A short explanation of what raw honey is and why you should buy it
Let’s start with honey bees! Why do they make honey anyway?
Did you ever wonder what happens to bees in the winter? I used to think they all died and started again next year, but they don’t. Honey bees retreat to their hives in the winter to keep warm. But they need food to survive so; they make honey during the summer to live on over the winter. If it’s a good year they have plenty to spare for us.
Raw honey is honey that is kept as close as possible to the way the bees made it.
Honey bees eat pollen as it’s a great source of protein but they don’t use it make raw honey. Bees make honey from nectar. Plants need bees to pass pollen from one flower to another so they can reproduce. But, flowers need something to attract the honey bees in. That something is nectar. Nectar is a sweet liquid (about 80% water and 20% sucrose) produced by flowers to entice the honey bees in. While the bees are collecting the nectar they are covered in pollen which is then passed onto the next plant they visit. The honey bees take the nectar back to the hive to turn it into raw honey – and everyone’s happy!
Honey bees add an enzyme to the nectar which converts it from sucrose to glucose and fructose. It is left to dehydrate by the bees until it is about 80% sugar and 20% water at which stage it has become raw honey.
Honey bees produce beeswax to make honeycomb which they live in, store honey in and the queen lays eggs in. In a commercial hive the honeycomb used for raw honey storage is kept separate from the queen so that there are no grubs in the raw honey. As raw honey has natural anti bacterial, anti fungal and antiseptic qualities it doesn’t ‘go off’.
Another amazing product of honey bees is propolis. Propolis is a thick resin, used by bees to seal the hive. It’s been discovered that propolis is highly anti bacterial and is not just used to seal the hive but to naturally disinfect and protect the hive from infection.
For raw comb honey the beekeeper simply removes the honeycomb and puts it into a jar. For raw honey (without the wax) the beekeeper scrapes the wax cap from the ends of each cell and either lets the raw honey drain out or usually, spins it in a centrifuge to extract the honey. This is the stage where everything can start to wrong.
The benefits of keeping the honey raw are that raw honey retains more of its natural anti bacterial, anti fungal and antiseptic qualities and also, retains propolis, pollen and phytonutrients from the plants. These all have health benefits which are lost, to varying degrees, during processing.
Even raw honey needs to be heated slightly to help it flow from the honeycomb but too much heat can destroy its flavour and seriously impair its health benefits. Filtering is necessary to remove wax but too fine a filter will also remove pollen and propolis which also have considerable health benefits for us.
Do your research carefully before you buy honey. If you’re looking for manuka honey and want the best possible health benefits then buy raw manuka honey.