Why more sugar is seeping into honey: beekeeper explains
On a plane from Dubbo to Ballina via Sydney, I met a beekeeper who was heading to Italy to speak at an annual international Beekeepers Conference. His name was Terry Brown and during our 45 minute flight he told me how a childhood hobby turned into a fulfilling, lifelong career that continues to take him all over the world. I also learnt a less than sweet truth about honey that the labels in the supermarket won’t tell you.
Have you ever picked up two jars of honey that looked exactly the same and wondered why one was far cheaper than the other? The ingredients are the same – 100% honey, right? Wrong. There’s a reason it’s cheaper and if you choose to eat honey because it is “natural”, you’re going to be as angry as I was to find out this…
Honey is not always honey. Often it’s been produced by feeding bees sucrose (sugar mixed with chlorine through burning) and then adding more sucrose to the resultant honey to make it go further, meaning the product is devoid of natural pollen and its nutritional benefits (read more on the health benefits of honey and how compares to sugar).
So how do you know which honey is safe? Terry advises to avoid imported honey (mainly produced in China through the method outlined above) and stick to Beechworth or a local Australian honey. Better yet, buy it from your local farmers market where you can talk to the beekeeper direct. If you pick up a jar of honey at the supermarket (like the popular Capilano) and the label says it’s made from “local and imported products”, Terry says there’s no doubt there’s more in it than just honey. “Most of the time the local product is the container it’s in, and the imported product is the honey!” he said.
I was also curious to know the difference between “raw honey” and “just honey”. Terry explained that raw honey was extracted from the honeycomb at lower temperatures than usual. However, honey is normally extracted at 37 degrees Celsius which means “normal honey” would still meet “raw” product standards (raw being anything cooked below 46 degrees Celsius).
I asked him about a recent study that claimed honey could cause cancer. Firstly, there is no Australian honey made from bees that pollinate Patterson’s Curse/other anymore. Secondly, you would have to consume half a kilo of honey a day over an extended period for the “natural toxins” to have any affect on your health.
Terry, a thin man, about 5’8″ who looked to be in his mid to late 50s (he has three grandchildren), has been beekeeping since he was 16 and got his first big gig in the industry in the early 1980s. It was a contract with the United Nations, exporting bees from Australia into Pakistan. Australia was a huge supplier of queen bees to the rest of the world, particularly the Middle East, until the small hive beetle (from Africa) made its way to our shores and wiped out a lot of our stock. Now, hardly anyone in the rest of the world will touch our queen bees in case the beetle spreads.
Beekeeping has seen Terry use up two business passports in less than 10 years and taken him all throughout the Middle East, the Americas, and Europe. He speaks highly of Afghanistan’s natural beauty, says he has zero desire to go back to Saudi Arabia, and that he’s always wanted to go to the Bahamas but work hasn’t necessitated it (most of his travel is for business).
Terry left school at 14 years and nine months of age (i.e. as soon as he could) and started beekeeping as a hobby when he was 16. His dad kept a few bees and that’s where the interest stemmed from. To earn a living, Terry started a milk run but later put all the money he earned into buying more bees. It was a risk, but Terry knew he had to make a decision to give it all or nothing, so he abandoned the security of a milk run (considered a safe, normal job at the time) for his passion of beekeeping. And it paid off. Terry is now the owner of a multimillion dollar company based in Mendooran, a village 79 km from Dubbo in central west New South Wales. “I was passing through about 15 years ago and have never left.” (Apart from all that worldly travel.)
When Terry and I parted ways at Sydney Airport, he left me with this advice: follow your passion and do what you love but take your head with you. “Some of my friends went to uni but ended up in jobs that bore them to tears,” he said. “I am very lucky to have a job I love and one that takes me all over the world, but I love to come home.”