Plenty of the honey in our supermarkets claim to be raw, organic or good for you, perhaps some of them are.
If you have ever asked yourself the question, “where does this honey actually come from?”, you might find the answer hard to determine in a lot of cases for shop bought honey.
Almost none of the honey in big name Irish shops is likely to be actually Irish, as honey output here is so low, little arrives to the shelves. You are truly lucky if some unadulterated gold reveals itself close by.
“Honeys sold with specific claims about botanical origin or geographical origin or organic status are at particularly high risk (of fraud). Manuka honey is one such type and is very seriously affected by fraud. The risk for packaged commercial honey is similar in developed and developing countries. In one study, artisan-style performed worse with respect to authenticity than large scale commercial brands.” – www.foodfraudadvisors.com
Honey globally is suffering to a high degree of sophisticated fraud these past few years, almost highest of any foodstuff, so purity is definitely in question if searching for genuine honey.
“Around 20% of honey either declared as blends of EU honey or unblended honey… were found to be suspicious of containing added sugar. The rate of suspicious honey was around 10% for blends of EU and non-EU honey, blends of non-EU honey and honey of unknown origin.” – http://www.europarl.europa.eu
Other than the true Manuka honeys, from leptospermum scoparium, coming exclusively from New Zealand, few honeys will likely claim their place of birth proudly front and centre. Similarly, the labelling doesn’t make it any clearer to determine it otherwise if it’s not immediately obvious.
This is due to our labelling laws require little transparency in regard to precise providence. Additionally, there is no requirement to state the blend ratio of the product or achieve any sort of minimum ratio of a blend of one honey mixed with another. If purity matters to you in food, this is the sort of thing to take note of.
Honey available in our shops are typically always blends, from how many honeys or how many places the label is unlikely to say.
Some honey packers (companies that import and market honey), may employ clever tricks to intimate that their Argentinian, Mexican, Chinese or Ukrainian honey is Irish by the placement of a Celtic looking font on the label, or a brand that subtly reminds you of an Irish place name or that feels kind of “Irishy”.
Ireland consumes far more honey than it produces, perhaps 30 times in the difference, and that difference has to come from somewhere.
The honey importers\packers are not breaking any laws when they intimate a perceived location on a label. It is after all just a marketing design and we fill in the gaps with imagination, if we even give it a second thought. The EU regulations that govern this sort of thing don’t state this is incorrect, the regulations call for not misleading the customer. If the label at the back states “A blend on non EU honey” from an Irish sounding brand name, then the label is not misleading.
Personally speaking, I find these EU regulations to be highly counterintuitive in terms of consumer traceability. Sure you could contact the company and ask directly and they would tell you, most likely, but why not just state it on the label to begin with?
If you are looking for genuine Irish honey, it can be a bit of a quest to track some down.
Ireland has about 5000 beekeepers, that’s on the low side maybe, but records are approx as there is no mandatory self-registration here. On average they have 6-8 hives each, many have 1 or 3 hives, others might have 80. It varies!
It is estimated that about half of Ireland’s beekeepers produce enough honey for their immediate needs. Once you get a taste for the real thing from your own supply, it’s pretty difficult to then give it to other people, it’s bad enough you have to share it with your family! (Protip: Hawthorn honey, if anyone is ever daft enough to sell any of it, buy it all immediately!).
For those beekeepers that do collect a surplus destined for market, in the better years at least, their output can be highly variable.
Due to factors like colony loss,swarming, a general high degree of expense and the unpredictable weather, few beekeepers ever get to the scale necessary to broadcast marketing campaigns. As a result, hardly anyone knows we have this absolutely wonderful gift from nature dotted around the country.
One of the greatest aspects about being acquainted with a beekeeper is knowing that they have kept the honey as pure as is humanly possible, in as raw a state as can be achieved, with the maximum amount of goodness remaining in each jar as it came out of the hive.
We don’t spend all this time getting stung in weird places, or hammering our index finger tip for the fortieth time making wax frames, or all those times spent wondering if that is a bead of sweat going up my spine, that now feels like it is going sideways, and now it has a friend…
…so we can then boil the honey to death, or ultra filtrate out any micron of highly beneficial pollen left in it to extend its shelf life (honey is supposed to crystallize, think water turning to ice and back again), or in any other way take from what these bees we protect have painstakingly collected over the tiniest tunnel of sunlight needed for Irish flowers to yield their precious nectars. This would indeed be madness.
To digress, but you will completely understand what it can mean to be a beekeeper, here is a real life example. Last year before the snow, when one of the big storms hit, a beekeeper was travelling home from work and decided last minute to check his bees and make sure they were secure enough to take what was coming.
In the lashings of rain and that terrible wind he had to trek to his secluded apiary site, only to discover he was too late. He finds all his hives there knocked over from a fallen tree limb, parts in bits all over the place, unhappy bees everywhere, exactly the kind of scenario you never want to deal with. If it happened on a good day this would still be a challenge, kind of bad.
Bees survive bitter winters by keeping themselves warm in a cluster. They can be very successful if they keep dry and unexposed. Moisture is a death sentence to a hive. Exposure similarly could be terminal.
He had no suit to give himself protection, no smoker to de-stress the bees and make his life easier, he didn’t even have a pair of gloves as he was driving his work van.
Regardless, he reassembled the hives as best he could and proceeds to lift handfuls of bees from the ground back into the hives, over and over trying to save as many as he could. Bare hands, cupping thousands of angry bees who feel threatened and a storm. If that is not love I don’t know what is. More than half the hives survived believe it or not. This is the dedication of a true beekeeper. Anyway, back to honey.
In many cases when it comes to Irish honey, the extent of the blending real honey has undergone is limited to honey collected from the same immediate area, called the apiary, if not from a single hive.
Irish honey is typically from one area per batch, and likely a honey that is from one or very few sources of nectar. Absolute unbridled purity.
But where do I get this fantastic honey, if it’s not for sale in supermarkets?
Butcher shops, local markets, co-ops if there’s one about, car boot sales, some independent health food stores, there is no single answer of where to go to find Irish honey.
Due to it being difficult to find any Irish honey in the first place, it might come as a surprise that there are loads of different varieties of honey being collected in this country, dozens & dozens potentially with local variations.
So we have loads of potential producers, producing loads of potential varieties, that could be for sale in who knows amounts of places, which is not ideal admittedly.
Findyourkeeper aims to solve this by starting to map Ireland’s beekeepers & their bees and help them list their exceptionally rare produce online & in one place. In most cases they post, in a few cases they deliver locally.
You can read about the individual beekeeper in their own words, and the description of where their bees forage or what their different honeys are like. Each beekeeper has been validated so you can rest assure what is being advertised, is exactly what is being sold, there is enough fraud in the honey world as it is.
Right now you can browse pure Irish honey produced from over 20 different locations from Dublin, Wicklow, Kildare, Meath, Cavan, Clare, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly, Limerick & Mayo, with more counties and areas coming online soon.
Mapping provided by Google
You can browse available honey by location using the map, and be brought directly to a beekeeper’s web store where you can find their honey, comb, pollen, candles and beeswax food wraps. Just order and wait for delivery, its honey for the 21st century.