the chemical pathways in the bugs in the intestine, known as the microbiota, inducing metabolic disease in humans.
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 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 starches" that pass through the small intestine partially undigested, instead feeding the microbiota in the colon is hugely important for our overall good. They are much less fattening and promote well-being.
Savour a little honey on artisan bread with a slice of cheese and lettuce and the whole sandwich becomes a decidedly low-GI food.
Are you thinking that making your own bread is a labour of love requiring 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 meal beyond description.
Add some protein and fat to your Panera bread and you have marvellous low GI sandwich; it is simple. You can make it yourself in a jiffy. The stone-ground wholewheat flour is what makes your homemade loaf so nutritious.
Researchers took 48 type-2 diabetics not on insulin, divided them into two groups, one receiving quite large amounts of what they called natural honey, and the other a control. They were astonished when they found an average weight-loss of 1,8 kg in only 8 weeks.
The honey group started with 10 tsp per day, increasing to 25; that is quite a lot. The control folk did not lose any weight. Furthermore their lipid profiles improved significantly and there was no increase in fasting blood-glucose. However the downside was that taking that amount did increase the HbA1c from 7,1 to 7,7.
Obviously more research needs to be done; natural honey has many benefits which you can read about at that research. But 25-teaspoons per day is clearly too much of a good thing, for diabetics certainly. HbA1c is a measure of blood glucose over several weeks; it was already significantly raised and to increase it further is not good. Around the 5.5 mark is the right value, some say even lower.
I take only about 3 teaspoons a day; moderation in raw-honey too is the word.
"If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it."
- Proverbs 25
There are two modus-operandi of harvesting honey if you keep the hives in your own garden, depending on the circumstances; only you can choose and in fact may use both.
Never cook with raw honey; the heating ruins the enzymes and photochemicals that make it so special. We enjoy it in this baklava alternative; the real-thing is disgustingly fattening, but delicious it's true, for high and holy days only. Likewise with Greek Halva.
A teaspoon in a rolled oats porridge, with a little cream is a wonderful start to the day; the fibre and added fat slow the absorption of the sugars into the blood-stream. The Scots like it with a pat of butter instead; it has the same effect on the glycemic index which is low if you can get the unrefined grain.
This is what it is all about. If you want it, you either have to find a local naturalist who is enthusiastic about raw honey, or begin to think about how to start beekeeping yourself. Find a local association where you will learn the rudiments.
Then it is 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 are positively dangerous.
The gleanings of honey by the way make a wonderful braggart; you will need some basic equipment for taking beer hydrometer-readings.
Making honey mead is one of my many passions. Right now I have a bucket of brown
beer gurgling sweetly in seclusion; we are in lock-down during the
covonavirus pandemic and dumb officials have banned all sales of
To preserve the planet we need to nurture these little creatures; after all one in four mouthfuls that we eat is pollinated by them. A good way is to plant indigenous-trees for bees; and of course other insects too.
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 a beeswax solar extractor.
1. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota @ Nature.com
2. Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: an 8-week randomized clinical trial
3. Artificial sweetener side effects. Web: https://tinyurl.com/3p5rt34u
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