Identifying Fake Honey: the Peels “PPP” test

Consumers are increasingly buying honey on the search for healthy, authentic, and natural food. This has dramatically 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 hive productivity has actually decreased by an astounding 65% as a result of drought, disease, and colony collapse.

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”.

What is Adulteration?

Producers of fraudulent honey produce more product at low costs by adding sugar syrups to increase volume. This enables them to sell their product at much lower prices than those at which beekeepers can sell their honey.

Indeed, the price of bulk honey has dropped globally despite growing shortfalls. In some countries prices have dropped by as much as 45% over the last 18 months.

The result? Not only are consumers scammed (at the cost of their health), but this decrease in price also makes it difficult for local beekeepers to compete. Pure, natural honey appears expensive on the shelf next to cheap adulterated honey.

How to tell?

Scarily, because pure honey is derived from natural environments with different vegetation types, it is almost impossible to tell if your honey has been adulterated simply by tasting it or looking at it.  That said, consumers can use an easy “PPP” test to evaluate honeys:

  • The first indicator is price. In South Africa, after considering the cost of (pure) bulk honey, bottling costs, distributor and retailers margins, a consumer will pay R65-R90 for a 500g bottle of pure, South African honey. Compare that to supposed honey products found on shelf for only R30 to R35 for 500g. That price would barely be sufficient to cover the honey cost of the individual beekeeper, leaving nothing for the cost of bottling, transport, or retailer.
  • The second indicator is the provenance of honey. At Peel’s, we invest heavily into our own beehives – that way we know that our honey is only the purest South African honey. We support small, local beekeepers who have a passion for bees, nature and pure honey.
  • The third indicator is the producers’ brands. Established 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. However, by considering the “PPP” indicators above, 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.