Honey Laundering: Is Your Honey Fake?

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It seems simple enough. You walk down the honey aisle, pick up one of those plastic, honey-filled bears, and walk out of the grocery store with honey.

If only life were so easy.

You've heard of money laundering -- making illegal money seem legit -- well, we now have honey laundering, in which "honey" producers are trying to pass off sugary syrups as the real thing.

Apparently, not event those friendly little plastic bears are void of criminal intent.

We spoke to Dr. Leo Gosser, Founder of the Broward Beekeeper's Association, about imitation honey and how to prevent buying into it.

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"It's not honey, first of all, it's sugar water," said Gosser. "Honey has lots of benefits: enzymes, pollen particles --if not filtered -- natural antibiotic properties. High fructose corn syrup is the most common ingredient in the other stuff."

As you would suspect, the majority of the fake honey -- a.k.a. sugar water or high fructose corn syrup -- comes out of China, much of which has been shown to include pesticides, antibiotics, and other unwanted ingredients.

Most of the fake honey comes from China, so a simple solution would seem to be simply avoiding honey from China. To make things even stickier, however, since U.S. consumers have caught on to the buzzing scandal, many Chinese producers are now shipping their products to other countries, labeling them, and then importing them into the US.

Aside from the whole simple deception part of the equation, it's a problem because many consumers buy honey for its health benefits and easier digestion process.

"Regular sugar is sucrose," said Gosser. "Sucrose is broken down into glucose and fructose, but it requires an enzyme in the stomach, insulin. Real honey contains no sucrose: it's composed of just glucose and fructose. No insulin is needed for digestion."

Obviously, the production of insulin is a problem for people with diabetes or other insulin related issues. Theoretically, pure honey doesn't pose a threat to those individuals.

According to Gosser, fake honey has a negative economic effect as well.

"Fake honey does sell for considerably less, which draws down the price and makes it harder for beekeepers to stay in business," he said.

A part of the problem is growing demand. While bee populations are on the decline, demand for honey is growing. Somewhere around 150 million pounds of honey are produced each year. Currently, annual demand sits around 400 million pounds. Clearly, we need to get honey from somewhere.

The state of Florida is supposed to test all the honey that crosses the border -- although, we do have a rather large honey industry within the state. While Gosser has not seen any official reports, he has heard stories of investigators discovering fake honey.

According to Gosser, there is a way around all this honey hullabaloo: buy local.

"Florida was the first state to adopt a honey standard," said Gosser. "Anything that is not pure cannot be labeled as honey. I would suggest looking for honey produced in Florida. We have a lot of producers in Central and North Florida. On the label, it always says where it's made."

Better yet: look for a beekeeper at your local farmer's market.

For more info on the Broward Beekeepers Association, call 954-344-1493, or visit browardbees.org.

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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