“Is this raw honey?“
How many times have your been asked that?
Chambers 21st Century Dictionary defines ‘raw’ as meaning: 1. said of meat, vegetables, etc: not cooked. 2. not processed, purified or refined. … and then wanders off into definitions of ‘raw’ silk, weather and wounds, though no mention of raw honey. Clearly honey is both a foodstuff and ‘not cooked’, though if it’s heated excessively it has to be sold as ‘Bakers honey’.
However, is it processed, purified or refined? I operate my extractor with the gate open. I run the honey through a coarse filter (~2 mm) directly into 30 lb. buckets. This removes the worst of the lumps that really shouldn’t be in honey … big pellets of pollen, scraps of brace comb and bits of bees. I really don’t want any of these on my toast in the mornings, and I don’t want them floating on the – inevitable – scum when the jar is opened as I would really like to attract repeat customers. I store the 30 lb. buckets until I’m ready to jar the honey, re-filtering it through a fine mesh and removing the scum before bottling. The end product looks great and has a good shelf life.
Since ‘purified’ means to remove contaminants I suspect the pedantic would consider the honey is no longer raw.
Raw honey on labels
Honey labelled for sale must carry one of the following reserved words that describe the product … Honey, Blossom Honey, Nectar Honey, Honeydew Honey, Comb Honey, Chunk Honey, Cut Comb in Honey, Drained Honey, Extracted Honey, Pressed Honey, Filtered Honey and Baker’s Honey. If the predominant nectar source is known the reserved word can be prefixed with the source e.g. heather honey.
It’s notable that raw, organic, unfiltered or unheated aren’t reserved words and yet are regularly found on honey labels, sometimes immediately preceding the word ‘honey’.
The taste test
The jar at the top of the page is coarse filtered ‘raw’ honey run straight from the extractor into the bottle. It’s slightly cloudy and has bubbles and a sort of swirly, almost birefringent, appearance when you hold it against the light. It will almost certainly crystallise unevenly and unpredictably. It might have an antenna lurking in its murky depths.
It tastes absolutely delicious.
But then so is honey that’s been allowed to settle in the buckets, gently warmed in a honey warming cabinet†, filtered through a fine mesh filter, allowed to settle again, skimmed (to remove the bubbles that rise to the surface) and then carefully bottled in pre-warmed jars. This is still ‘raw’ – as in uncooked – honey but it’s also certainly a more refined product. It’s beautifully clear, it looks great on the shop shelves or the breakfast table, it sells well and it attracts a premium price. Like all pure honey that hasn’t been heated to very high temperatures or filtered excessively it will eventually crystallise, but it has a long shelf life and will remain attractive for the duration.
It might be interesting to conduct a blind taste test of a jar of ‘raw’ honey with one refined just enough – as described above – to look really good and sell well. It might also be interesting to auction an unlabelled jar of each and see which is more attractive to the customer … or see whether customers who find bee legs in the jar make repeat orders 😉
† Going by the number of visitors who come to this site having searched for a ‘honey warming cabinet‘ I suspect that the ‘raw’ honey sold by most beekeepers is at least partially refined. As an aside that last link also takes you to details of the cabinet sold by Abelo’s, which looks lovely (a lot more aesthetically pleasing than my DIY effort), but costs an eye-watering £599 and doesn’t enable you to pre-warm supers before extraction. A missed opportunity.