I love honey. The kind that is worth relishing. Bursting with caramel notes or honey which has dark, smoky overtones and even the one with a floral finish. The flavours are heavenly, more like a sweet boon. But you may not feel the same way, if you’ve been picking up the ordinary jar of honey that lines grocery shelves. Such a pity.
The buzz about bees
Honey is nature’s most interesting sweetener and true honey will always surprise you with its scent, taste and colour which reflect the flora from where the bees collect their nectar. The beauty of it is that the result is always up to nature and more so, when bees are allowed to express the uniqueness of their surroundings in honey. For instance, the flavour of honey collected from bee boxes on a mustard plantation will be very different from the robust wild forest honey extracted from natural hives. But a lot of the flavour and quality of honey depends on how carefully it is handled after being procured.
What is so special about raw honey?
Raw honey is the most original sweet liquid you will find. It is collected fresh after being produced by honeybees from the concentrated flowers and nectars. It is unheated, unpasteurised and unprocessed. This is not too difficult to understand as the word ‘raw’ clearly indicates being ‘uncooked’. Sonia Sharma, Certified Nutritionist and Found of Nature Organic who sources raw honey from the Himalayan foothills tells me that honey in its raw state still has the essential prana or life force which is found in every other raw food.
“According to Ayurveda, it is this energy that gives raw honey its intense flavour. It is the purest form of nectar that has come out of the flowers and is just so potent. You’ll know the difference when you taste it. It leaves a slight tingle in your throat unlike regular honey which has no flavour or texture and is plain sweet. In the Charaka Samhita, raw honey which has been aged for a year has amazing therapeutic and detoxifying properties. The natural nutrients are known to rejuvenate the cells in the body. A lot of scientific studies have shown that applying heat to raw foods changes their molecular structure and in the process they may lose this life force,” she explains.
In its pure form, raw honey contains all the enzymes, antioxidants and trace minerals which are often destroyed on being treated with heat. Many of the beautiful, golden bottles sitting on supermarket shelves contain commercial honey that has been pasteurized (heated at about 70 degree Celsius followed by rapid cooling). This makes it easy to filter, handle and package and gives the liquid a cleaner and smoother finish but a lot is lost in the process. The same old story of big business interests making it hard to maintain quality may leave a bad taste in the mouth.
“It was about four years ago that a person from Noida shared that he sells honey for Rs. 15 per kg to certain brands that use it to mix with their product to increase the volume and reduce the price. Thereafter, I visited the forests in Uttaranchal where a family of farmers have been involved in bee-keeping for generations and witnessed how real honey is made. You are not allowed inside the forest to prevent any form of contamination, but I have been told by the farmers that they place the bee hive in a spinning container and while it spins the honey fall off the comb and sticks the walls from where it is scooped and delivered to us,” shares Manav Chaddha, Co-Founder, Organica.
The thing about honest, real honey is that it not really ‘pure’ literally. “The honey that we source from the forest is filtered manually and no machinery is used at any step. This is why you may find bee pollen or some fibers still in our honey but they don’t really pose a problem to your health and also the colour or texture may be slightly different every time because it honey obtained through a natural process that we cannot control. In fact, the farmers having been eating the unfiltered honey for years now. Sadly, the only qualities of honey that we refer to is that it should be smooth, shiny and sweet and that has been ingrained in our mind. But, that’s not the case and when the commercial honey looks and tastes the same each time, it raises doubts because it is far from what raw honey would be,” says Manav.
Unfiltered raw honey, which you get directly from the bee farm, does contain fine crystals and flecks of bee pollen, honeycomb bits and even broken bee wing fragments. It is cloudier, has high levels of antioxidants and crystalizes to a thick consistency very soon. Back in the 1800s, honey came in a comb packed in a wooden box. Honey stored in the honeycomb was the purest, rawest form of honey. And there was no other alternative. As time went by, several things changed. Food safety laws were tightened and the natural honey that people had been eating for so many years was not considered safe anymore. Unfortunately, we lost a real treat. Today, suppliers of raw honey, keeping the needs and health of the consumers in mind, may only warm it slightly to allow the honey to flow for bottling and filter it by hand to remove the unwanted particles.