It was recently explained to me exactly why I can walk into a supermarket and buy a jar of honey for less then £2, whereas if I buy it from a local producer I’m more likely to pay around £5 per jar, it’s actually quite a shocking story.
As you would probably expect, supermarkets buy the vast majority of their produce from the cheapest source, obviously provided that people will buy it. As a result, the honey which they buy in is more often than not produced abroad, this in itself is not a problem unless you are specifically concerned about the carbon footprint of the groceries you buy, what is important though is the way it’s produced. Much of the cheap honey which people buy is produced in countries like China and India and their legislation about production is not as rigorous as ours.
In these countries they mass manufacture honey from sugar syrup, yes the bees process it and turn it into honey, but what you are buying is basically concentrated sugar water which has been through the honey stomach of a bee. In nature honeybees will visit thousands of flowers collecting tiny drops of nectar, the bees honey stomach breaks the sugars down, these are then taken back to the hive and stored in honey cells. Once stored the house bees will evaporate the water out of the nectar reducing it to around 18% water, this is then capped over for storage, in a normal British beekeepers hive this is what is cropped and bottled to be sold as honey. However, the products which come in from abroad are not necessarily made in the same way, they have a high density of hives around drums of sugar syrup, the bees fly back and forth to these drums, performing the same task as they would with nectar, but essentially what they are making is nothing more than concentrated sugar water.
The ridiculous thing about the whole situation is that UK beekeepers are not allowed to feed bees when they are storing a surplus for honey extraction to ensure that the resulting produce is proper honey, however, there does not seem to be any restriction on the import of the sub-standard produce from abroad.
The proof of the pudding and all that! If you have some cheap imported honey do the taste test with a good local honey, you can find local producers listed here www.honeybeehive.co.uk they are sorted by county and town so you should be able to find a truly local supplier. Once you have the two jars side by side, do a blind tasting, I can guarantee that the English honey will taste infinitely better. Why? That’s simple, because you are eating real honey, which is made from nectar just as nature intended, not just processed sugar water.
British beekeepers do sometimes get a hard time and are asked to justify why their honey costs so much more than the ones you buy in a supermarket, but the cost and associated effort in making the real product is huge in comparison to they way it is done abroad.
If you are interested in beekeeping a good place to start is the BBKA website, so pop over there and have a look.