A Beekeeper Asks: What is “non-raw” honey called?

A beekeeper asks: When you extract honey and pass it through a strainer, you can sell it as raw honey. What is not-raw honey called?

Phil’s reply:
First, let’s consider what is meant by raw honey. There is no definitive or legal definition as far as I know. I consider virtually all honey sold by local beekeepers to be raw honey. Some people may think of the term as applying only to honey which is unfiltered (no filtering or straining at all) and unheated during extraction and bottling. To others, honey is raw if it has undergone only minimal processing, but that is another subjective term.

What raw honey is definitely not is honey that has been subjected to ultra filtering, the process of flash heating and pressure filtering through micro filters which is used by most large honey packers in order to reduce crystallization on the shelf. Such filtering is designed to remove very fine particles in the honey, including pollen grains, around which crystals might form. Heat aids the filtering process and melts any crystals already formed, even those so small that they are invisible to the eye.

The filtering that most small scale beekeepers do to remove bits of wax, bees’ wings, and other non-honey particulates that have ended up in the honey during the course of removal and extraction, is not even remotely similar to the industrial process. The temperatures to which small beekeepers heat their honey (when they use heat at all) are also very different from those used by commercial producers. I usually heat mine in a jacketed bottling tank to 100F to improve its flow during bottling. It saves a lot of time, especially when I’m filling quart jars. However, 100 degrees is no warmer than the temperatures honey can reach in the hive in hot climates, and it will not degrade or alter the taste. Commercial honey, on the other hand, is heated to between 150 and 170 degrees – temperatures which affect both color and flavor. In comparison, I think the typical consumer would consider the honey produced by virtually all local beekeepers to be raw.

To answer your question directly, the term for non-raw honey is processed honey. However, because the word “processed” conjures up images of commercial pressure filtering, flash heating, and bland taste, you could just say “honey” or “extracted honey.” No need to say “non-raw” or “minimally processed.” I think you could label it and refer to it as raw honey if you wish, as long as it has not been pressure filtered or heated much above ambient summer temperatures. Though I do not put “raw honey” on my labels, if asked, I describe my extraction and bottling process and say that I consider my honey to be raw honey.

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