Friday, September 6, 2013

Sticky Business

It is the epitome of sweet. In fact, you often hear the somewhat clichéd phrase “As sweet as honey.” 
But, one thing not generally associated with the amber liquid is scandal.
Honey, scandalous? Please.
 On Nov. 7 a report was published by the Food Safety News, a law firm run publication devoted to reporting the latest on food safety concerns, entitled “Tests Show Most Store Honey Isn’t Honey.”

How is that even possible? I have owned a few plastic squeezable bears in my lifetime, and it was most certainly honey in there. So, what were they talking about?

The difference is in the pollen. According to the report, observing the pollen in honey is the only sure way to track its origins. 
Match the pollen to the plant, and there you go.  But many brands filter the pollen out of the honey.
Why would they do that?
Removing the pollen from honey is not up to snuff for most of the world’s safety standards, but apparently OK for North America?  We have established that pollen allows us to identify the origins of the honey. Why would someone want to hide where the honey is from? Aren’t bees all alike?
Apparently not. 
Food Safety News claims honey from India is banned across Europe because of “Contamination with antibiotics, heavy metals and a total lack of pollen which prevented tracking its origin.” 
The other popular origin for honey is from China, and the problem here is that this heavily subsidized honey is dirt cheap, and putting North American bee keepers out of business, just so the shelves can be stocked with honey for less. 
But, once again safety is a concern. A shipment of Chinese honey was sent to Canada in 2001 and then to Texas. According to the Food Safety Newsreport, the honey was contaminated with “chloramphenicol and other illegal animal antibiotics which are dangerous, even fatal, to a very small percentage of the population.”
They didn’t find out until after it was produced, and shipped off and consumed. Whoops.

So, while there is nothing wrong with cheap, when we have to worry about contamination … cheap simply will not do.

So back to the pollen. Why should you care about something so small, something microscopic, and whether it is in your honey? Ever heard of anti-oxidants?  Honey also has anti- allergic benefits, vitamins and enzymes. Plus, you just don’t want people messing with your food like that.
Here in Thunder Bay we have a surprising number of Beekeepers.
I spoke to Barry Tabor, president of the Thunder Bay Beekeepers Association about our locally produced honey.  In Thunder Bay there are as many, if not more than 100 amateur beekeepers.
That means there is a good chance that you actually know someone who keeps bees, and in addition to that, there are about five or six farms and families that produce honey for commercial production, and it is not hard to find.

Local producers spin the honey in a centrifuge and filter it through cheesecloth, but that leaves the pollen, antioxidants and vitamins intact, only removing large pieces of bees and wax. 
When commercial honey is cooked and filtered it will stay liquid for a very long time. But raw, unprocessed honey will crystallize.
Don’t worry, this is normal and you can still use it. Store your honey covered and out of the sunlight. If it is exposed to water it can start to ferment and go bad, but if you store it properly, it can last a long time.
Mr. Tabor even told me about some honey found in Egypt that was a couple thousand years old and still edible. Amazing!
I also spoke with beekeeper Rene Larson, and I learned that Thunder Bay carries an important distinction in the bee community, as this is an area free of varroa mites.
These mites latch onto and feed from the bees causing viruses, suppressing their immunity, weakening the bees and shortening the lifespan. The mites are also thought to be responsible for deformities in developing broods of bees.
Thunder Bay is also free of Acarine, or Tracheal mites. A parasite that occupies the bees trachea, essentially choking them. The bee community in our area is working hard to keeping our area free of these parasites that are extremely common in the world. When you consider that mail order is a common way to acquire bees, this is no mean feat.

A scandal behind honey, who would have thought!
This is why it is so important to know where your food comes from. In Thunder Bay we have a number of beekeepers that sell their honey; you can actually go and see the bees, and talk to the people who make it. Who wants to worry about antibiotics and heavy metals in their honey!
Honey is a sweet and delicious, reminiscent of sunny summer days, childhoods savouring a warm biscuit drizzled with honey.
This is a feel good food!  So instead of buying one of those cute little squeezy bears, or hive looking containers from the grocery store, buzz on down to buy from one of our local suppliers and get some. Talk to the beekeeper, and truly know and understand where your food comes from.  People are getting up in arms about hiring out of town artists to create art for the waterfront instead of local people, It is the same with food. I realize that you can’t buy everything locally- it would be ridiculous of me to ask that, but the little bit that you can, certainly helps.

Originally Published 11/9/2011 on
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