How to select the best honey
The natural protective chemicals in honey largely depend on where and how it’s produced. Over 300 types of honey have been recognized, which vary based on the many nectars collected by honeybees. In one recent study of 90 samples, buckwheat honey was shown to have the strongest antioxidant activity. And in general, dark honeys showed better antioxidant activity as compared to light varieties, with the exception of goldenrod honey, which ranked high.
However, it’s important to note that not all honeys are produced equally. Bees are sometimes given antibiotics to treat bacterial diseases in the hive. They may also be used preventatively, to keep bees healthy during the spring pollination rush, or in low doses as growth promoters. That use is now somewhat limited in an effort to combat the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Giving antibiotics to bees surprises many consumers; research shows that antibiotic, pesticide, and herbicide residues have been found in honey samples.
The best way to learn about the makeup of your honey and how it’s been handled is to talk to the beekeeper, for example at your local farmer’s market. If that’s not possible, always read the ingredients to be sure a honey is pure and hasn’t been cut with other additives.
In addition, honey labeled raw, which hasn’t been subject to any heating, processing, or filtering, may retain the most natural compounds. If your raw honey crystalizes, simply heat a pan of water on low to medium heat, remove from the stovetop, place your glass jar of honey in the heated water, and stir until the crystals dissolve.
You can also look for raw honey that’s USDA certified organic. This means the honey meets standards similar to organic livestock, including restrictions on chemical use and exposure.
One note: honey of any kind should never be given to children under the age of 12 months, due to the risk of Clostridium botulinum spores, which can multiply in a baby’s immature digestive system and cause serious illness.