3 Common Misunderstandings Regarding Raw Honey

Local Honey for Allergies

After almost 10 years as a beekeeper, I have heard just about every myth and misunderstanding there is about honey. Our farmer’s market booth has served as our opportunity to correct the misinformation. Raw, local honey can be an important ingredient in natural home healthcare, but there are some important things that everyone needs to know.



3 Misunderstandings About Honey

Here are three of the most common misconceptions we hear:

1. It’s a good sugar replacement in baking

The truth? Honey is not a health food when it is cooked. This is why we avoid buying pasteurized honey in the store. Around the world, most traditional medicine practices agree that heated honey has a negative effect on the human body. In the case of ayurveda, it is believed that honey heated over 60 degrees celsius (140 degrees fahrenheit) creates “ama.” Ama is a condition of mucus that is brought on by inflammation and toxicity. Heating honey can also reduce the antioxidant content and increase the glycemic index.

Knowing that pasteurized honey isn’t the best, savvy shoppers head to the farmer’s market each week in search of raw honey. This is wonderful! Unfortunately, many of those who buy this liquid gold then proceed to head home and bake a batch of muffins using honey instead of sugar as the sweetener. Baking with raw honey effectively pasteurizes it… making it the same dead and damaging food that we tried to avoid in the supermarket in the first place.

2. Only local honey is healthy

Honey that is local, raw, and collected in the correct season is one of the best things you can use for your allergies. Somehow this came to be translated into the common knowledge that only local honey is healthy for you. The truth is that any raw honey is healthy regardless of where it comes from. It will enter your bloodstream at a slower pace than processed sugar and keep your insulin levels from spiking. It can support your immune system, help fight illness, soothe a sore throat and much more.

What is best for you depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you want to use honey to help with your allergies you must choose only raw, local honey. (Find raw honey in your area here.)

3. Pregnant women should avoid eating raw honey

Another common misunderstanding I hear a lot is the idea that honey isn’t safe during pregnancy. We don’t give honey to children under the age of one – this is because of the concern over botulism spores. If botulism were in raw honey, it would not pose a concern for an adult digestive system. The spores cannot grow in honey and the toxins associated with botulism are only produced with it is reproducing and growing. The problem with young children is that their digestive systems are not mature enough to handle even botulism spores that aren’t growing.

The good news is that pregnant women should feel free to enjoy this healthy food. If there were any contamination, the spores would be destroyed in the mother’s digestive system long before there was ever any chance of them crossing the placenta.

Were you led to believe any of these common myths about honey? Share your info in the comments below!

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Comments

  1. Very informative and helpful information on one of my favorite topics…honey. Thank you!

  2. Your article made me wonder about something I commonly use honey for and that is to sweeten hot drinks such as tea & coffee. Would this fall into the category of “heating” honey, rendering it harmful rather than helpful?

    • Nope. Not a problem. Typically we add honey to hot drinks that are just cool enough to be drinkable. Even those traditional systems of medicine that insist honey should never be heated believe that adding it to warm tea is fine.

  3. So if I’m using raw honey to make granola or muffins, would maple syrup be a better alternative to honey in these recipes?

    • Yes, if you are heating your granola or baking muffins you could use maple syrup or molasses instead. Those are my go-to’s… more minerals anyway!

  4. All good info; thanks for sharing. Slightly off-topic report: when living in California, I tried a small amount (about 1/2 teaspoon) of bee pollen. Had a severe anaphylactic reaction, and ended up in the ER for several hours. Oops! Have no problem with honey or bee stings, however.

    • Yeah, it is rare, but there are people who are allergic to bee pollen. We ALWAYS recommend new folks try just one tiny grain, once a day, for a few days and monitor if they have any reaction. Clearly you are one of those rare people! =)

  5. Thank you for the info. I must admit – I am one of the people buying raw honey and rushing home to bake with it thinking that is a good thing! I am glad to have the correct info – time to look for another way.

  6. I have read a lot about honey and powder cinnamon made as a tea can help with everything from arthritis to high cholesterol. It is different measurements for different ailments. with what you have said in you article heating the honey as a tea would have loss it’s beneficial uses. Is this true?

    • No, you can use it in tea that is cool enough to drink. If you can stand to have it in your mouth without burning it’s fine. However, be sure to use only raw, well raised honey… AND Cinnamomum verum (true cinnamon), not cassia. The type of cinnamon matters in regards to all the information on cinnamon for health.

  7. Thanks so much! We avoid sugar, so sometimes I cook with honey. I will no longer do so!

  8. Thanks for the information! I have been using honey in my homemade wheat bread for years now since I had heard somewhere that it helps the bread to keep longer, and also because I thought it would be healthier. If I shouldn’t be heating honey, what do you think would be the best sweetener to use in bread?

    • hmm… in bread that’s a tough question. I’m not a big baker, but I’m guessing that molasses is going to be too “dark”. Perhaps maple syrup? I simply use real sugar since we don’t do a lot of bread her in our house. Anyone else got an idea?

      • Personally, I think regular sugar (the best quality you can get) is fine, esp in such small quantities as in bread. You really only need a Tbsp to get the yeast active. But technically, they eat flour as well, so you could skip the sugar altogether if you were willing to wait just a bit longer to rise.

    • My point was that it has been known for ages that too much honey/ sugar is bad for you. We continue spending time on new research that really isn’t new.

  9. I am allergic to cane sugar so I use honey (along with agave or coconut sugar) to bake with. If we shouldn’t bake with honey should I only use the agave or cocnut sugar? I am a healthy wight and blood sugar is usually low, not high, so that’s not a concern for me. I am careful with all sugars anyway because it gives me a migraine if I have very much or often. So what should I use?
    Thank you!

    • I have a big bias against agave, but if you aren’t interested in getting pregnant, your blood sugar is fine and you’re only using limited quantities it might be ok. I personally would tend to lean toward the coconut sugar.

      • Is agave bad for fertility? Or is it bad for the growing fetus? I have never used Agave, but this sounds interesting.

        • Most agave syrup is made from a particular species of agave that has been used very reliably as long lasting birth control. It isn’t a good idea for those who are trying to get pregnant… it’s not “dangerous” other than that it isn’t necessarily a healthy sweetener.

  10. Thank you for the helpful info. You are so right about pasteurization!
    Just curious since you have experience – are ants attracted to honey, either raw or not?

    • Yes. This is why beekeepers struggle with keeping them out of the hives. I personally let them get in there, I think there is a symbiotic relationship that we are overlooking.

    • The ants here in Spain definitely go after my raw honey, and I remember they did not care about store bought honey back before I had access to raw. Very interesting. Also interesting “food for thought”: The ants go for dehydrated sugarcane juice (which is the best quality sugar I can find in Spain) but they ignore white sugar. Similarly, we had a big sack of unground whole wheat that the ants discovered a few years ago. They took the germ, bran, etc and left PILES of white flour behind as useless. Ants have smarts!!!

  11. Thank you for the article. I never knew this. Almost all Paleo recipes that use sweetener call for honey. This seems to be misleading in a healthy diet. Also, I use local honey that is in liquid form. I never buy honey in a store. It’s from local beekeepers. Is it still healthy if in liquid form?

    • Honey comes out of the comb liquid. There is yet another myth that only solid honey is raw…. that’s not true. If you get liquid honey from your beekeeper and they are not heating it, you’re good to go. It will eventually crystallize, but you can sit it in some warm water to gently warm it or just use it that way. Liquid honey can be raw! =)

  12. Disagree on Raw honey! 1968 bought Raw honey from Florida, I live in Texas. Next day got a rash, day after that woke up with face swollen double! It is hard to believe a face could swell that much, eyes nearly swollen shut! Neck and nose double! Had to go to allergy doctor! Took two weeks or more for the swelling to down! Allergy Doctor said stay away form raw honey that was NOT LOCAL. Believe me I have.

    • There’s nothing inherently different in the way bees make honey in Florida to how they make it in Texas. I fear that if that is the only way you are avoiding an allergic reaction you may be opening yourself up to another attack. The content of the honey changes by location by what plants the bees use for nectar and pollen. This means that if you had an allergic reaction to honey in Florida, it wasn’t that one should never consume honey that isn’t local…. it’s that YOU are allergic to a plant that is in the area where those bees collected. While it may be prudent for you to look over the local flora and avoid other areas similar, it does not mean that you should never have raw honey from another part of the country.

  13. I have also used honey in my bread making for 40 yrs. I think I’ll try changing to coconut sugar. Any idea the ratio for the change? Do you think it would be one for one? Appreciate your work on getting health “facts” out there. Thanks a ton.

  14. So, if honey can only be heated to 60 deg. or else it loses its healthy properties and then becomes just the same as sugar, what is the purpose of using it as a sweetener for tea? Like honey and lemon tea? Thanks.

    • 60 deg. celsius is pretty darn hot! At that level you’re going to damage the honey. If you are adding it to tea that is presumably just cool enough to put into your mouth without burning it the health benefits are preserved. Therefore, honey in your tea, or the legendary honey and lemon tea will always have health benefit (if you’re using raw honey of course)! =)

  15. I feel the biggest mistake is honey sold in grocery stores claiming to be 100% honey when in fact if you read the ingredients you will find high fructose corn syrup is added. Why do they need add a sweetener to honey? So much for 100% of the container being honey. This is such false product labeling to deceive the buyers.
    The only good healthy honey is raw and unfiltered honey. Yes you will pay twice as much but you are getting real unmolested honey that’s good for your health. Read the ingredient labels before buying anything. Look at 100% Stevia products and see this same labeling deception most all the time.

  16. Very helpful information.Here in the UK raw honey is not easily obtainable, on asking at a local farmers market for some recently they had never heard of it. I’m wanting some for your bodywash recipe.

  17. Thanks so much for the raw honey info. I do buy from mine from the
    grocery store, but they buy from a local bee keeper. I use it daily
    in a cup of hot tea, which I make in the microwave, then add the
    honey after tea is brewed. I think from your comments, I’m safe
    with the way I make my cup of tea, because it’s never hot enough
    to burn my mouth.

  18. I have always made organic muffins and baked goods without any sweetners, including honey, for the reasons mentioned in your article. My family is used to spreading the raw honey on top of muffins just out of the oven. We actually use less sweetner that way and enzymes are not destroyed.
    For years, raw honey has been used in surgery in other countries due to its anti-viral, bac-T and fungal properties. When I caught Mersa staph, while working in an ER, I used it on lesions.

  19. To Toni

    Microwaving your water for tea is not a good idea.

    Microwaving ANYTHING destroys it. I read about a test where they watered two sets of plants, one set with water from the tap and the other with only microwaved and cooled water.
    The plants watered with the microwaved water didn’t grow well and just died.

  20. Thanks for the article! but about heating honey, are we not always advised to add it to tea – especially when we have a cold?

    • It’s not a problem to add to hot water… so long as it is cool enough that it wouldn’t burn your mouth.

  21. In recipes that call for honey, to replace it with maple syrup, should we use the same amount considering that they don’t have the same consistency (let’s say a granola bar recipe, like the one from this site)?

    • You just need to get it in an area that has the same types of things blooming at roughly the same time. Here in Ohio that covers most all of the state as “local”

  22. I have never understood the point of baking with raw honey, since it is not raw anymore by the time it comes out of the oven! It just seemed like a waste to me, but I did not know it is actually harmful. Great article.

  23. I received a quart of raw, unpasteurized honey. my friend said to use it quick or it will go bad. I didn’t realize honey goes bad. how quickly do I have to use it and whats the best way to store it?

    • Is your friend the beekeeper? The only reason to be concerned about raw honey is if it isn’t actually honey… in other words, if it were taken out of the hive while it was still nectar and not made into honey yet. Honey itself NEVER goes bad. I have no idea why someone would tell you that unless they have been misinformed themselves.

  24. Thank you so much for the info. I also have been a baker using honey. Good information and good job!

  25. I have been to farmer’s markets recently where beekeepers have told me that their honey is staying in liquid form because it has been strained to remove impurities, but not heated which makes it processed. The honey is completely liquid while the raw honey I buy in the stores is a combination of liquid & solid. Can you explain?

    • Hi Drinda,
      Most beekeepers have recently harvested their honey. You’re not likely to find any solidified honey at farmer’s markets right now. It won’t start to solidify for a few months. When asked how they “process” their honey, if the beekeeper says they strain it and don’t add any heat then it is your choice to either believe them or not… if it is true this is raw honey. The solidified stuff you get in the store is often the product of a really great marketing campaign designed to make you believe that only solid honey is “really raw”. Honey comes out of the comb liquid, this is its most basic form. The truth is that raw honey can be liquid, solid and everything in between depending on how long it’s been out of the comb, how much particulate matter is in the honey, what type of nectar it was made from, how it’s been handled and what the temperature in the home is. The honey in the store is often filled with comb and bee parts as part of the solid material you get in the jar…. the honey at the farmer’s market is often liquid and has been filtered of large comb and bee parts. Both of these raw honeys will be healthy for you. You have a lot of choices once you have asked your questions and assured yourself of quality.

  26. Thanks so much for the info. Everyone seems to be using a substitute for the honey in baking such as Stevia, maple syrup etc. but I am on the SCD diet and that is not allowed. They strictly use honey so even if they use raw honey and bake with it that is turning it into the same as we buy in the store. What can be used instead that is SCD Legal.

    Thank You

    • Hmm… this is a new diet I haven’t looked too much into. I will say in a cursory glance I see that saccharine and aspartame are also “approved” on the diet. That makes me suspicious of the diet as a whole, or at least to following it to the letter. If the diet is supposed to focus only on things that humans have consumed since ancient times I would be much more prone to use maple syrup in coking than I would to use two substances which are relatively new and man-made (not to mention known carcinogens). I would use honey as a sweetener when I could add it without heating it. I would look into the rationale against maple syrup within the diet itself to understand why they’re against it and figure out what you could substitute that follows the rules.

  27. Raw honey, because of its beneficial bacteria, is also very healing for minor skin cuts and abrasions. I’ve tried it and it works!

  28. I believe there is a form of honey suitable for cooking. Honeydew is the honey like substance bees sometimes collect from the leaves of plants where some form of aphid or scale insect is actively feeding. This used to be sold wholesale to bakers as it is typically very dark and sometimes even cloudy. The difference can only be discerned by shining a light through it, pure honey bends light one way and honeydew the other. The ratio of glucose, sucrose and fructose is very different between the two also.