Consumers are increasingly buying honey on the search for healthy, authentic, and organic food. This has naturally increased demand for bee-products, sought out for their health benefits and great taste, resulting in world-wide honey exports increasing by over 61% since 2007.
The bad news is that that the total number of beehives in the world has barely increased (by 8%) in the same period and beehive productivity has decreased by an astounding 65% as a result of drought, disease, and colony collapse disorder.
How can these numbers square up? It appears that much of the honey traded internationally is not actually made by bees, but is honey made by mixing real honey with cheap corn syrup, sugar cane, and rice sugar. This process is called “adulteration”.
Why do honey producers adulterate honey?
Honey producers who adulterate honey (by adding sugar syrups) produce more “honey” product at low costs (as volumes of “honey” products is increased by the additives). This enables the offending honey producers to sell their “honey” product at much lower prices than those at which beekeepers or ethical honey producer can sell their honey.
Indeed, the price of bulk honey has dropped globally despite growing shortfalls. In some countries, honey prices have dropped by as much as 45% over the last few years.
The result? Not only are consumers scammed (at the cost of their health), but the decrease in the honey price also makes it difficult for local beekeepers to compete with real honey. Pure, natural honey appears expensive on the shelf next to cheap adulterated honey.
Peel’s “PPP” test
Pure honey is derived from natural environments with different vegetation types which makes it almost impossible to tell if your honey has been adulterated simply by tasting it or looking at it. We have developed what we call the Peel’s “PPP” test to guide you as consumers on your assessment of whether your chosen honey products are in fact real honey:
Price – in South Africa, after considering the cost of (pure) bulk honey, bottling costs, distributor and retailer margins, a consumer will pay R100 to R130 for a 500g bottle of pure, South African honey. This honey price point should be compared to “honey” products found on shelf for R65 to R80 for a 500g bottle. This price would barely cover the cost of honey from the individual beekeeper, never mind the costs associated with bottling, transporting, and distributing the honey.
Provenance – at Peel’s, we have forged strong, personal relationships with local beekeepers across the country which allows us to keep a firm grip on where every jar of our honey comes from and we know that our honey is only the purest South African honey. In terms of applicable law, the label on each honey product must include the country of origin. To reduce the likelihood of the honey being adulterated or irradiated (see more about thishere), local honey should be the preferred choice.
Producers’ brands – established honey brands have too much to lose and will invest heavily in testing all their honey. At Peel’s, we have a rigorous testing schedule that makes use of accredited laboratories in Italy and Germany. All our honey is tested using cutting-edge stable isotope ratio mass spectrometric (“IRMS”) analysis, using the globally recognised AOAC method.
Adulteration is difficult for consumers to identify but by applying the Peel’s “PPP” test when buying honey consumers can make informed decisions. Remember – supporting South African beekeepers is the best way of guaranteeing pure, natural honey and ensuring the wellbeing of bees.
Carte Blanche in July 2018 aired an expose on fake honey in South Africa – watch the segment here.
Netflix has also released a docuseries called “Rotten” which travels deep into the heart of the food supply chain to reveal unsavory truths and expose hidden forces that shape what we eat – there is an episode of this docuseries which focuses on honey.