Honey, I Trusted You

Real or fake?

Real or fake?

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the east of Turkey, quite literally on the road to Damascus. And while I wasn’t struck blind and motivated to turn my back on Phariseeism, and while the readership of these epistles remains quite miniscule (alas!), the road had at least one thing to teach me.

I discovered fake honey.

One of my travelling mates got stung by a bee as we were buying fruit by the roadside. We were far away from any pharmacy, so I suggested she put a bit of honey on it to reap the anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits.

The owner of the stand by the road got wonderfully excited that his services were being called for and said, “You need honey?! I’ve got all kinds of honey! Real honey, fake honey, whatever you need!”

Fake honey? This was the first I’d heard of the thing.

The Road to Damascus

The Road to Damascus. The fake honey stand is barely visible on the right.

I assumed that fake honey was another word for syrup, which can be made by dissolving large amounts of sugar and flavouring into water. But I turned out to be mistaken.

A few weeks later I met a guide at a Georgian monastery. As he was leaving, the guide told me, “The tour group and I are going to buy honey now. They make the stuff they’re selling here, so it’s guaranteed to be the real thing. Not that fake stuff you get all the time in the stores.”

And again, I thought, “fake honey? Really?” So I said, “Fake honey? Really? How do that make that?”

“They put sugar out for the bees, so the bees make the honey out of the sugar and not out of pollen.”

I didn’t know you could even do that. Was this common knowledge? I’ve never heard anybody in Canada or the United States talk about this. I would even have gone so far as to say that we don’t have this in Canada. So I said, “Wow, really? I’ve never heard about that in Canada.”

And the guide, bless his heart, shook his head ruefully and said, “You guys are so honest.”

In Armenia, I asked a Russian woman from my guesthouse if they have fake honey in Russia. She said, “Of course! Actually, I was talking to a guy who made it once about how he did it. They mix different kinds of honey to get different flavours and sometimes they add different things to flavour or colour the honey. In Moscow, we have honey stores where you can buy all kinds of honey – even eucalyptus honey, which is impossible because eucalyptus doesn’t even have flowers [actually, eucalyptus trees do have flowers, according to google, but the point stands – she knew way more about fake honey than I did.] It’s impossible to have two different-tasting honeys that come from the exact same region, so if you see something like that, you know at least one of them’s a fake.”

Beehives in Northern Armenia

Beehives in Northern Armenia

Ah, but how to tell whether one of those hypothetical types of honey was unadulterated? Now that I knew honey could be faked, I had to know how to tell the real thing from its fake counterpart.

The Russian girl didn’t know. The Georgian guide told me something about real honey and fake honey reacting differently when set on fire, but when I googled it to verify, all the sources seemed to indicate that this is pretty much a myth.

When I googled “fake honey” in North America, almost all the information I found was about honeys containing additives such as corn syrup, and very little about feeding bees sugar. Is this something that North American beekeepers do as well? What actual effect does it have on the honey? Is the honey less healthy because of it? Or is the process by which the raw sugar is converted to honey similar to the conversion of pollen, rendering the sugar-based honey at least calorifically similar to pure honey?

I’m assuming that we also have fake honey in North America, considering the fact that much of our honey is produced in other countries such as China, but would like to know more.

Does anybody know anything about this?

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  1. Paul says:

    YES. I made this once with my girlfriend. It was an experiment in hardcore veganism. We collected 2kg of dandelion petals, boiled them for a few hours in a large vat to distill out the nectar, mixed in a few kilos of sugar, and then let it sit in jars for a day or two until it cooled. I have pictures.

    Also, watch “More Than Honey” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NT05qEJxUk). They neatly outline how bees are fed sugar for sustenance while their honey is removed and sold (as well as many other things about this fascinating niche industry).

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