Most commercial honey is strained, a process which often involves applying heat or cold to melt and separate comb and other substances in bee hives that would otherwise be trapped in the honey when harvested. This process makes for a uniform appearance and consistency in the product and removes some potentially unwanted debris. But critics say that straining removes valuable nutrients and reduces honey’s widely-reported therapeutic effects.
Straining honey, which can involve exposing it to high or low temperatures over time, running it through a fabric or metal filtration device or applying pressure, removes substances harvested from a hive, including bits of bee carcass, comb, pollen and other debris. This processing also produces a smooth, consistently light-colored liquid that doesn’t solidify as quickly as unstrained honey. Anyone who prefers honey in strictly liquid form without variations in appearance or texture—and who wants to avoid eating or removing other matter found in bee hives—will prefer to buy strained honey.
Why Choose Unstrained?
Unstrained honey contains pollen bees collect from flowers, comb from the hive and propolis. Propolis is a glue-like substance composed of substances bees pick up from flower buds and the secretions they use to form resins to seal cracks in the hive. Propolis, pollen and comb chunks contain antioxidants, other vitamins and enzymes the body needs for digestion. Advocates of unstrained honey say that eating local honey, especially when unprocessed, can help treat allergies because it triggers the development of antibodies to fight allergic inflammation.
The substances in the honey may also help treat many other ailments, ranging from sore throats and asthma to stomach ailments, skin rashes and bacterial and fungal infections and dry skin, according to benefitsofhoney.com. Natural honey may also have cancer-fighting and other immune-system-boosting properties, according to the Bee Organics Web site.
Because the honey is harvested in the field, unstrained honey does not contain antibiotics or other chemicals many commercial beekeepers use, according to Whitfield Apiaries, a raw honey producer.
Because the terms “unstrained” and “raw” honey are often used interchangeably, it’s not always easy to know whether the “raw” honey you’re buying is totally unprocessed—delivered as extracted from the hive—or minimally strained. For example, some apiaries apply cold to filter their honey, while insisting that this in no way depletes the product of its nutrients. But other raw-honey producers argue the nutrients are diluted even through this minimal processing.
It is dangerous to feed babies under the age of 1 year old raw honey because it can contain Botulinum spores, family practitioner Alan Greene, M.D., explains. The spores can trigger infant botulism, a potentially fatal condition that paralyzes the muscles used to breathe.
Also, although propolis is believed to have healing qualities, the Benefits of Honey Web site warns some has been found to contain road tar.
Barbara Bryant has been writing professionally for 25 years. She has contributed to "The Military Engineer" and ASCE's "Civil Engineering" magazines as well as many other publications. Through newsletters and blogs, Bryant specializes in health and fitness topics, drawing on expertise from personal trainers and a naturopathic doctor.