Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Real Thing

Honey. It is not what you think it is. At least the stuff you buy in the grocery store, is not what you think it is. Actually, no one knows what it is. We do know one thing, it is not real honey.

Earlier this year, Andrew Schneider, of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, investigated and wrote about imported honey and the lack of federal regulations placed on this imported good. This is a real cause for concern, since Americans consume over a pound of honey per a person each year and about 1/3 of the honey on store shelves is imported from places like China. Andrew interviewed with Bruce Gellerman of public radio's Living on Earth and some interesting facts came to light during that show. Here is a snippet of that interview:

GELLERMAN: Well we've been talking about honey, and one of the things you write about in your article is that actually, there is no legal definition of what honey is in this country. I mean, you could put another in a jar and call it honey?

SCHNEIDER: That's correct. You can call it anything you want and you can put anything you want in the jar. And you can call it honey. Neither the FDA nor the USDA has a legal definition of honey. Which means that enforcing the quality of honey becomes extremely difficult and problematic. If it has a recognized hazardous or illegal substance like the antibiotics the Chinese use, then you can pull it off the market. But if it has any number of other things – like if it's mixed with sugar water or corn syrup or something, there's really nothing there in the regulations that say that "Thou shalt not do this."

Now if you are like me, this is pretty frightening news considering just how much I love honey. I have been getting my honey from local sources for years, but this tidbit of info is news to me! I started buying my honey locally to help ease my allergies. Now I buy my honey locally to support my local beekeepers, including the neighbor that cares for Mint Creek Farm's hives (pictured above). Who figured I would need yet another reason to buy local honey! Thankfully, there are a ton of sources for the Chicago area to purchase local honey, mainly all of them are at our farmers markets.

And speaking of how much I love honey, now is the time to stock up on local honey and enjoy a spoonful in a cup of mint tea. You can also cook with honey (try tossing some with your favorite root vegetables or squash and roasting them in the oven) and it makes a lovely addition to a cheese plate. Honey is a wonderful food product created by nature and if you become as smitten with it as me, you will find it to be as complex and exhilarating as a glass of wine!

If you are feeling adventurous, you too can also tend to your own hive, even in the city. More and more urban beekeepers are popping up on roof tops and in gardens. Check out the following sites to learn more about keeping bees:

Chicago Beekeeping Meetup Group

Chicago Honey Co-Op

BeeSource for Beekeeping

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