Raw or Processed
Is raw honey more nutritious than processed or filtered honey?
While there is no official U.S. federal definition of “raw” honey, it generally means honey that has not been heated or filtered. We often see or hear claims that raw honey is more nutritious or better for you, primarily because raw honey may contain small amounts of pollen grains that are often removed during processing or filtering.
Honey is produced by honeybees from the nectar of plants, not pollen. Pollen occurs only incidentally in honey. The amount of pollen in honey is miniscule and not enough to impact the nutrient value of honey. A 2004 study by the Australian government found the percentage of dry weight canola pollen in 32 Australian canola honey samples ranged from 0.15% to 0.433%.
A 2012 study by the National Honey Board analyzed vitamins, minerals and antioxidant levels in raw and processed honey. The study showed that processing significantly reduced the pollen content of the honey, but did not affect the nutrient content or antioxidant activity, leading the researchers to conclude that the micronutrient profile of honey is not associated with its pollen content and is not affected by commercial processing. The 2012 study and abstract with statistical analysis was presented at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Conference in Boston April 20–24, 2013.
What is raw honey?
While there is no official U.S. federal definition of raw honey, 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.” This definition does not have any legal authority, but is provided to help in the understanding of honey and honey terms. The complete honey definitions document created by the National Honey Board is available here: the Definition of Honey
Why is most honey filtered?
According to USDA Grading Standards for extracted honey, filtered honey is honey that has been filtered to the extent that all or most of the fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles and other materials normally found in suspension have been removed.
Honey that is filtered by packers is filtered for various reasons:
Many consumers prefer honey that is liquid and stays liquid for a long time.
All honey crystallizes eventually. Suspended particles and fine air bubbles in honey contribute to faster crystallization. Filtering helps delay crystallization, helping the honey to remain liquid for a much longer period than unfiltered honey.
Many consumers prefer honey to be clear and brilliantly transparent.
The presence of fine, suspended material (pollen grains, wax, etc.) and air bubbles result in a cloudy appearance that can detract from the appearance. Filtering is done to give a clear, brilliant product desired by consumers. For the filtered style of honey, USDA Grading Standards for Extracted Honey give higher grades for honey that has good clarity.
Honey is filtered to remove extraneous solids that remain after the initial raw processing by the beekeeper.
Various filtration methods are used by the food industry throughout the world. Ultrafiltration, a specific kind of filtration used in the food industry, should not be confused with other filtration methods generally used in the honey industry. When applied to honey, ultrafiltration involves adding water to honey and filtering it under high pressure at the molecular level, then removing the water. It is a much more involved and expensive process, which results in a colorless sweetener product that is derived from honey, but is not considered honey in the U.S.
Honey that is filtered through more traditional methods is still honey, even if pollen has been removed along with other fine particles.