food

Almost half the honey in our supermarkets is reportedly "fake", so what's really in it?

Uh oh. That may not be honey in your honey jar.

Researchers have determined that almost half the honey sold on Australian supermarket shelves is fake honey.

The research, from Germany’s Quality Services International lab, found impurities in the jars using Nuclear Magnetic Resolution (NMR) testing – this is different to the official Australian test, but Phil McCabe, the president of the International Federation of Beekeepers’ Association told a joint ABC-Fairfax investigation it is the most accurate.

Twenty-eight blended and imported samples from across supermarkets in Australia, including Coles, Woolworths, ALDI and IGA were examined in the research. Of these, 12 were not 100 per cent pure honey.

These included four out of six IGA Black and Gold private label products, two of six ALDI Bramwell’s private label brands and six out of eight of Capilano’s Allowrie budget branded bottles.

Fairfax Media and ABC shared the results with Capilano which denied any of its products are not pure honey, and rejected NMR testing as a way of determining purity.

The report does not suggest Capilano’s Australian-sourced honey had any issues, or that Capilano and other brands were aware of the issue.

So if you don’t have real honey… what the heck did you buy from the supermarket?

What is fake honey and what is in it?

Fake honey is anything that is not 100 per cent produced by clever little bees.

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code defines honey as the natural sweet substance produced by honey bees from the nectar of blossoms, which the bees collect and transform themselves within the beehive into honey.

Be Fit Food dieticians Kate Save and Laura Ballantyne told Mamamia that honey is adulterated with inexpensive sweeteners such as corn syrups, high fructose corn syrups and acid inverted sugar syrups. It can also be adulterated with natural syrups such as maple, cane sugar and molasses.

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McCabe told ABC that adulterated honey is not honey at all.

“By and large [the impurity] is some kind of syrup that’s been converted to look like honey, it tastes like honey. Everything about it seems to be honey, when in fact it’s just sugar syrup or something else.”

Does fake honey still have the health benefits of pure honey?

In short, no.

Pure honey is renowned for its nutritional and medicinal value and has the backing of science. Honey contains vitamins, trace enzymes, amino acids and minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium and has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.

Kate and Laura said it is hard to know the exact impact alteration has on these benefits.

“The different chemicals added through artificial sweeteners could have an impact on an individual’s health, particularly if someone has intolerances to certain sweeteners. Additionally, the GI of the honey could be impacted if different syrups are being added. Also the benefits would be diluted if any.”

How can you tell the difference between fake honey and pure honey?

Honey must comply with the Food Standards Code to be legally sold. In order to be labelled and sold as honey, a product must be honey and contain no less than 60% reducing sugars and no more than 21% moisture.

However the Fairfax and ABC report has created doubts in the accuracy in food labelling.

Woolworths told the investigation it treated the accuracy of product labelling very seriously. It said it would would closely with its suppliers to review the substance of the report’s claims to determine next steps.

Kate and Laura told Mamamia it can be difficult to detect adulterated honey as its constituents are the major natural components of honey. Therefore the adulterated honey will have
similar physical properties to natural honey.

It is also difficult to detect adulterated honey due to the large natural variability of honey as a result of differences in plant species, maturity, and environment processing and storage techniques, they said.

“Pure honey may have a slightly cloudy appearance, and depending on the variety pure honey can begin to crystalise during storage in the pantry. This can take weeks to months to even years depending on
species of tree the honey was sourced from.”

One way of detecting adulterated honey before you buy is by looking at the price tag.

“When buying honey, an indicator of adulterated honey is honey that is labelled as pure but with a lower price margin in comparison to other honey products labelled as pure,” Kate and Laura told us.

If you’ve already purchased honey and are wondering if its pure, here are a couple of at-home tests you can do to test to purity of your honey.

The thumb test.

Put a small amount of honey on your thumb. Pure honey will stay intact, so if it spills or spreads around it has been adulterated.

Pure honey is thicker than impure honey. It will stick to the surface it is applied to and won’t drip away.

The water test.

Fill a glass with water and add one tablespoon of honey.

Adulterated or fake honey will dissolve in water, but pure honey will settle right at the bottom.

The bread test.

Spread honey on a slice of bread. If pure, the bread will harden and become solid within a few minutes.

Fake honey contains more moisture, so impure honey will cause the bread to go wet or soggy.

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