My review of the Netflix Documentary Rotten on the subject of fake honey. Learn how to shop for real honey.
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As many of us often do, I was looking through the selection of programming that Netflix was offering to me. I had nothing in particular in mind. I am always hopeful I can something to watch about food that isn't just another cooking or baking competition.
Then I saw something that was rotten. A new documentary series called Rotten. And it was about food.
The first episode was about one of my favorite foods, honey. How sweet is that? I immediately began playing the video.
Summary of Episode 1 : Lawyers, Guns, and Honey
This is not going to be a full summary, just some of the key points I took away from the episode. The episode can be divided into 2 parts. The first part focuses on doctored honey coming in from China, while the second part looks at beekeepers bringing their bees out to California to pollinate the almond blossoms.
- We have all heard about the decrease of the bee population. Some beekeepers have experienced a 50% loss of their bees over a season. I loved the perspective that was given - imagine if 50% of the dairy farmer's cows just died over the winter. That would make HUGE headlines. But for someone reason 50% of the bees dying doesn't seem as bad. The size of a bee compared to a cow may be the reason but it doesn't make it any less significant.
- Chinese honey is a MAJOR problem. There is a lot of honey coming out of China that has been doctored to contain syrups that come from rice and other crops. New techniques to cheat the system are continually developed. It's a constant battle.
- Since China is able to produce cheaper "honey" they are stealing the market place from American producers that are producing unadulterated honey.
- The United States put tariffs on honey imported from China. China "honey" producers shipped their honey to other countries to avoid those tariffs.
- They have discovered that some of this honey contains antibiotics that are illegal in the United States. These antibiotics are given to the bees to keep them "healthy".
- Almond production in the U.S. has been on the rise. A lot of that has to do with the increased popularity of almond milk as a cow's milk alternative as well as almonds as a peanut alternative to those with allergies. These trees need to be pollinated by bees to produce large crops. Many beekeepers are traveling to California.
- There is a big money to be had for the beekeepers here. Many feel the need to do this to keep their businesses going as honey alone is not enough profit for them.
- The problem that arises when you bring bees together from all over the country is that diseases are spread. Just as if a sick person gets on an airplane and affects those around them with a sickness and then they go to their destinations and further spread the diseases. This practice may not be healthy for the bee colonies.
- There has been issues with bees being stolen.
There was a ton of great information in this episode. Some surprising if you haven't heard about this before. It's sad to see how much crime has come from something so sweet and pure like honey.
I really strongly encourage you to watch this episode. It does a great job of bringing to light issues that are going on with great entertainment value as well. I think even people who aren't a honey connoisseur like myself will enjoy the show.
How to Avoid Chinese or Tainted Honey
After watching this show you may feel like you need to be more careful when selecting honey. Here are some tips on how to avoid doctored or altered honey, that isn't pure honey.
- Avoid all honey from China. I really hate to have to judge an entire country, but since there is so much altered honey coming out of China and no way of knowing if the honey is good, I would avoid any honey with a Chinese label on it.
- Avoid all honey from Asian countries or countries near China. Again I hate to generalize here, but I think we have no choice. Since Chinese honey is being shipped into different countries and then into the US, even honey that doesn't say it's from China, may actually be from China. True Source Certified (more on them in a moment) have a list of countries they consider to be high risk. This list even includes some European countries. The high risk countries are Australia, Austria, China, Czech Republic, France, India, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and Vietnam.
- If It Seems too Cheap, It Probably Isn't Honey. If the honey seems like a really good price, it's probably too good to be true. Honey is a premium product. As the episode said a single bee by itself may only produce just less than a teaspoon of honey in it's life. Anything you see labeled honey at a really reduced price may not be pure honey.
- Don't Buy from the Drug Store or Dollar Store. Stick (see what I did there) to buying your honey from a good grocery store, or better yet a farmer's market.
- Not Just Distributed in the US. You need to make sure the honey isn't just distributed in the US to be considered American honey. A lot of this doctored honey comes in huge barrels and then is bottled here in the US. Read the label carefully. Look up the company's website for more information if you need it.
- Look Carefully at Store Brand Honey. I am more skeptical of the store brand honey. It's important to look for origin information.
- Avoid Products with Added Honey. Here is a really tricky spot where most people might miss it. Honey is added to a lot of products, things like crackers, hot dog & hamburger buns, pastries, honey mustard and other condiments. Often it is hard to find out any information about the origin of the honey used in these products as the labels often don't provide that information.
- Avoid Added Ingredients in Your Honey. You may find some honeys have added flavorings to them. I pass them up every time. I want my honey to be 100% pure honey. If you find different varietial honeys you can enjoy different flavors.
How to Find Good Honey
Ok we looked at what to avoid. How about we look at what to look for.
- Buy from the Farmer's Market or Local Beekeeper. Any decent sized farmer's market is going to have at least one vendor selling honey. Not only are you supporting your local business and the small business that needs it the most, you can get raw, pure honey.
- Look for Smaller Producers. If you do buy honey from the grocery store, and I definitely do try to buy from smaller producers, don't buy big name companies. These small companies usually find their way onto store shelves because they have a superior tasting product.
- Enjoy Varietal Honeys. I really love varietal honeys - those honeys that come directly from a single floral source. Avocado, Orange blossom, chestnut, apple blossom, cranberry blossom, lime blossom, lavender, sourwood are among some of my favorites. Yes you have to be careful about where you are sourcing these honeys from as well. You can learn more by checking out our blog post on Wildflower vs. Clover Honey.
- Look for Raw Honey. The less the honey has been processed the better it will taste and the more positive health benefits it will have.
- Look for True Source Certified Honey. True Source is an organization dedicated to labeling honey that is ethically sourced and truthfully labeled. Look for their seal on the label of the honey. You can also type in the UPC code from the honey to see if it's on their list. Just because it is not on the list doesn't mean it is not safe. I have seen this label on honey at Costco stores.
- Order Online. If you are having trouble tracking down good honey in your region, you can simply have good honey end to you. My favorite place to order honey from is Bloom Honey out of California. They have several amazing varieties and there honey is 100% raw. In Califorina I have seen Bloom Honey at Trader Joe's stores in Califorina.
The Honey Farm from this Episode
If you watch the show on Netflix, you will see a honey farm featured near the end of the show. I ran to the internet immediately to look them up. They are Walker Honey Farm out of Rogers, Texas.
Don't worry if you can't travel to Rogers, you can buy their honey online. They have tons of different varieties available from Avocado to Tupelo. They even have a few I have never heard of like Black Mangrove, Christmas Berry, and Tallow Tree. After seeing video of their charming shop I really want to make a trip there.
What I love about these honey producers is that they have decided to get out of the cycle of having to take their bees to California for pollinating almonds. Owner, Clint Walker, was looking to explore a different business model where they could stay closer to home and closer to their customers. Since they stopped going to California their bees have been healthier.
I Want to Hear From You
Have you watched this show yet? Leave a comment below, telling us what you got out of it.