Fossils of honey bees date to about 180 million years ago.

Honey Filtration

Why is most honey filtered?
According to USDA Grading Standards for extracted honey, filtered honey is honey that has been filtered to the extent that all or most of the fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles, or other materials normally found in suspension, have been removed. Honey that is filtered by packers is filtered for various reasons:

Many consumers prefer honey that is liquid and stays liquid for a long time. 
All honey crystallizes eventually. Suspended particles and fine air bubbles in honey contribute to faster crystallization. Filtering helps delay crystallization, helping the honey to remain liquid for a much longer period than unfiltered honey.

Many consumers prefer honey to be clear and brilliantly transparent.
The presence of fine, suspended material (pollen grains, wax, etc.) and air bubbles results in a cloudy appearance that can detract from the appearance. Filtering is done to give a clear, brilliant product desired by consumers. For the filtered style of honey, USDA Grading Standards for Extracted Honey give higher grades for honey that has good clarity. 

Honey is filtered to remove extraneous solids that remain after the initial raw processing by the beekeeper. Various filtration methods are used by the food industry throughout the world. Ultrafiltration, a specific kind of filtration used in the food industry, should not be confused with other filtration methods generally used in the honey industry. When applied to honey, ultrafiltration involves adding water to honey and filtering it under high pressure at the molecular level, then removing the water. It is a much more involved and expensive process that results in a colorless sweetener product that is derived from honey but is not considered “honey” in the U.S. 

Honey that is filtered through more traditional methods is still “honey,” even if pollen has been removed along with other fine particles.

November 9, 2011
The choices consumers make today about most products, including honey, are extremely personal. In regards to honey, consumers may have varying opinions about their choice of honey type, flavor and origin. To enable a truly personal choice, there are many different kinds of honey available in the U.S. market. Some consumers prefer honey in the comb or liquid honey that is unprocessed or raw, while some prefer honey that is crystallized or creamed. Others will seek out honey that is organically produced and certified. However, the majority of honey sold at retail in the U.S. every year is the clear, golden liquid honey that has been strained or filtered.

There are a number of filtration processes that remove fine particles, including pollen, from honey, but the end result is still pure honey. Pollen particles may or may not be present in the honey an individual chooses, but the product is still honey.

Unfortunately, inaccuracies in a recent news story have fueled a considerable amount of confusion about the term “ultrafiltered honey.” Ultrafiltration is a specific process used in the food industry. When applied to honey, ultrafiltration results in a sweetener product that is not honey because of the significant changes it causes in the original honey. It is an expensive process that requires the addition of water to the honey, high pressure filtration at the molecular level, and then removal of the water. While it is known to have been used with honey overseas to create a sweetener product for beverages, ultrafiltration is not generally used in the U.S. Other filtration methods have been used for many years in the U.S. honey industry. These filtration methods are designed to remove fine particles such as bits of wax, bee parts, air bubbles and pollen that hasten crystallization of the honey and affect clarity. Recent articles have also incorrectly stated that the FDA does not consider honey without pollen to be honey. That is simply not true. Read more on filtration methods.

Honey without Pollen is Still Honey

April 16, 2012
By Bruce Boynton, CEO. National Honey Board

In the last several months various stories have resulted in misunderstanding and confusion about honey and honey filtration, leading some readers to believe that any honey without pollen is not real honey. This is not true. Honey without pollen is still honey nutritionally and in flavor, and that is why the U.S. Department of Agriculture identifies it as such. This misunderstanding has also led to several class action lawsuits regarding purchases of honey without pollen.

The truth is that honey is made by honey bees from nectar of flowers and plants, not pollen. Pollen grains may end up in the exposed honey in the hive through any number of incidental or accidental ways, but it is not used by honey bees to make honey.

Consumers have varying opinions about their choice of honey type, flavor and origin. There are many different kinds of honey available in the U.S. market, such as honey in the comb, liquid honey that is considered “raw”, creamed honey, as well as organic honey. The majority of honey sold at retail in the U.S. every year, and preferred by most consumers, is the clear, golden liquid honey that has been strained or filtered to remove undesirable particles that make honey cloudy. All honey crystallizes eventually; suspended particles (including pollen) and fine air bubbles in honey contribute to faster crystallization. Filtering pollen and other particles out helps delay crystallization, allowing the honey to remain liquid for a much longer period than honey that has not been filtered.

According to the United States Standards, honey can be filtered to remove fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles and other materials found suspended in the honey. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) gives higher grades for honey that has good clarity. Importantly, honey that has been filtered to meet USDA’s grading standards may not have pollen, but it is still honey.

News stories have reported on illegal activities such as circumvention of tariffs on imported honey, and there are claims that some dishonest foreign suppliers may be “ultrafiltering” their honey to clean it up or remove the small amounts of pollen grains, often used as a marker to identify the country of origin. Ultrafiltering is not the same as filtering honey. Somewhere during the telling and retelling of these news stories, the term “ultrafiltered” became misused and confused with more traditional filtration methods used in the U.S. honey industry to produce clear, golden honey.

Ultrafiltration, a totally different process, is a specific filtration method used in the food industry for pretreatment and purification. It can filter particles smaller than 1/10 of a micron (a spider web is about 2 microns in diameter). Pollen grains vary in size from about 5 to 200 microns, large enough to be filtered with more common filtration methods.

In contrast to the filtration methods used by many U.S. honey packers to meet USDA grading standards, ultrafiltration is a more complex process that results in a sweetener product. The FDA has said this product should not be labeled as honey, and the National Honey Board supports this position. Some have confused filtration and ultrafiltration, incorrectly applying FDA’s position on ultrafiltered honey to any honey without pollen.

The fact is, honey that has been filtered may not have pollen, but it is still honey by national standards and is preferred by many consumers.

1 For decades, many U.S. honey packers have been filtering raw honey prior to bottling in accordance with USDA’s United States Standards for Grades of Extracted Honey (May 23, 1985). According to section 52-1393 of the Standards ,Filtered honey is honey of any type defined in these standards that has been filtered to the extent that all or most of the fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles, or other materials normally found in suspension, have been removed. Section 52.1394 of the Standards also says that Pollen grains in suspension contribute to the lack of clarity in filtered style.

The National Honey Board on Local Honey

Will eating local honey help with my allergies? 
There are anecdotal stories of people claiming relief from allergies by eating local honey, but we are not aware of any scientific evidence to support these claims. This subject is somewhat controversial, since some experts claim that the kinds of pollens that are the greatest cause of allergies are smaller windblown pollens that are not typically found in honey. This topic is also covered on the website of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology at http://www.aaaai.org/ask-the-expert/The-ingestion-of-honey-for-allergy-treatment.aspx. Other sources of information about pollen allergy include the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Presently I am researching the claim made of extracted honey and its ability to help individuals with their seasonal sufferings. It is a bit difficult for me, being involved in healthcare myself, to understand the mechanism by which ingestion of local honey "may" work to change ones immune response. I would appreciate it if you could provide me with credible resources that either support or refute the claims made of honey and its ability to treat seasonal allergy. Many thanks and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thank you for your recent inquiry. To my knowledge, there is no credible evidence that the ingestion of honey has beneficial effects on the symptoms of allergy. There is a review of this and other "complementary and alternative medicine" issues regarding alle Defining rgies where you can obtain more information. The reference is: Jennifer Heimall and Leonard Bielory. Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Allergies and Asthma: Benefits and Risks. In: Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology, 2004; Volume 27, Number 2, Pages 93-103. There is also a nice discussion of this issue on "About.com: Allergies" by Dr. Daniel Moore that was updated on March 5, 2010. It is available online.

According to Dr. Daniel More - Does eating local honey help treat symptoms of allergies?
By Daniel More, MD,
Updated March 05, 2010
About.com Health's Disease and Condition content is reviewed by our Medical Review Board 

Question: Does eating local honey help treat symptoms of allergies? 

Answer: Possibly, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It is a popular notion that eating honey is a natural remedy for symptoms of allergies and asthma. Honey contains various ingredients, including pollen allergens and components of honeybees. In fact, bee pollen -- available without a prescription and at most health food stores -- is also commonly marketed as a natural allergy remedy and an anti-inflammatory agent. Other names for commercially available bee pollen include royal jelly or propolis. 

Locally produced honey, which supposedly contains local plant pollens to which a person would be allergic, is the preferred type of honey for allergies. It makes sense that consuming honey that contains pollen to which a person is allergic would improve allergies, much like how sublingual immunotherapy works. And, the fact that many people have experienced anaphylaxis from eating honey means that there may be enough pollen to stimulate the immune system.

However, in order to prove that a therapy works, it must be compared to placebo. There is only one well-designed study comparing two different types of honey (locally-produced and nationally-produced) against placebo in people with pollen allergy. Unfortunately, there was no difference in allergy symptoms among the three groups of study participants. It was interesting, however, that nearly 1 in 3 of the volunteers dropped out of the study because they couldn’t tolerate eating one tablespoon of honey every day due to the overly sweet taste. More studies are needed to further investigate the possible benefits of honey for the treatment of allergies. 

So, while consuming local honey for your allergies may sound like a good idea, and many would even argue that it can’t hurt, no well-designed study that I’m aware of shows that it actually does work. In fact, some very sensitive people could experience life-threatening allergic reactions as a result of eating locally-produced honey due to the pollen and venom protein content. I don’t doubt that some people actually do get benefit for their allergies as a result of eating honey, but for most people this is probably no more than a placebo effect.

Myth: Eating honey from your hometown will help fend off seasonal allergies. 

Fact: Unfortunately, there’s no basis for this sweet home remedy. Consuming honey that contains local pollens will not help increase your tolerance for the allergens, says the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Honey is made from flowers, but the pollen that triggers your sniffling is from trees and grass.

In fact, if you’re especially sensitive to pollens, eating raw honey could cause a severe reaction. Read more about this by clicking here

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