How do you know if honey is raw or not? And why should you care?
Truly raw honey is strained, not filtered, and is processed without using any heat at all- in the same state it was when it left the hive. Raw honey is better for your health than honey that has been heated, as heat changes the characteristics of honey- the enzymatic activity, antimicrobial properties, microbial quality, color and chemical composition. Heating the honey takes away the most beneficial attributes of the honey. Most of the commercial honey you see in the food store is heated. The raw honeys are more likely to come from smaller, artisan producers- like Volcano Island Honey Company!
To understand why some honey is raw and some is heated, it is first helpful to know a little bit about the harvesting and extraction process. Beekeepers provide frames, which are organized in a box (hive) for the bees to store honey and pollen. A frame is a rectangular wooden frame with two wires across the horizontal center that hold a piece of wax foundation in place. Wax foundation is beeswax that is embossed with the hexagonal shape that the bees naturally form for their comb. The bees “draw the comb” or build on top of the foundation and this is the comb where they store honey and pollen as well as where the queen lays her eggs (in separate cells!). When the individual cells are filled with honey or pollen, the bees cap it over for storage with wax, these are called wax cappings.
Much in the same way that you would cover food in the refrigerator with saran wrap, the bees cover the honey with a thin layer of wax for storage. Remember how your grandmother made jam and sealed it with wax? The bees thought of it first! The wax cappings have to be removed to get the honey out. Raw honey is extracted from the frames and bottled without using any heat. At Volcano Island Honey, the wax cappings are removed with an uncapping machine (which uses fast moving chains) and the honey is spun out using centrifugal force in an extractor. Most large commercial beekeepers heat the honey so it is easier to filter, bottle and to extend shelf life.
Beeswax from the cappings are another blessing bestowed on us by the bees, and the wax at Volcano Island Honey is saved to make beeswax candles and foundation for the hives.
All honey crystallizes, and although crystallized honey can easily be brought back to liquid state by placing it in warm water or in the sun, producers of liquid honey do not want crystallization to occur prematurely (as when it is sitting on the shelf). The heating of the honey breaks down the crystals and retards the process.
However, crystallization is not always undesirable, as a matter of fact, we use crystallization to our advantage. Some honeys are naturally crystallized and some use controlled crystallization to produce creamed honey. At Volcano Island Honey, our honey is not whipped or creamed- the white, creamy texture is a result of the natural crystallization of the honey. Our honey is kiawe honey and it is the nature of pure Kiawe honey to crystallize very rapidly. The crystals formed by rapid crystallization are very tiny; and, tiny crystals are what give Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey its firm, smooth texture. The crystals in pure kiawe honey are “alive” and active. The thick, viscous, liquid honey that goes into the jar is transformed within a few days into the firm, silky texture by the growing crystals.
In order to keep the honey raw- timing in the harvesting, extraction, and bottling is critical! The growth and size of crystals in honey is affected by the size and amount of crystals already present in the combs. To maintain the naturally smooth and creamy texture of pure Kiawe honey the combs must kept totally free of old crystals. So, while the rapid crystallization causes the wonderful creamy texture of this honey, it also makes it necessary to “pick” the honey before it crystallizes in the hive. Read more about crystallization and our unique process of extracting raw honey.
Kiawe honey’s crystallization takes place so rapidly that a mistake in timing before it is bottled could easily allow the entire contents of a large stainless steel vat filled with Kiawe honey to solidify into one huge thousand pound chunk! If we made that mistake, we would have to melt it in order to remove it from the tank, thus ruining its gourmet delicacy and nutritional qualities. (It hasn’t happened yet!)
If raw honey is what you want, you might want to do some investigation before buying (or just buy our raw honey, which we guarantee is totally raw! ). The National Honey Board defines Raw Honey as “Honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat.” However, they also define Commercially Raw Honey as “Honey obtained by minimum processing. This product is often labeled as raw honey.” In pursuit of raw honey- some producers do not apply any heat at all and some are very conscientious about not heating the honey above the ambient temperature of the hive. However, some producers apply considerable heat, enough to kill the beneficial enzymes and still call it raw.
If you are making a beeline to the raw honey, ask the honey farm if the honey is truly raw or if they apply heat.
Buy your raw honey from a trusted source (hint, hint!). And I might add- with a commitment to organic, non-toxic beekeeping methods.
Posted by Andrea Dean.
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