Last year, out of frustration that I know that a lot of us have faced when buying honey, I wrote this post. Luckily for me it was read by a beekeeper (whose sister saw the article and sent him a link)
This bee-keeper who was obviously knowledgeable and passionate about bee keeping answered a lot of questions in that post and of course that got my interest. Several emails back and forth, he has answered a few questions that readers like yourself submitted.
I think it is always a good idea to know who is addressing one so I will let our bee-keeper introduce himself here:
My name is Femi and I founded Earthly Produce after attending a beekeeping presentation on a friends farm in Kwara state in 2009. I am a city boy turned tree hugger and spend way too much time dreaming about bees, trees and horses (my family does get squeezed in, sometimes).
I am a big believer in reforestation and conserving indigenous plants and trees, and exploring the benefits that can be sensibly exploited from them. I count amongst my favourite trees the majestic Iroko, and the noble Black Afara and the mighty Baobab all indigenous trees that are gradually being wiped out of our landscape. I am also partial to the smell of Ewuro (bitter leaf) flowers in full bloom.
Let's begin with the question that was asked the most.
How can I tell when Honey is Authentic? Real?
This is a question I have to battle with most of the time and really, I don’t have a quick answer for it. As a bee-keeper I don’t have to worry about it because I know what I produce, as a honey packer I have built a strong relationship with my network of bee-keepers and that relationship is based on trust!
For you the consumer, there are many old wives tales on how to determine pure honey, I tend not to rely on these due to the poor science backing them up. I am not saying they are not true but I for one do not rely on them.
For instance I have heard people say that if ants cover it, it is not original! I ask the question, is it a particular ant that does not eat honey or ants in general?
One of the biggest prayers we have in the apiary is that ants do not descend on our hives because it is a battle the bees cannot win! Ants are resilient, once they discover honey, that hive is as good as gone!
So we take precautions to oil the base of the hive stands, remove any low hanging branches especially in the rainy season when the soldier ants migrate!
I don’t think there is a way to recognise pure honey without resulting to scientific testing....Femi of Earthly Produce
The US is suffering from this same issue in preventing agro-chemical contaminated honey from countries like China.
It is a tough job for them! My best advice is to get to know your beekeeper! And be prepared to pay a premium because a lot of effort goes into producing it both for the bee and the beekeeper!
What is the difference between Raw Honey and Pure Honey?
Raw Honey is still in the Honeycomb while Pure Honey is harvested and packaged honey with no additives.
I recently got a new brand of local honey. Why is it that when I opened the bottle of honey, it made a "pop" sound like it was fermented?
Honey is hygroscopic in nature, which means it has a tendency to absorb moisture from the surrounding areas (scientist should please forgive my crude definition).
Once the bees deposit nectar into the honey comb, they dry it (remove excess moisture) by flapping their wings and evaporating the moisture in the honey and keep it air tight by placing a wax cover over the cell.
Wax, as we know is water proof!
Once the honey is sealed we say it is ripe, (that is the moisture content has been reduced to below 20% roughly).
It is stored that way in an airtight cell till the bees are ready to use it.
We make every effort to harvest only ripe honey and ensure that the equipment we use is clean and dry to avoid contaminating the honey.
If the water gets into the honey in significant quantity it could begin the process of fermentation and ultimately destroy the honey. We try to avoid harvesting unripe honey (honey with high moisture content) as this may initiate the fermentation process.
People say that honey attracts ants. The honey I have in my kitchen has never attracted ants. Why is that?
On the issue of ants and honey, I know from my experience in my kitchen that ants LOVE honey.
Once I finish harvesting, pressing etc, we have to clean the place carefully to ensure there are no traces of honey to avoid inviting the tenacious ants!
But I also know that some plants have insecticidal properties. Whether the honey of such plants carries these properties as well is subject to scientific study!
If my honey leaves some particles at the bottom of the container, what does it indicate?
When honey is harvested in our part of the world, we cut the honeycomb, crush it into pieces and place it into a cloth and press it, squeezing out the honey.
Sometimes in the cells of honeycombs, you have pollen, wax residue, bees legs, wings, dust etc…these sometimes get into the honey. Depending on the harvesting and processing method, a lot of this may find its way into the honey.
We try to take a lot of care in our processing and there is a lot to be said for letting the honey settle after pressing.
Undoubtedly, there are individuals who do not take as much care in selecting combs to be pressed or using good filters to process their honey and this is where one ends up with less than perfect quality.
It must also be said that developed countries take presentation to another level and in so doing remove some of the “good bits” in the name of presenting a perfect bottle of honey to you the customer.
So how should you store your honey?
Use clean, dry well sealed containers to avoid moisture getting in. Storing in a dark, cool place in my opinion depends on the amount of honey you have.
Those that store 5 litres or more of honey at home should be more cautious, I would treat it as you would your keg of palm oil. Treat it with care, it is food! I store mine in well-sealed food grade plastic containers and I try not to keep it directly on the ground for fear that it might begin to crystallize but this is folly. Almost all honey will crystallize/ granulate at some stage depending on the properties.
Another thing to avoid is direct heat, Honey is stored in the hive away from direct sunlight in sealed cells, we should try our best to replicate that! Bear in mind that there are reports of 3,000year old honey! The longest I have kept honey is almost 2 years! If stored properly in proper containers with an airtight seal, it should last forever, more than I can say for us!
About Earthly Produce Limited
Earthly Produce Limited was founded in 2010 as an Apiary set in 5 acres of farmland a few miles outside Iwo in Osun state, Southwest Nigeria, we expanded to 15 acres in 2012. The main ethos driving the farm is based on sustainability, so we try our best to exclude agro-chemicals from our operations, this has not been very easy! We are strong supporters of indigenous trees and as such most of the original trees that were acquired with the land have been preserved. Since acquisition of the land, we have embarked on an indigenous tree planting scheme focusing on trees that are favourable to bees to sustain our colonies and provide as close to an all year round food source producing a wide variety of flavours.
At the heart of it, we are beekeepers and we do all we can to ensure that our bees are raised as naturally as possible with as little interference as possible! Beekeeping is a gradual process, our goal is to produce high quality honey that can be considered the best in Nigeria.
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