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.
Our Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey is so delicious that I often eat it by just sticking my finger right in the honey jar! I also put indecent amounts of organic white honey into my tea every day. But beyond the obvious ways of consuming this delectable honey there are a few ways to use our honey that you might not know about.
For the simple honey eater, who is classier than I am and does not want to use a finger- dipping almonds or unsweetened chocolate in the honey is divine. Spreading nut butter on the chocolate and then spreading it with honey is also a great combination.
Our honey is also great in salad dressings, drinks and even for making homemade ice cream! Check out our recipes from award winning chefs and our resident gourmet honey cooks for Honey Ice Cream with Almond Nougatine, Kona Mango Honey Dressing, and more.
Around my house and at Volcano Island Honey, Nut Butter Balls are a favorite healthy alternative to candy. Just mix your favorite nut butter (peanut butter, almond butter, macadamia nut butter, tahini) with honey to taste. Add nutritional yeast to thicken up the mixture and form balls. Roll the nut butter-honey balls in sesame seeds and refrigerate. Be careful- Nut Butter Balls are strangely addictive.
In addition to the pure pleasure of eating honey, you can also use it medicinally. Honey has been proven to be just as effective as over the counter cough syrup and it tastes a lot better! (Not for infants under 1 year of age, of course).
Honey is antibacterial and anti-viral, it forms hydrogen peroxide that will sterilize wounds, promote healing and reduce scaring. You can put honey on wounds, burns, acnes and infections. Our beekeepers use it faithfully on stings, burns and cuts.
Honey can be added to your bath water or used as a massage cream on your face or body. (Some people are allergic to honey- before putting honey on large areas of your body, please make sure that your skin is not allergic to honey.)
If you want a great craft project- making lip gloss from honey, beeswax and oil is a lot of fun. It is simple to make and very yummy to use on your lips. You taste the honey each time you lick your lips and your kissing partner gets to have sweet, organic kisses!
For more ideas and recipes, please download our Ways to Use Our Honey brochure.
Posted by Andrea Dean.
Twenty years ago when Peter Merriman was the Executive Chef at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel he and a group of local chefs started the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement. Shortly thereafter, Chef Merriman opened Merriman’s in Waimea.
From the Merriman’s website: “The Waimea restaurant is now widely recognized as the flagship home of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, the island-based culinary movement that has garnered worldwide acclaim. Chef and restaurateur Peter Merriman worked closely with local farmers, ranchers and fishermen to create Hawaii Regional Cuisine, which showcases fresh and local produce, meats and fish”
Now Hawaii Regional Cuisine has become the signature cuisine in Hawaii and Merriman’s legacy of supporting local farmers and using local ingredients has become the norm for most high end restaurants in Hawaii.
Last weekend, Richard Spiegel, the owner of Volcano Island Honey Co. stayed at the Kona Village Resort for a much needed and well deserved weekend getaway. Richard was all inner and outer smiles when the server brought a jar of Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey along with jams and preserves to the breakfast table. It was the first time Richard’s white honey was ever served to him in a restaurant. Always doing market research, the incognito Richard asked the server if customers ever ask about the honey. The server lit up and said, “Oh yes! Everybody loves this honey.”
Back when the movement was just getting started, Peter Merriman started using our Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey at the Mauna Lani. Now, 20 years later, the Mauna Lani is still serving our honey to guests.
We are truly thankful for the visionary chefs who started the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement and all of the chefs today who continue to appreciate and utilize our honey.
It was a sweet start for Volcano Island Honey. Today, there are eleven high end restaurants and resorts in Hawaii that serve our honey to their guests:
Kona Village Resort
Mauna Lani Resort Big, Island.
Four Season Resort Hualalai, Big Island
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Big Island
Hapuna Prince Hotel, Big Island
Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Oahu
Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk, Oahu
Sheraton Waikiki, Oahu
Moana Surfrider Waikiki, Oahu
Four Season Resorts Lanai, Lanai
St. Regis Princeville Resort, Kauai
Recently a Canadian film crew came to film us for the show Chef Abroad, hosted by Chef Michael Smith. The show is called Island Flavors, Hawaii and will air on Food Network Canada, on Friday, November 27th at 9:30 pm EST and Saturday, November 28th at 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm EST.
This will be our 5th interview for national and international TV. We are delighted to have the opportunity to share internationally our long held belief and practices of earth friendly and life sustaining farming.
Did you watch the show? Post your comments here!
On November 17, 2009, Dr. Stephen J. Martin of University of Sheffield in Western Bank, Sheffield, UK visited Volcano Island Honey Company. Dr. Martin is internationally recognized for his research on the biology and population dynamics of social insects (hornets and honeybees) and their pests, parasites and pathogens.
The Varroa Mite is spreading rapidly on the Big Island, and beekeepers are scrambling to learn how to manage and control the destructive pest.
Researchers know that colonies heavily infested with varroa mites have high levels of viruses including Chronic Paralysis virus, Acute Bee Paralysis virus, Kashmir bee virus and Deformed Wing Virus- but no one has studied the virus levels in specific colonies before the mite arrived and then after the mite infestation. Volcano Island Honey Company does not currently have varroa mites in our hives, therefore Dr. Martin is studying our colonies to get baseline virus levels before and after a varroa mite infestation.
Of course, we are hoping we never have a mite infestation, but the scientists say, “We’ve heard that hope before,” and then they emphatically repeat “You will get the mites.”
Dr. Martin took samples of live bees and eggs from the brood nests of twenty of our colonies. He explained that a normal healthy colony has defenses against viruses that infect the bees through normal transmission channels, like the entering through the digestive system; but when the Varroa mite parasitically feeds on the bee pupa or adult bees it injects the virus into the pupa’s or adult’s bodily fluids from which the bee host has no defense.
Currently, the Varroa mite is spreading across the Big Island faster than anyone had predicted. And we are hoping against hope, and scientific evidence to the contrary, that this blight will pass us over.
Posted by Candice Choy and Andrea Dean
Yesterday a film crew from Japan interviewed Richard Spiegel at the Volcano Island Honey Company apiary in Ahualoa on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. They were filming for a show called the Voyage of Kona Coffee and were also featuring other Hawaii Island artisan products.
Richard opened up a beehive and spoke about our organic, non-toxic and non-violent methods of beekeeping. Many people, the interviewer included, wonder why our honey is so white and creamy. People mistakenly think the honey is whipped, but its not, it is naturally crystallized! Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey is kiawe (a tree, similar to the mesquite) honey, kiawe honey crystallizes more quickly than other honeys and the white color is also a characteristic of the kiawe honey. The honey crystallizes naturally, and the smooth texture results from how we treat the honey all the way throughout the process. Learn more about our unique process of harvesting raw, organic honey.
Richard also discussed our “Uncommon Philosophy” – a triple bottom line or people, planet, profits- approach to business.
Posted by Andrea Dean
This fall Richard launched a four week class called Beginning Organic Beekeeping. With thirty years experience in organic beekeeping and producing artisan honey- the demand to learn from Richard is high! Twelve lucky people are in the class now and there is already a list for the next class. With bees under attack by the varroa mite and other diseases, having a few managed hives in many backyards is a good way to help perpetuate Hawaii’s honey bees.
Posted by Andrea Dean
Richard Spiegel & Candice Choy from Volcano Island Honey went to Oahu this week to see the Hawaii premiere of The Last Beekeeper as a part of the Hawaii International Film Festival. Beekeepers from Maui, Oahu and the Big Island all gathered to watch the film and share their honey at a tasting afterward. Whole Foods sponsored the event to help raise awareness about Colony Collapse Disorder and the many problems facing bees and beekeepers right now.
The film was powerful. The film used the compelling personal stories of a few beekeepers to tell the story of the challenges that bees and beekeepers face today. Here on the Big Island beekeepers are facing their own challenges. While we don’t have Colony Collapse Disorder, we now have the varroa mite which seems to be spreading rapidly around the island. Beekeepers, Volcano Island Honey among them, are scrambling to adjust to this new hive management reality. Volcano Island Honey does not have the mite, but is monitoring the hives closely.
Posted by Andrea Dean
Unless you are a beekeeper you are probably asking yourself right now, “What is Wax Foundation?” and “Why Do I Care?”
Wax foundation is a thin sheet of beeswax that is embossed with the hexagonal shape that the bees naturally form for their honeycomb. The wax foundation is placed in a rectangular wooden frame with two wires across the horizontal center that holds the wax foundation in place.
The bees “draw out the comb” by adding wax on top of the foundation to create hexagonal cells, which is where they store honey and pollen as well as where the queen lays her eggs (in separate cells!)
Organic foundation is important because most beeswax foundation is contaminated from the use of toxic chemicals used by beekeepers in the hives to treat disease. The chemicals remain in the wax, which is processed into wax foundation.
Most beekeepers purchase this commercial foundation for use in their hives. Organic standards allow plastic foundation dipped in organic beeswax, but some organic beekeepers (like Volcano Island Honey Co. and Hawaiian Queen Company!) feel strongly that plastic should not be used in bee hives.
We produce raw, organic honey and have a commitment to nonviolent and non toxic methods to harvest honey, and in all aspects of production. We believe that organic wax foundation provides the basis for healthier, stronger bee hives, thereby increasing honey and queen production. Strong, healthy bees mean that trees and plants are pollinated which increases the agricultural productivity of orchard crops and maintains the health of non-native and native forest.
Making beeswax foundation in a small-scale farm setting is a lost art, there are not many people who know how to do it as the process has been industrialized in developed countries. The fact that it is not possible to purchase organic foundation means that making your own is a necessity for apiaries who do not want to use plastic foundation.
The process of making foundation is not complicated, but it does require time and patience. The only piece of specialized equipment required is an embossing mill. The embossing rollers come in both 4.9 mm and 5.1 mm sizes.
Volcano Island Honey Co. partnered with Michael Krones of Hawaiian Queen Company on the project, and we were fortunate to receive a grant from Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education to help us purchase equipment and develop and spread knowledge about the lost art of foundation making.
Posted by Andrea Dean
The Aptly Named Varroa Destructor
Do you know that 1/3 of all the food you eat is pollinated by bees? The decimation of bee colonies is a threat to food production in Hawaii. In Hawaii we do not have the disappearance of bees (Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD), but we now have the devastating and aptly named varroa destructor, commonly known as the varroa mite.
The varroa mite is a parasite that attacks honey bee adults, larvae, and pupae. The varroa mite has been know to destroy up to 90% of wild hives and beekeepers can easily lose all or a majority of their managed hives. Until recently, Hawaii and Australia were the only remaining varroa free places in the world. The varroa mite was found on Oahu in 2007, unfortunately this did not result in quick and aggressive action by the private or government sector. As a result, the mite has now been found in hives on the Big Island.
The beekeeping industry in Hawaii is a $4 million per year industry, with the majority of that being on the Big Island. Hawaii’s beekeepers produce both honey and queen bees. But Hawaii’s beekeeping industry affects a much larger industry. The Kona Coast of Hawaii produces approx. 400,000 varroa free queens per year, or 20% of the nation’s needs. Each queen bee heads up a colony of about 45,000 pollinating foragers that fly and pollinate about 8,000 acres around its hive. Hawaii’s queen producers supply many of the nation’s largest beekeepers with mite-free queens whose colonies pollinate the food crops in North America.
Not Just a Honey Problem, It is a Food Problem
The varroa mite is not just a beekeeper’s problem, it is a food production problem that will affect commercial farms as well as the backyard gardener. The State Department of Agriculture estimates that Hawaii’s agricultural industry will lose $42 – $62 million from the loss of feral bees. When wild honey bees no longer pollinate crops, farmers will have to hire managed bee colonies to sustain production, if managed hives are available. Since there is a ban on importation of bees to Hawaii, if the bees die out replenishing managed hives may present an unanticipated problem. Pollinated-dependent crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers and melons will experience losses in both quality and quantity. Bees also assist in pollinating coffee, macadamia nuts, citrus, avocado, and guava. The loss of wild hives will likely mean lower production and quality in farms and private gardens and fruit trees.
Living with Varroa in Hawaii
Volcano Island Honey Company, as a certified organic apiary has been researching ways to treat the varroa mite in hives and still remain certified organic. (Just to be clear Volcano Island Honey does not have varroa in its hives.) The company has developed an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy that would use non-chemical methods such as screened bottom boards, brood cycle disruption and possibly drone brood removal first and then, if necessary, so called “soft-chemicals” such as formic acid.
Beekeepers on the U.S. mainland and other places in the world have been managing varroa for over 20 years, but Hawaii’s beekeepers have not had the varroa mite and this presents some special challenges. Managing the hives with the varroa mite is much more labor intensive and the treatments are expensive, this is not an expense that Hawaii’s beekeepers anticipated. In addition, many of the beekeepers in Hawaii just do not have experience with treating hives for varroa and will need to learn what works and what does not through experience- which could add up to expensive trial and error. To compound the challenge- many of the soft-chemical treatments such as formic acid and thymol have not been tested in European honeybee hives in a year round, tropical climate like Hawaii. Therefore, accurate information on application for Hawaii’s climate is not readily available. The University of Hawaii has ramped up its Bee Project in order to provide Hawaii’s beekeepers with localized information on application.
Are Bees the Canary in the Coalmine?
Until the disappearance of bees (Colony Collapse Disorder of CCD) began attracting national media attention, most people probably never thought about the important role that bees play in our food production. Unfortunately, the majority of our food comes from industrial food production systems and the bees that pollinate the food crops have been industrialized as well. Thousands of bee hives are trucked across the country each year to pollinate tree crops, primarily large, chemically fertilized and pesticide laden mono-cropping nut and fruit orchards.
Volcano Island Honey Company feels that the bees are the “canary in the coal mine” of the condition of our global environment. When the bees start disappearing, that is an obvious signal that our environment is out of balance. The cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has not yet been found, but we feel that the decimation and disappearance of bees is indicative of the many errors of our ways- from industrial agricultural practices to over consumption.
What You Can Do for Hawaii’s Bees
The effort to combat the varroa mite in Hawaii is woefully under funded. The Hawaii State Department of Agriculture, which is already handling more agricultural pests than it has time and staff for, only has about $370,000 to address the varroa problem statewide. Hawaii’s congressional delegation has secured another $469,000 for Fiscal Year 2010, but this is only a drop in the bucket.
A multi-stakeholder group comprised of beekeepers, the agricultural industry, University of Hawaii, Hawaii Department of Agriculture, USDA and others has formed to try to collectively address the varroa problem (disclosure- the writer of this article has been retained as the facilitator/coordinator of this group).
The public can make a tax deductible donation to the effort to help the bees on the Big Island. Checks should be made out to The Kohala Center, reference Varroa in the memo, and mail to:
The Kohala Center
Att: Cortney Hoffman
P.O. Box 437462
Kamuela, Hawai‘i 96743
You can also learn about beekeeping and keep a hive in your own backyard! Volcano Island Honey Company owner Richard Spiegel will be having a beginning beekeeping class in October.
Posted by Andrea Dean