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Honey Bees on Comb

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – As honey month continues, there are often several myths and questions about this delicious treat that come to mind. Which is better, raw or processed honey? Is it safe for infants? Never fear, Alabama Cooperative Extension System Forestry, Wildlife and Natural Resources Regional Agent Jack Rowe has the answers to anything honey related.

Raw Honey

Jars of HoneyAccording to Rowe, raw honey is considered to be only lightly filtered and never heated.

“By filtering, it means big pieces of wax, bee parts and debris from the hive are strained out,” Rowe said.

Although it goes through filtration, raw honey still contains wax particles and pollens.

“While this might sound nasty, it really isn’t,” he said. “Surprisingly, honey is an amazingly dry product. This means that it has a negative hygroscopic pressure, therefore it can dehydrate anything that gets in it.”

As honey absorbs water, it lessens the sterility from the honey’s dry nature. Honey can simply absorb water from the air. If honey absorbs too much water, it is likely to ferment and spoil. Aside from raw honey’s dry characteristics and light filtration, it contains a unique flavor and scent from the plants the nectar the bees harvest from and the bees themselves. All raw honey is truly one of a kind.

Processed Honey

Unlike raw honey, processed honey goes through steps to kill anything that may be living in the honey. In order to do this, processors filter the honey and heat it to approximately 160 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.

“For major brands, the filtering is usually mixing with diatomaceous earth,” Rowe said. “They heat it to pasteurize the honey and then force it through extremely-fine filters to leave a very clear and sterile syrup.”

He said this process removes a majority of the characteristics that make local or raw honey so unique.

“By no means is processed honey any less useful in the kitchen or a pleasant snack,” Rowe said. “It simply may not have the same enjoyment factor a local beekeeper’s honey will.”

Infant and Honey Concerns

A lingering question for many parents is why infants should not be fed honey. The biggest concern about feeding infants and toddlers honey is the risk of Clostridium botulinum. Bees travel far and wide for nectar and pollen, meaning there is a possibility that they could be spreading disease.

“Contamination by Clostridium botulinum is very possible,” Rowe said. “Even pasteurized and highly filtered honey can still contain spores of Clostridium botulinum.”

While honey makes a tasty addition to snacks or drinks, it is best to first do some research on the best honey option for you and your family.

More Information

For more information on honey or other pollinator topics, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.

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