You can find a lot of information on grocery store shelves. From lists of ingredients you can’t pronounce to a dozen different labels that all seem to mean the same thing, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all your choices. However, these details can tell you a lot about the product you’re buying. When you pull a jar of raw honey and a jar of regular honey off the shelf, it might look like you simply have two jars of honey. In reality, these labels indicate a world of difference between the two products. It’s important to know what these various labels mean so you can make an informed decision about what you’re keeping in your kitchen cabinet. What’s the difference between raw honey and regular honey? You can learn all about it with our guide below.
How Is Raw Honey Made?
Simply put, raw honey is the product that comes straight from a honey bee hive. This is what a beekeeper collects at the end of the season. Worker honey bees create honey from the nectar they forage from nearby plants and flowers. Other honey bees in the hive then use special enzymes to reduce the water content in the nectar and break it down into honey. The honey bees then store this honey in honeycomb, fan it with their wings to help it dry and thicken it, and cap the honeycomb cell with beeswax. During the honey harvest, beekeepers extract this comb—and the honey within—to bottles and sell it. The only processing that occurs with raw honey is when beekeepers filter it to remove small pieces of natural debris, such as pollen or bits of honeycomb. When you purchase raw honey, you’re purchasing the same naturally sweet and nutrient-rich product that honey bees thrive on throughout the winter.
How Is Regular Honey Made?
All honey starts as raw honey, but the product that ends up on the shelf depends on what that honey goes through after the harvest. Regular honey—the kind you find most often on grocery store shelves—undergoes pasteurization, a process that heats the honey to a high temperature for a certain amount of time. Pasteurization helps improve the appearance of honey, gives it a longer shelf life, and destroys certain microorganisms. While raw honey is cloudy or opaque because of the natural hive elements within it like pollen or beeswax, pasteurization gives regular honey a clearer, smoother appearance. Pasteurization also helps reduce crystallization in the honey. Manufacturers also pasteurize honey to destroy the bacteria and yeast it contains. However, this pasteurization process can also destroy some of the natural beneficial antioxidants in honey. Additionally, regular honey often has additives, sugars, and artificial sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup or brown rice syrup.
The Difference Between Raw Honey and Regular Honey
Overall, the biggest difference between raw and regular honey is the process each type of honey goes through before it finds its way into a bottle. While this process might not seem like a big deal, it can affect many of the attributes of raw or regular honey. Whether or not honey undergoes pasteurization—or contains artificial additives—influences the final product’s appearance, flavor, natural health benefits, and more.
Raw honey is naturally sweet, but it can also contain a variety of unique, natural flavors depending on the plants and flowers a honey bee colony forages from when making the honey. For example, clover honey—made when clover is a hive’s primary source of nectar—has a light, floral flavor. On the other hand, a hive that forages primarily from eucalyptus plants will make eucalyptus honey, which has an herbal flavor with a hint of menthol. When raw honey undergoes pasteurization, the heat destroys these natural flavors. Instead, regular honey is simply sweet, often through the use of artificial sweeteners and other additives.
Beekeepers filter the honey they collect, but it still often contains flecks of hive elements—such as pollen or bee propolis—that are too small to catch. Manufacturers of regular honey use pasteurization to get rid of these impurities. However, these natural components are often the source of the enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins, and other nutrients that you can find naturally in raw honey. For example, pollen contains antioxidants and has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving properties. Bee propolis—a glue-like substance that honey bees use to build their hives—has anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal effects. Some studies even suggest that propolis can help combat certain cancers. During pasteurization, pollen, propolis, and other beneficial elements lose their properties. This means that regular honey shares few of the common nutrients of its raw version.
When you read or hear about the health benefits of honey, you are likely hearing about raw honey. When regular honey loses its nutrients to pasteurization, it also loses the properties that make it such a versatile, beneficial product. The antibacterial and antifungal properties of raw honey make it a useful salve for minor cuts or burns. You probably also know that mixing honey into your tea can soothe a sore throat or cough. While regular honey can sweeten your tea, you will only really get the health benefits from raw honey, which still retains its anti-inflammatory properties.
Other Variations of Honey
Raw honey and regular honey aren’t the only labels you can find in the grocery store aisle. For example, you might find pure honey or organic honey. While these labels can sometimes overlap, it’s important to pay attention and find out what exactly goes into the bottle you pick out. Pure honey undergoes pasteurization, but it never contains any additives such as artificial flavorings or sweeteners. Organic honey comes from an apiary or bee farm that meets the United States Department of Agriculture’s organic livestock standards. In the case of apiaries, these standards mean that the honey bees never come into contact with flowers or plants that contain pesticides or other chemical treatments. However, these organic standards have nothing to do with the pasteurization process. This means that both regular and raw honey can be organic, depending on where it comes from.
From health benefits to sweet, natural flavors, there are many reasons why raw honey is the superior option. Even beyond the properties of the honey itself, buying raw honey is a great way to support local beekeepers and promote the positive effects your local honey bee population has on the environment. While raw honey is often pricier than regular, the benefits make it easily worth its weight in sweet, syrupy gold.
Hopefully, our guide has helped you grasp the difference between raw honey and regular honey, as well as understand the powerful properties of raw honey. If you’re a beekeeper, you don’t have to go to the store shelves to stock up on raw honey. You can start your own backyard beekeeping career with our bee hive starter kit. Head on over to Mann Lake to find the supplies, resources, and equipment you need to start your own successful bee hive today.