The same bees produce all types of honey, but the terms applied to honey, such as raw, pure and natural, are somewhat complicated. Both pure and natural honey can sometimes also be raw, but neither has to be, while raw honey is typically both pure and natural. Although those definitions sound convoluted, you can think of the honey types in this way:
- Pure means no additives.
- Natural means no artificial additives.
- Raw means no additives or processing.
As of April 2015, the U.S Food and Drug Administration only has recommendations for honey labeling, not requirements. As a result, manufacturers are free to use certain terms as they want and, as a consumer, you need to use common sense to figure out what a label means.
If your honey jar contains only honey, it may be labeled “pure honey”; as “honey”; or as “clover honey” or “raspberry honey”; depending on what plants the bees were using to make the honey — beekeepers typically keep their bees near certain plants to help ensure that the bees get nectar from only those plants. With pure honey, no additional ingredients, such as sugar, corn syrup or artificial or natural flavoring, appear on the label.
The term natural for any food, including honey, means that the food doesn’t include any added color, artificial flavor or synthetic substance, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. For example, natural honey might be pure honey that also includes natural raspberry ingredients. The USDA also states that processing techniques, such as cooking or filtering for honey, don’t pertain to this definition. To be sure that your honey is natural, check the ingredient list to see if the honey contains any substances that are artificial.
Most pure and natural honeys are also processed honey, treated to prevent fermentation and to help preserve the honey in a liquid state, thus delaying its conversion and/or crystallization. These processing techniques make the honey more appealing to most consumers, according to the National Honey Board website. Unless you see the term raw on a honey label, you can assume that it’s not raw.
The opposite of processed honey, raw honey has been neither heated nor filtered, like most pure and natural honey you buy in the supermarket.
Advocates for eating raw honey
- better taste
- more enzymes
- more antioxidants
- the ability to control allergies
Whether or not raw honey actually does provide benefits over pure or natural processed honey is debatable:
- Honey controls allergies. The evidence is inconclusive. At least one study in 2002 in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, published on the PubMed website, found that honey did not give relief; while one published in 2011 by the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology on the Karger website found that birch honey relieved the symptoms of people who suffered from allergies to birch pollen.
- Raw honey has more minerals, enzymes and antioxidants. The National Honey Board website lists numerous studies, some funded by the Honey Board and some published in scientific journals, that show that the heating and filtering of processed honey removes only a small portion of these substances.