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How to test honey at home

jar of real raw honey

Humans on earth have been consuming honey for many thousands of years. The first image where we see humans collecting honey from wild bees was made 8,000 years ago and was found in the Cuevas de la Araña, or Spider Caves in Valencia, Spain. But in all likelihood humans were eating honey much earlier. Over time, people domesticated bees and the production and consumption of honey increased. According to recent FAO studies, the Central African Republic has the largest amount of honey (3.4kg) consumed per person per year.  In general, honey consumption in the world, as a more natural product than sugar, is increasing with the COVID epidemic. People are trying to consume more natural and healthy foods. Unfortunately, along with the increase in consumption, the level of fake honey is growing. In fact, it is not so easy to distinguish real, natural honey from fake. In this article, we will look at a few simple ways to test natural honey at home, as well as a few ways that are mythical and unproven.

Testing honey by external signs

Scent. Fresh honey has a pleasant herbal aroma that can be smelled immediately. The smell should not be pungent, unpleasant, “Chemical”. Although some varieties, such as buckwheat honey, have a strong aroma. If the honey is fresh and has not yet had time to crystallise, but does not smell anything, then most likely it has been diluted. Water catalyses chemical reactions and the aroma of honey quickly disappears.

If honey has already crystallised, it smells faintly or may not smell at all, especially if it has been stored incorrectly – in a warm place or in a metal container. If you buy and test honey in winter in cold weather, do not expect any odour, as the essences almost do not evaporate.

Colour. The colour of honey depends on the honey plant from which the bees collected the nectar. Therefore, the colour can be almost white – acacia or dark – buckwheat.

Honey of different colours is dark - wildeflower honey. Yellow - sunflower honey
Dark – wildeflower honey. Yellow – sunflower honey.

Viscosity.  Fresh, recently extracted honey at room temperature always flows in a thin stream, not spreading out into a puddle, but forming a small slide. This is a sign of natural freshly extracted honey.

Testing honey for viscosity
Fresh, recently extracted honey at room temperature always flows in a thin stream, not spreading out into a puddle.

Consistency. Fresh honey is always liquid. The exception is heather honey, which resembles jelly. Over time, natural honey crystallises and this period depends on the honey variety. Sunflower honey starts to form crystals a couple of weeks after extracting. Whereas acacia honey can remain liquid for several years.

The honey is extracted after the flowering of the main honey plant – from the end of spring to the beginning of autumn. Therefore, there can be no liquid sunflower, buckwheat or linden honey in December. Sunflower blooms in July-August, buckwheat in June-July, linden in late June.

Crystallised honey
After a while, the honey crystallises.

Flavour. Natural undiluted honey has a sweet and pleasant flavour, sometimes bitter. If honey is diluted with water or extracted early, it will ferment and acquire a sour taste, smell like brogue and foam will appear on top.

Weight. Honey has a high density and is therefore heavy. 1 litre weighs 1.3-1.5 kg. If the honey is unripe and has a high moisture content, it will be lighter.

Checking honey by weight
0.5 litres of honey weighs 927 grams. The ratio is 1.85. This honey is very mature. It has a very low moisture percentage.

Testing honey at home

There are several methods to test at home whether honey contains any additives. It is best to do several tests, as there is no one universal method. Some of these methods help to determine whether honey is diluted with water, others whether it contains sugar, and still others whether it contains starch or flour.

Bread test. If you dip a piece of bread in natural honey, it should remain firm. This method is based on the hygroscopicity of honey – it absorbs moisture. In this case, it takes it from the bread. But if, for example, the product has been diluted with inverted sugar syrup – a combination of glucose or sucrose – this method will not work – the bread will also remain solid.

Testing honey with a slice of bread
A slice of bread remains hard after dipping in real honey.

Vinegar test. Honey does not react with acid. Therefore, vinegar is usually used to check whether the product does not contain chalk, which is added for thickness. Honey should be diluted with warm water and a dash of vinegar. If chalk is present, the liquid will start to fizz.

Water test. A teaspoon of honey should be stirred in a glass of hot water. The presence of a slight cloudiness is normal. In addition, pieces of wax and bee bread may float to the surface. Pieces of propolis may fall out in the precipitate. These are easy to identify, they are dark colours ranging from grey-green to brown. But most importantly there should be no white precipitate. Otherwise, either the product has been improperly stored or there are additives in it.

Testing honey with water
There should be no white milky impurity in the water after the honey has dissolved.

Testing with iodine. Dissolve a teaspoon of honey in water and then drop iodine into it. If the liquid turns blue, it is starch or flour that has reacted.

Testing honey with iodine
If the liquid turns blue, it is starch or flour that has reacted.

Fire test. Natural honey does not burn. If honey has been diluted with sugar syrup, it will turn brown at high temperature and smell like caramel. Importantly, if the sugar syrup is inverted, this method of testing will not work.

Hot wire test. It is necessary to red-hot a stainless steel wire – you can use a champagne muzle. The hot wire should be dipped in honey. If the honey is natural, it will not stick to the metal. If something stuck or just the stainless steel darkened, it is a sign that there is sugar in the compound. It turns into caramel when heated and remains on the wire.

Checking with paper. If there is excess water in the honey, it will be visible on the paper – drop a little honey on it. If there is no excess moisture, the sheet will remain dry.

Testing honey with paper
If there is excess water in the honey, it will be visible on the paper.

Tests you shouldn’t trust

Ant test. It is not a good idea to test honey for naturalness with ants. There is a myth that ants will choose real honey. Actually, they won’t. Ants will choose anything sweet, whether it is honey or something else.

Alcohol testing. Some sources state that if not real honey is added to alcohol, it will dissolve it and a white solution will form. Whereas, real honey will not dissolve. The validity of this method is not proven and is not accepted by professional beekeepers.

Honey does not form a definite shape.  There are several myths that if real honey is poured with water on a plate, it will turn clockwise or take the shape of a hexagon. There is no scientific evidence for this.

Milk test. There is a misconception that if you add hot milk to honey, it should curdle if the honey contains sugar. In practice this often does not happen.

What you need to know if you want to buy quality honey

1.      It is better to buy honey directly from a beekeeper or at a fair.

2.       If honey is sold in factory packaging, the product should contain only one ingredient – honey.

3.        Fresh honey should be liquid. Have a pleasant odour of herbs that can be smelled immediately.

4.        Fresh honey at room temperature always flows in a thin stream and collects in a slide, not spread out in a puddle.

5.        If honey tastes sour and smells like brogue, it means that it has been diluted and has begun to ferment.

6.        You can check whether the honey is not diluted with water at home: if you dip a piece of bread in liquid honey, the bread should remain firm.

7.        Store honey in a cool, dry place, in a tightly closed glass container.

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