As the harvest season approaches, freshly packaged honey will be hitting the markets. Many consumers want to know everything they can about the origin and composition of their honey, but honey labels contain a sea of information that is difficult to navigate. Not only do these labels make it difficult for consumers to make informed decisions, but they can also have a negative effect on the local economy. In light of this, we wanted to share some information that will make consumers better prepared to handle the misleading and confusing information on Alberta’s honey labels.
What Exactly is Honey?
Canada’s Food and Drug Regulations have a surprisingly complex definition of honey. Simplified, it states that “honey” must come from blossom nectar that has been collected by honey bees. It must also contain a variety of other natural substances, but it can never be blended with sugar syrup and still maintain it’s identity as honey1.
Every container of honey must indicate that it is indeed “honey”. If this marking is not present, do not purchase the product because it could actually be modified sugar syrup. Some labels also contain the name of the flower that the honey was primarily sourced from. For example, if the honey container is labelled “Strawberry Honey,” it means the honey was produced from bees that were foraging on strawberry blossoms. Beware that similar labels, such as “Strawberry Flavored Honey,” indicate the honey has been combined with strawberry flavoring or fruit pulp2.
Honey Grades and Origins
Honey is graded by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), with grades being assigned based on a variety of factors. The grade declaration is one of the most important pieces of information to understand. It can be misleading, but in a very unexpected way. For example, did you know “Canada No.1” honey does not necessarily indicate that the honey is from Canada2? For graded honey to be labelled as “Canada No.1” or “Canada No.2” or “Canada No.3” it must have either been produced or repackaged in Canada. This means that imported honey can bare the “Canada” grading labels if it is repackaged once it arrives in Canada. If imported honey is not repackaged in Canada, it can only bare the following: “Grade No.1” or “Grade No.2” or “Grade No.3.”
Luckily, there is a way to determine where the honey was produced. On the back of the label, usually in small print, graded honey products are required to display their country of origin. Honey that is produced in Canada can be labelled as “Canadian Honey” or as a “Product of Canada.” Imported honey must declare it’s true country of origin (i.e., “Product of China”), even if it has been repackaged in Canada2. Canadian (and especially Albertan) honey is highly sought after internationally, and honey from anywhere else is usually subpar in comparison. Consumers should check carefully for the country of origin information to ensure they are getting the high quality honey they paid for.
Note: The use of the maple leaf is not regulated on food labels and does not imply that the product is wholly or partially Canadian3.
Other Claims and Statements
Claims related to additives
Many products claim to not contain additives but it is best to ask the farmer for clarification because a product can be declared as additive free even if it contains the following: certain vitamins, minerals, agricultural chemicals, spices, nutritive material commonly sold as food, essential oils, or drugs for animals that will be consumed as food4. The CFIA has a detailed list of which additives need to be declared.
This term is considered acceptable for use when it describes a food that has not been processed or preserved in any way. It does not necessarily indicate the age of the product. However, when “fresh” is used to indicate the age of a product, it must be accompanied by a “prepared on” date, or similar information. Beware that “fresh” can also be used as part of a brand or trade name5.
Honey must remain below a certain moisture content to be considered safe for sale6. There are rumors that some overseas commercial honey producers water-down their honey until it reaches the minimum requirements, allowing them to get more money from their crop. Unfortunately, this practice negatively alters the flavor of the honey. Be sure to shop local and ask your local farmer about their honey extraction process.
It is common to see honey listed as either liquid, creamed, pasteurized, or raw. If you’ve ever wondered what the differences are, check out our blog post on this topic!
Labels and the Local Economy
There have been recent cases where the misleading nature of honey labels has negatively effected the local honey industry. For example, the value of Canadian honey dropped by $53 million last year, largely due to the import of cheap diluted honey from overseas. Consumers didn’t realize that Canadian honey producers were mixing their honey with imported honey because the “Canada No.1” label remained on the label. The savings gained by these companies are rarely passed onto their customers, and the honey has a subpar flavor compared to fresh local honey.
The Importance of Purchasing Locally
Talking directly to local honey producers allows consumers to be more confident in their honey purchases. Local purchases support local farmers, and give consumers the chance to investigate exactly what is involved in the production of their honey. By purchasing locally, consumers can also avoid the exhausting debate on whether supermarket honey is actually honey.
At Koha Apiaries we encourage our customers to learn more about our bees and honey. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below or contact us directly.