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What Is Raw Honey?

Honeybees turn flower nectar into honey by adding enzymes from their bodies while also evaporating water out of the nectar. Once 82% of the water is removed from the nectar by the bees, our little pollinator friends cover each honey cell with a wax capping. Honey in its wax cell and capped by the bees is as raw as it gets.

A few bees standing on top of honey covered with a wax capping. Did you know bees seal their nectar in their comb with a wax capping when 82% moisture is removed? Once 82% of the water is removed from the nectar it becomes honey. The wax capping prevents anything from getting in or out of the honey, keeping it perfectly sealed and ready for the bees (or Egyptians) to use for thousands of years.
Honeybees standing on finished, capped honey
Eating honey in this form, honeycomb and all, is the purest and most beneficial way to eat honey. But eating honey like this isn't the easiest. This type of honey is called cut comb honey or chunk honey and is hard to find.

Honey is most popular and available in its liquid form. Honeycomb is robbed from the bees, unsealed, and extracted by the beekeeper. The beekeeper then returns the honeycomb to the bees to be filled back up with flower nectar again. This honey is packaged without the honeycomb but is still labeled as raw as long as the honey is kept below 115°. Typically, it isn't heated at all if bottled by a local beekeeper. 

This is where the road forks for the beekeeper. Most of the benefits of heated honey are for the beekeeper and not the consumer.

Benefits of heated, bottled honey (not raw)

  • Warmed honey will flow quickly, reducing bottling time.
  • Hot honey sticks to equipment and more goes into the bottle.
  • Tiny crystals of sugar melt, significantly reducing honey crystallization in the bottle.
  • Consumers prefer very clear honey (greater curb appeal).

Disadvantages of heated, bottle honey (not raw)

  • Many of the beneficial, unseen elements of honey are destroyed by heat.
  • Much of the flavor of honey is destroyed by heat, leaving just a sweet taste.
  • Beekeeper has to buy and store more equipment for heating.
  • Bottling and clean-up processes takes longer for beekeeper.

Benefits of raw bottled honey

  • Keeping honey below 115°F keeps all of the delicate nutritional enzymes alive.
  • Any elements of pollen or wax in the honey keep their nutritional elements.
  • The probiotic properties of honey are still alive.
  • You know that the beekeeper took time to maintain a quality product.

Disadvantages of raw bottled honey

  • The honey will not look as clear and translucent as heated honey.
  • Raw honey will have more "stuff" in it, leading to faster crystallization.
  • Takes much longer for beekeeper to bottle it.
  • Difficult to get crystallized, raw honey out of squeeze-type honey bottle.

Adam Hickman works in the Cooking Light Test Kitchen and as a beekeeper in Birmingham, founding Foxhound Bee Company in 2014.