Winnie the Pooh loves it. Many of us have grown up with it – be it in our milk or in hot water or for our cough and cold. Honey has always been a part of our lives.
In the Charaka Samhita, an ancient text on Ayurveda, it has been written that raw honey which has been aged for a year has amazing therapeutic and detoxifying properties, especially for rejuvenating body cells.
But a recent study by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) sampled some of the leading brands of honey in India and found most of them lacking in purity.
This created a furore as during these COVID-19 times, Indians have increasingly turned to Honey for its anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties to fight the virus.
So how do you check the purity of the honey you buy?
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What is Honey?
As per the World Health Organisation (WHO) Codex Alimentarius (CA) for honey, “Honey is the natural sweet substance produced by honeybees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants or excretions of plant-sucking insects on the living parts of plants, which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in honeycombs to ripen and mature.”
Honey is composed of 17%-20% water, 76%-80% glucose, and fructose, pollen, wax and mineral salts. Its composition and colour are dependent upon the type of flower that supplies the nectar. There’s evidence that darker honey has less water and more antioxidants than light-coloured honey.
According to Rajat Saini, one of the founders of OrganiKrishi India which sells organic honey, “Crystallisation of honey is a natural phenomenon and an uncontrolled process. Containing more than 70% sugars and less than 20% water, honey is naturally an unstable super-saturated sugar solution. Hence, over time, almost all pure raw honey crystallises.”
OrganiKrishi procures its natural multi flora forest honey from the Nainital and Pauri Garhwal region in Uttarakhand. Rajat adds, “The nectar collected from the wildflowers by the bees is completely natural. The honey that we sell is not farmed honey or boxed honey; it is simply sourced from the jungle and then bottled. The raw honey that we source from the forest is filtered manually and no machinery or heating process is used at any step. This is why you may find bee pollen content 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 honey is obtained through a natural process that we cannot control. It is unheated, unpasteurised and unprocessed. No added preservatives, flavours, colours or stabilisers.”
OrganiKrishi honey is tested in a NABL accredited lab as per FSSAI standards. Fiehe’s test and Aniline Chloride test are performed to detect adulteration of fresh honey with common or invert sugar (acid hydrolysed sugar).
The Purity check
It is mandatory for manufacturers of Honey to mention the additions of flavouring, colouring, artificial sweeteners etc. So the first thing you should do before buying a bottle of honey is read the label and check that the ingredient list does not contain ‘high-fructose corn syrup’ or commercial glucose.
Addition of artificial sugars allows honey to stay in a liquid state for a long duration of time. If you buy honey that is already crystallised, it is pure. If your honey isn’t, you can wait a few days to see if it solidifies or refrigerate it to accelerate the process. If the honey never crystallises, there is a high probability that it is adulterated.
OrganiKrishi India shares these following tips to confirm the authenticity of honey in your home:
Cold Water Test: Take a teaspoon of the honey and put in a Glass plate and pour some Cold water on it. Then rotate the plate in clockwise - anti clockwise direction. Pure Honey should not dissolve immediately and you should see a hexagonal shaped web of honey underwater. Basically because honey holds the memory of a beehive.
Flame Test: Take a matchstick and dip the head of the stick in honey and then try to light it by rubbing the head against the red strip on the side of the matchbox. The matchstick should burn.
Sand Test: Take a little dry sand on your palm and put a drop of a honey on it. Pure honey will not mix with the sand and it should roll like a mercury ball in the sand. There may be sand glued to the honey drop but the honey will remain separate.
Paper Test: Pour some honey on a paper and keep it for an hour. Pure honey will not wet the paper and it will not spread.
Cloth Test: Pour some drops of honey on the outer side of a glass or on a cloth, it should roll down without sticking there.
Crystallisation: Unheated raw honey should crystallise if the bottle is untouched for a long time.
In a laboratory, there are two basic Chemical Tests that can be performed to check adulteration in Honey:
Fiehe's Test checks if commercial invert sugar has been added to Honey.
Aniline Chloride Test can detect the presence of common sugar/Sucrose in honey. Common sugar contains Sucrose whereas Honey contains simple sugars (Glucose & fructose).
What is the Codex Alimentarius?
The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of international food standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and recommendations developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) to protect the consumers' health and ensure fair practices in the food trade.
The CAC was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the WHO in 1963, and today, it has more than 180 member countries and more than 200 intergovernmental and international NGOs as observers. The Codex Alimentarius has become the global reference point for consumers, food producers, national food control agencies, and the international food trade.
Did You Know?
Honey contains a number of antioxidants, including phenolic compounds like flavonoids so it is great for immunity.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics both endorse honey as a natural Cough remedy.
Pharmaceutical-grade Manuka honey dressings have been used in clinical settings to treat burns and wounds.
Honey is a natural energy booster, is known to lower cholesterol and improve digestion
It takes about 60,000 bees visiting more than 2 million flowers, to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey.