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What to Know About the Different Kinds of Honey

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 27, 2021

Honey is a natural food product made by bees. Humans have used it for thousands of years as food and medicine. 

How Honey Is Made

Bees make honey from the nectar of flowers. This honey is removed from the hives. Most honey you can buy is processed to improve the quality and shelf life. The two important stages of processing are:

  • Filtration. This removes pollen, beeswax, and other materials.
  • Heating. Unprocessed honey tends to ferment within a few days because of yeast and moisture. Heating it reduces the moisture content and kills any microorganisms.

Types of Honey

There are over 300 varieties of honey. This is due to the many types of nectar that honeybees collect.

Honey can also be harvested and processed in different ways.

Raw honey. The U.S. government has no official definition for raw honey. But the National Honey Board says it’s generally considered to be honey that has not been heated during processing. Some may not be filtered. Raw honey is safe to eat, though children under 1 should avoid all honeys.

Pasteurized honey. Most honey found in stores is pasteurized, which means it’s been heated. Various methods and temperatures are used to pasteurize honey. Some honeys are heated at 65 C (or 149 F) for 30 seconds. Others may be heated at 85 C (185 F) for 4-5 minutes.

Health Benefits of Honey

Honey contains several substances that have benefits for your health. 

Minerals and compounds. Honey has about 31 different minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. It also has several important amino acids (the building blocks of protein).

Antioxidants. Honey is high in polyphenols and flavonoids, which act as antioxidants. That means they help protect your body against some types of cell damage.

Wound and burn healing. For many years, honey has been used to treat burns and wounds. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties may ease burns and improve wound healing.

Cough. Honey has been found to reduce coughs in children. A study of 300 young children with upper respiratory tract infections found that those who were given honey had fewer and less serious coughs than those who didn’t get honey.

Cholesterol. Some research has indicated that honey may help reduce cholesterol. In one study, levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins (LDL or “bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides went down  in people who had 70 grams of honey (about 2 ½ ounces) each day for 4 weeks. Their high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol) also increased.

Raw Honey vs. Processed Honey

A few studies have compared various factors in raw and processed honey.

Antioxidants. Processing affects different types of honey in different ways. Researchers found that processing clover honey had little effect on its antioxidant abilities. But processed buckwheat honey had 33.4% lower antioxidant capacity than the raw version. After 6 months, the antioxidant levels of both processed and raw honeys was similar.

Slightly more antibacterial activity. Researchers found that raw honey may stop some bacteria more effectively than regular honey. But regular honey worked better against  E.coli bacteria.

Vitamins. A test of certain raw and commercial honeys found that raw local honeys had more riboflavin (vitamin B2) and thiamine (vitamin B1).

Risks of Honey

Infant botulism. Babies under the age 1 shouldn’t be given honey. It may contain spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Since a baby’s immune system is still developing, these spores can cause infant botulism.

Infant botulism is a rare but serious illness that attacks your child’s nerves. The first sign is usually constipation. Your baby may also have muscle weakness, which means they might have trouble feeding and breathing, and a weak cry.

Allergy. Some people are allergic to bee pollen, which is also sold as a health food supplement. Honey can contain small amounts of pollen, and you’re more likely to find it in raw honey. Symptoms and signs of an allergic reaction include: 

Added sugar. Honey is an added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that women have no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories) and men no more than 9 teaspoons (150 calories) of added sugar a day.

Is Crystallized Honey Safe to Eat?

All honey can crystallize. Types of honey that are higher in glucose are more likely to crystallize than others.  Some types, like tupelo honey and sourwood honey don’t crystallize at all.

Crystallized honey is safe to eat. You can use it as a spread or in hot drinks.

If your honey has crystallized, put the bottle in a bowl of hot (not boiling) water to soften. Don’t microwave honey, as that can make it taste unpleasant.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

African Journal of Biotechnology: “Antibacterial efficacy of raw and commercially available honey.”

American Heart Association: “Added Sugars.”

American Journal of Clinical Dermatology: “Potential of Honey in the Treatment of Wounds and Burns.”‌

Cleveland Clinic: “The Benefits of Honey + How to Incorporate It Into Your Diet.”

Czech Journal of Food Sciences:  “Comparative analysis of riboflavin and thiamine in raw and commercial honey.”

Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Neurological Effects of Honey: Current and Future Prospects.”

General Medicine: Open Access: “Honey and its Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Oxidant Properties.”

Infant Botulism Treatment and Prevention Program: “Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Infant Botulism.”

International Journal of Food Properties: “Processing of Honey: A Review.”

Journal of Ayub Medical College Abbottabad: “Effects of natural honey on blood glucose and lipid profile in young healthy Pakistani males.”

Journal of Food Science: “Effect of Processing and Storage on Antioxidant Capacity of Honey.”

Mayo Clinic: “Honey.”

National Honey Board: “FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS.” 

NC State University: “How Do Bees Make Honey? (It’s Not Just Bee Barf).”

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