You’ve probably heard that most honey is fake honey. If not, you’ve most likely experienced fake honey.
Growing up, many of my friends told me they didn’t like honey (I think hate was the word, but I digress). I had the hardest time understanding how anyone could dislike honey. I could certainly relate to some vegetables (tomatoes anyone? [I know, I know, it’s a fruit – let me tell my story]) but how could you dislike honey?
"The day that changed my life"
Then one morning after spending the night at one of my friends place, his mom made pancakes. I asked if they had any honey I could put on it. To my delight they did! Being the son of a beekeeper, I doused my pancakes in the precious liquid gold, and took to it with my fork. As my lips began to savor this perfect breakfast blend, something happened.
These hot, fresh pancakes that just moments ago were composing symphonies in my lungs – were awful!
“What happened?!” I thought to myself. Then I tasted the honey on its own. Never Again. I had encountered my first fake honey.
To this day, when people tell me they don’t care for honey, my only thought is they’ve never experienced real honey.
So where does this fake honey come from, and why hasn’t the FDA done anything about it? Well, in the past, honey adulteration was a blend of honey and corn syrup – but some intense chemistry tests were developed that could tell the difference between corn syrup and honey (or even honey adulterated with corn syrup) – these first tests used carbon isotope ratios to determine if the sugar came from a C4 (corn) or a C3 (typical bee forage) plant.
A Nuclear (Magnetic Resonance) Arms Race
But, as arms races often go, new techniques for adulterating honey were developed. This time with beet, wheat, and rice syrups (C3 plants), that could beat C3 and C4 testing. So new tests were implemented – like Carbon 13 isotope analysis (C13), Specific Rice Syrup Markers (SMR), Trace Marker for Rice Syrup (TMR), and thin-layer chromatography (TLC) – but all of these have since been defeated. Including state of the art Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) testing.
In fact, adulterating honey has become such a commodity, that you can order several thousand gallons of fake honey (syrup designed to beat honey tests) with a few clicks on Alibaba! If you’ve not heard of Alibaba, think of it as eBay for industrial China. Do you know anyone that sells chin-up-bars online? They bought a shipping-container of them from China off of Alibaba.
This is where most of the honey adulteration comes from – out of industrial laboratories in China. The syrup is first sent to other countries (India, Malaysia, Thailand, etc.), then relabeled as honey from that country, and imported into the United States. Event if it’s caught, the ‘honey’ is just required to be relabeled at the port of entry. (But nothing prevents it from making it to its destination!)
Is it any wonder that honey packers often hide the country of origin? Check this bottle my wife and I found in our local grocery store. It took us several minutes to find the country of origin...
Now, if you’re curious to know how commoditized fake honey is – search ‘rice syrup for honey’ on Alibaba. Or look at the screenshot below. Yes, the manufacturer is marketing (bragging?) about the honey authenticity tests it passes.
These pictures were just taken of our bees in California as they were heading out to the almonds for pollination. The bright green and yellow patches are flowers we planted just for our bees. We like to treat them with fresh pollen as they come into spring. It helps make them happier, healthier and more active for the upcoming year. Big thanks to Keaton Baker Photography (Fresno, CA) for the beautiful photos. Couldn't have asked for a better sunset either.
Bret Adee inspecting the bees before they head into the almonds.
Swingers (ATV forklifts) are used to load the bees onto the truck.
Bees navigate with the sun, so when it sets, they all return to their hive.
This allows us to move them without losing the worker bees that would be flying around.