Honey is a staple that deserves a place in both the pantry, and the medicine cabinet. Humans have been using it as food and medicine for 8,000 years. This makes it an old and trusted friend, however, not all honey is the same. Most people today are familiar with the pasteurized, and ultra filtered honey you can find in the grocery store.
Pasteurizing honey is done for very different reasons than the pasteurization of dairy products. In the dairy industry, this is done to kill off and inhibit the growth of potentially harmful bacteria and organisms (there’s quite an argument to be had on the pros and cons to this as well). These organisms and bacteria cannot live or reproduce in honey because of it’s high acidity and low moisture content. Pasteurization is done more for aesthetic reasons. It keeps the honey from crystalizing for longer, but not indefinitely.
Crystalization does not mean the honey has gone bad. I have no idea where this idea came from, but it seems to be a common misconception. In simplest terms, honey is water that is extremely over saturated with sugar. Over time the sugar molecules separate and crystalize. Simply place the container into warm water, in a few minutes give it a good stir and you’ll have a liquid consistency once again.
Now there is yeast present in honey. The yeast can not multiply at such a low moisture content. However, honey is hydrophyllic, meaning it draws in moisture from it’s surroundings. So without proper storage, over time the yeast can begin to multiply causing the honey to ferment and alter the flavor. Pasteurization kills the yeast present in honey. So the argument could be made that pasteurization is also used for quality control. The gain of consistant flavor is not worth the potential loss. Although no official studies have been done on how pasteurization changes antioxidant levels in honey, there have been studies to show how excessive heat reduces these levels in other foods.
Raw honey on the other hand, comes straight from the honeycomb and is NEVER pasteurized. Just gently filtered, depending on personal preference, to remove the larger particles of pollen, bees wax, and bee parts. Raw honey has a cloudy appearance due to the left over debris too small to be filtered out. Texture and color varies based on the flowers the bees collected pollen from.
Studies have shown, constituents in raw honey to have antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and pain relieving properties. Infusing raw honey with herbs is a great way to boost these benefits and adds a fun new flavor profile. Raw honey is a power house, a living food packed full of enzymes, amino acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. When shopping for raw honey try and find a local provider. Honey made from local pollen will have the greatest impact in medicinal applications.
If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of raw honey check out these review studies:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25861358/ Bee pollen: Chemical Composition and Therapeutic Application
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28814983/ Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly: A Comprehensive Review of Their Biological and Health Benefits