Honey in a glass jar

All honey comes from the same place, but labels reading raw, pure, and natural can get pretty confusing. Raw honey is typically pure and natural, but pure and natural honeys aren't always raw. Still sound complicated? Think of it this way:

  • Natural means no artificial additives.
  • Pure means no additives whatsoever (even natural ones).
  • Raw means no additives or processing.

The U.S Food and Drug Administration only has recommendations for honey labeling, but no requirements. As a result, manufacturers are free to use certain terms as they want, so as a consumer, you need to use common sense to figure out what a label means.

Natural Honey

The term natural for any food, including honey, suggests that it

doesn't include any added color, artificial flavor, or synthetic substance

, according to the USDA. But the term is unregulated, so the only way to be sure is to check the ingredient list for any artificial additives.

Pure Honey

With pure honey,

no additional ingredients

—such as sugar, corn syrup, or artificial or natural flavoring—appear on the label. Pure honey may also be labeled as clover or raspberry honey, depending on which plant the bees derived their nectar from. (Beekeepers typically keep their bees near certain plants exclusively, to ensure that the bees get nectar from only those plants.)

Raw Honey

Raw honey has been neither heated nor filtered. Unless you see the term raw on a honey label, you can assume that it's processed. Most honeys, including pure and natural ones, are treated to prevent fermentation and preserve it in a liquid state in order to keep it from crystallizing. These techniques make the product more appealing to consumers; shoppers generally prefer to pick up a bottle of clear, golden honey, because that's what we're used to. Advocates for eating raw honey believe those who choose conventional honey might be missing out on certain benefits:

  • better taste
  • more enzymes
  • more antioxidants
  • the ability to relieve allergies

Whether or not raw honey actually does provide these benefits is debatable:

  • Raw honey isn't necessarily much richer in minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants than processed honey. The National Honey Board website lists numerous studies, some funded by the Honey Board and some published in scientific journals, that show that heating and filtering of processed honey removes only a small portion of these substances.
  • The evidence for raw honey's effect on allergies is inconclusive. At least one study in 2002 in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that honey didn't provide relief. But another published in 2011 by the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology showed that birch honey relieved symptoms of people allergic to birch pollen.

And that's the deal with honey! Which one will you choose?