Having an attraction for sweet flavors, and thus sugars, has been an evolutionary benefit for thousands of years but a huge disadvantage to our population over the past century. As sugar processing became more advanced, and sugar became a cheap commodity, it seemed that it was added to almost every processed food in one or more ways.
We saw health concerns rise, and we know today that high sugar consumption can be related to other health issues like unhealthy weight management, metabolic health, heart health and immune system health. Therefore anyone who becomes health conscious naturally searches for other options. One option is to minimize or eliminate the consumption of processed sugars. The second option is making sure that any isolated sugars consumed come from more natural, beneficial and nutritious sweeteners. This is where raw honey takes the center stage.
What Is Raw Honey?
Raw honey is honey (nectar from flowers) that is pure, unheated, unpasteurized and unprocessed. This is perhaps one of the most important characteristics and health benefits of the final product, as it preserves all the natural vitamins, enzymes, phytonutrients and other nutritional elements. True raw honey is quite different from processed, commercial honey for these main reasons.
Raw honey has been used by humans for at least 10,000 years, and has played a vital role in health, healing, religious and cultural traditions.
Characteristics of Raw Honey
Raw honey can be in liquid or solid (creamed) form when you purchase it. If you purchase raw honey that is in the liquid form, it may crystallize or solidify over time. It can be clear, or opaque, or milky. Its color can vary from white, to various shades of yellow, and even brown. All of these characteristics will depend on the type of flower that the bees retrieved the nectar for the honey from. It is not possible to tell whether a honey is raw or pasteurized based on color, taste or form (liquid or solid) alone. Some honey experts believe that they can detect a pure, raw honey by taste alone, but this will not be the case for most of us.
To be sure that your honey is raw, it must say so on the label. Currently there is no widespread, uniform regulation or certification for raw honey. Words like "untreated" or "unpasteurized" can help, but may still not be indicative of a truly raw product. And it goes without saying that any honey labelled as "pasteurized" is not raw. Additionally, terms like "natural" or "pure" normally have little significance when it comes to knowing if it is actually "raw" honey. Some beekeepers may not necessarily pasteurize their honey, but they may still heat it to some degree. Therefore if we want a truly "raw" product we need to inquire about it specifically. You can for example call the company whose honey you are interested in to learn how they prepare their honey. But better yet, find a local farm or beekeeper whom you can trust when it comes to knowing exactly where the honey comes from and how it is prepared.
In fact, it is most optimal for our health to consume honey from our local area anyway, rather than honey that came from the plants of another area. While non-local, raw honey won't hurt us, local, raw honey will have more benefits for us. There is a growing belief amongst the natural health experts and community that raw honey from local sources is beneficial for helping to support immune system health and overall wellness.
It is always best to source out raw, organic honey, but whether your raw honey will be organic or not will greatly vary depending on its source as well. Some experts believe that there is no such thing as truly organic honey, however organic honey certification is available. Beekeepers have to meet stringent production standards and conditions to be certified organic. Raw, organic honey cannot contain any pesticide residues or environmental pollutants. Organic hives also cannot use non-organic honey, sugar, or any antibiotics or pesticides for their bees.
Depending on your source, it is normal for raw honey to contain particles of bee pollen, honeycomb bits and propolis. These in themselves have health benefits which make raw honey sought out for even more health reasons.
Natural Health Benefits of Raw Honey
First and foremost, being a sugar, raw honey most obviously offers a quick source of energy. While this came in very handy to early humans that used this food source, it is more of a drawback to us today, living in a culture of abundant calories.
The main health benefits for which we revere raw honey today come from the unique blend of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antioxidants, phytonutrients and other health components that it possesses. The two key beneficial components of truly raw honey are bee pollen and propolis.
Bee pollen in Raw Honey
Bee pollen is a super nutritious compound, containing all the nutrients required by the human body. It is a source of proteins, vitamins, minerals, beneficial fatty acids, carotenoids and bioflavonoids which are helpful to cardiovascular health.
Propolis in Raw Honey
The health benefits and uses—both internal and external—of propolis are too numerous to list here. This, along with some of its other characteristics, makes honey highly sought after. Some benefits of raw honey include supporting immune system health, healthy blood sugar levels already within the normal range, healthy cholesterol levels already within the normal range and more. Raw honey does not ferment in the stomach and can actually be used in supporting digestive system health. Unlike most sugars, raw honey is not known to aggravate a sensitive digestive tract.
Additionally, raw honey is alkaline forming unlike processed honey which is acid forming. For best natural health, our daily food supply should be higher in alkaline forming foods, rather than acid forming foods.