Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Consumers Need to Understand Honey Better

Honey Isn't All Sweetness, Experts Warn
By Andrew Schneider, Seattle Post-Intelligencer (USA), 12/30/2008

Apiculturists, those who study or raise bees and collect honey, worry that the public is sweetly ignorant when it comes to the buzzing insects and their product.

Michael Burgett, a leading international bee wizard from Oregon State University, says the first thing that Americans need to understand is the role that honeybees play in pollinating this country's agriculture.

"You can thank the bee industry for about one-third of all the food you eat and nationally that's between $15 billion and $18 billion worth of food products," the professor emeritus says. "That's the prime reason we want a healthy bee population."

But Burgett, considered a talented curmudgeon by many in the field, doesn't completely agree with others that the total agricultural world as we know it will disappear without bees…

As for honey, Jack White, the USDA's first real expert on the subject, defined the sweet brew in his 1980 book as "essentially a highly concentrated water solution of two sugars, dextrose and levulose, with small amounts of at least 22 other more complex sugars."

He added, "The principal physical characteristics and behavior of honey are due to its sugars, but the minor constituents -- such as flavoring materials, pigments, acids, and minerals -- are largely responsible for the differences among individual honey types."

The flavors of honey are varied and to the purists, as complex and individual as wine. But do consumers looking at the score or more of amber-filled bears, jars, bottle and jugs crowded on the store shelf understand what they're looking at?

Many of those who produce or sell honey don't believe consumers really understand what they're buying.

Bruce Wolk, director of marketing for the National Honey Board, said he's concerned that more than a third of "people who use honey every single day believe that something is added to a bottle of honey, beside honey, and a large percentage . . . have no idea what's inside the bottle."

Gary Grigg, the president of Silverbow Honey in Moses Lake, provides honey for many large grocery and chain stores. He also said he doesn't believe most of the consumers know what they're buying…

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