How to Test for Pure Honey

How can we differentiate 100% pure honey and adulterated honey?

There is a rising number of visitors to Benefits of Honey writing to me and asking this question. Unfortunately, I don't really have a clear answer to this, but would like to share my experience and thoughts about this issue from a honey consumer perspective.

The term "adulterated honey" implies that the honey has been added glucose, dextrose, molasses, corn syrup, sugar syrup, invert sugar, flour, starch, or any other similar product, other than the floral nectar gathered, processed, and stored in the comb by honey bees. Legal standards and requirements for foods, including honey quality, and tests for honey adulteration vary widely amongst countries and some may not meet the wish of every consumer around the world.

spoon of honey image Personally, when selecting honey in the shop, I think it's almost impossible to tell the bad from the good by just looking at the honey content through the jar or studying its food and nutrition labels. My take is always -- go for the trusted or better known brands. The best is to be able to ask the source or supplier of the honey questions about the honey origin and how the honey is harvested and processed to get an assurance on the quality. However, this is not always possible when we do not have direct access to bee farms and beekeepers. For commercial honey, we all know that a "pure honey" label doesn't guarantee at all that it is not diluted with water and further sweetened with corn syrup; it just promises that there is real pure honey inside, with no suggestion of its amount. The law does not require a "pure honey" label to say how much pure honey is in the bottle. Also, prices are not always a good indication of quality honey. In food fraud cases, which happen a lot with Chinese honey, manufacturers can mix different honey floral blends and sell it as more expensive varieties such as Manuka honey. And so-called "local honey" may not be locally produced and processed local honey but cheap, low quality honey imported from other countries and then bottled and distributed locally.

A common misconception is that granulated or crystallized honey is proof of adulteration with sugar water. The truth is honey is a supersaturated sugar solution and can granulate whether or not it has been adulterated, so crystallization is normal, especially in temperate climates. Furthermore, some honey from certain floral sources is especially prone to crystallization. Buying honey in the comb is one way to assure ourselves of a quality product. Comb honey is sealed in the hive by the bees; therefore consumers can be confident that the honey has not been adulterated with sugar water. However, to boost honey production, some beekeepers feed their bees with sugar syrup so that the bees can convert the syrup to "honey". Do such practices have any implications on why some honey appears to be very clear and runny, just like syrup?

ants imageSome of my web visitors strongly believe and teach that ants don't fancy pure honey and will not hover around it. It's hard to understand or believe this as there seems to be no reason why ants should favour processed sugar over honey and ants may not always be "available" at all places for a honey assessment ("no ants observed" may not necessarily mean pure honey). The reason why a sweet liquid is more attractive than another for the ants could also be due to other factors such as liquid density, flavors which vary depending on the floral types. Another test that is commonly discussed over the internet is the flame test which involves lighting up a cotton bud dipped into the honey with a match-stick flame. It's believed that the honey will burn if it's pure. I have tried this method many times using different types of honey, some of which I was very sure they're pure honey (e.g honeycomb honey), but the result I got was never consistent, and it seemed to depend very much on how much honey was dipped and how long the honey was exposed to the flame.

There's another simple way which I have tried to verify the purity of honey: Observe how liquid honey comes down into a glass of water. Pure honey does not immediately dissolve in water; you will notice that it takes a bit of effort to stir it in the water to dissolve the lumpy bits, whereas sugar tends to dissolve easily in a jiggery as you drop them into the water. However, test result is sometimes not that clear because different honey varieties have different viscosity, some are denser and thicker than others, and obviously honey in cream form, even if it's adulterated with other substance, will not dissolve as easy as liquid honey in water.

It is suggested that people who are used to tasting honey may be easier to detect any added sugar. But frankly, because there are just too many floral varieties and blends, and the amount of adulteration may not be sufficient to affect the taste and aroma of the honey, even though I frequently take honey, I am still not 100% certain about my suspicion sometimes.

Hence, it's hard to be really absolutely sure about honey authenticity, unless from home you can perform scientific laboratory test like spectroscopy, a method that uses the principle of interaction of light with mater to differentiate substances or conduct carbon isotope ratios analysis to determine if sugars were added to the honey (don't bother if these jargons sound totally bizarre; as a consumer, I am not familiar with them either). Nevertheless, from all the verification ways that are discussed above (labels, pouring, dissolving honey, etc) if you have reasons to suspect that the honey is diluted and corn syrup has been added, my stance is - stay away from those brands. Better to err on the side of caution than to be sorry...well, you most probably won't fall sick by taking the adulterated honey, but you know adulteration with cheaper sugars brings down the natural value of the honey and this doesn't help in justifying for the amount of money you pay.

And meanwhile, if any of you, honey lovers, honey connoisseurs, beekeepers, or anyone has a reliable method to test pure honey from home (without the use of industrial chemicals), why not just share with us by posting it below!

End of "How to Test for Pure Honey". Back to "What's Considered Good Quality Honey" or Test for Real Honey - Bubbling Test.

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Read Postings - My Method of Testing for Pure Honey

Below records suggestions posted by readers of this page. Do you agree? Honestly, I find some of the methods very bizarre and questionable. Well, just try and judge for yourself to see if the method works! And you have a great method to test for unadulterated honey, why not share with us! Please give some time for your post to be published as there is a monitoring of posts to weed spams out of the system. Thank you!
        John, United States     18/10/2016 @17:27:08

One way to find local source of honey would be to contact farm extinction service. Ask for contact info for local bee keepers association. The way I collect is: I collect frames with honey. I remove caps and but then in a extractor (it's like a centrifuge). Honey will drain though a find mesh into a setting bucket. Most bits of wax will float to top and bucket is drained from the bottom. This goes directly into jars. This is about as close to comb as you can get. Find a keeper such as myself ask how they bottle and buy from them. After having my own hives and honey I will never buy store honey again.

        Janice Myers, Canada     11/10/2016 @18:02:13

One way to ensure real, pure honey is to go to your local farmers market and buy a container of real honey COMB - yes, the honey with comb intact is a sure way to tell if the honey is pure. I purchase mine from a local farmer who has his own hives and packages his own honey. Just be aware, when buying like this, honey from one batch will not taste the same as any other batch because of what the bees feed on varies from one hive to the next and from year to year. But it's still ALL good! :-D

        Kabiraj Adhikari, Nepal     12/08/2016 @10:12:59

I am beekeeper in Nepal, I generally test the quality of honey mosture and brix combination by a refractometer.

        Ruth, Benefits of Honey     09/08/2016 @ 20:07:15

Albert, while the purity of honey cannot be judged by its viscoity, crystallization is a mark of raw, unpasteurized honey.

        Albert Singh, United States     08/08/2016 @14:25:43

I use honey almost everyday but have no knowledge of how to select the real honey. My current purchase is very thick and crystalized and can only be scooped out.

        Ruth, Benefits of Honey     06/07/2016 @ 18:56:13

Jerry, some floral varietals of honey are less viscous than others, but generally good honey should not be too thin and watery in density. Too much water content in honey can cause fermentation easily and hence refrigeration is recommended. Very runny honey could be a result of different factors such as poor weather (high humidity, rainy) and harvesting uncapped or unriped honey. Details in Qn 13 of this page: Frequently Asked Information About Honey

        Jerry Ooten, United States     06/07/2016 @13:28:27

I bought some honey off a man in Urbana he said it was Lynn honey? But it seems watered down, is this possible?

        Bud Setzer, United States     18/03/2016 @20:44:16

Only buy your honey from a local beekeeper like me. I don't use chemicals or reuse old comb or wax in our hives!

        Nkeiru Nzeribe, Nigeria     17/03/2016 @03:43:10

When you dip a match tick into an honey and strike it it will ignite. They say such honey is pure.

        D.R.Gurung, Bhutan     31/01/2016 @11:41:04

Well, I'm a small beekeeper from a small Himalayan country, Bhutan. We do test honey, but for moisture and for testing this, we use refractometer. And if the moisture in the honey is less than 18%, then we believe its pure honey.

        Deborah, United States     28/01/2016 @07:24:13

As a beekeeper in upstate NY, my advice is to buy local honey. There are local Beekeepers everywhere now and "natural" beekeeping is on the rise. I don't know of any hobbyist beekeeper using sugar water primarily for the bees to store as honey and extract.

        Christine Brown, United States     27/01/2016 @13:39:36

I harvested honey in late Fall just as it started to get a tiny bit cooler (we left some for the bees but here,things flower all year). I noticed my honey hardened and was hard about a week in my cupboard as it got cooler in temperature. Two months later, I find it hard to carve out the daily honey I need but I'm glad I know where it came from and I harvested it so it was 100% pure and unheated. I did get ants around my honey a couple of times in summer so the "no ants on real honey" is not a good test. Also, all my beekeeper friends practice putting small containers of oil on the legs of the supported boxes of hives so ants don't climb into the hives to eat up the honey. It can be a problem if the oil dries up and the ants find a way up if you don't check occasionally in summer. So ants do like honey.

        Ruth, Benefits of Honey     19/01/2016 @ 14:20:21

Adefolaju, whether it would be injurious to health or not depends on what substances or chemicals the honey has been laced and contaminated with. While it won't be life-threatening if it's been adulterated with just water, starch or corn syrup, you won't be paying for what you are getting.

        Adefolaju Tunde, Nigeria     18/01/2016 @11:40:01

Thank you for a very enlightening but discouraging article. I have always tested honey for purity by dropping it in water and watching if it mixes. Now you have said it is not fool proof. The only thing left is just to pray and hope that the honey you bought is pure. But I have a question: is impure honey injurious to health in any way? Can it cause typhoid, for instance?

        Ruth, Benefits of Honey     14/01/2016 @ 10:29:20

Latief, please read on, the second part of the paragraph says it's not a reliable test. In fact, this article is all about unreliable tests, because there isn't any reliable test that can be done from home.

        Latief, India     11/01/2016 @22:02:49

Hi,you said that pure honey doesn't dissolve easily in water but I think that is the case with cold water. When we add honey to hot water it readily gets dissolved, so how could we know the purity of honey by this test?

        Ruth, Benefits of Honey     09/01/2016 @ 09:34:10

Ray, the viscosity of honey varies according to the type of honey, source of the nectar, and weather conditions of the floral source. So, it is possible for you to get pure, unadulterated honey that looks very watery. For instance, honey harvested in warm humid countries tend to have a much higher moisture level (thus more runny) and hence tend to turn sour during storage due to fermentation. I would recommend storing honey which is very watery and runny in the fridge.
You may be interested to read these related pages:
Frequently Asked Information About Honey
Is Indonesia's White Honey Real?

        Ray Martin, Philippines     08/01/2016 @02:57:09

My wife just returned from Palawan, an island here where is touted to have the best honey in the world. It has a very good taste, BUT, it's like a liquid, it's not thick. Can you tell me what would cause this? Thank you.

        Kazi Muktadir, Pakistan     15/09/2015 @04:17:18

Some of the old home techniques to differentiate between pure and impure honey are:

Take a clear glass and pour clear water into it till it is 3/4 full. Make sugar solution in a cup. With a spoon or spatula, slowly allow a drop of sugar solution to fall into the centre of the water in the glass. Carefully watch the sugar solution drop as it travels to the bottom of the glass. It will diffuse rapidly into the water. Now take honey and pour a drop into the centre of the glass and watch it descend to the bottom. Pure honey will not diffuse in the water as quickly as sugar solution. Secondly the drop of honey will rest at the bottom as a bead with rounded edges whereas the sugar solution drop will settle across the bottom of the glass. Also, the a drop of honey if allowed to have a free fall in air, you will see it flows in a very thin string form and elongates itself as far as possible.

        Tia Douglass, United States     08/08/2015 @09:50:05

Have no idea how the lay person can test for real honey (I have a microscope and can analyze it), but in NC we have a Honey Standard thru the NC State Beekeepers Association ("NCSBA"). You can find a copy of the standard at and through NCSBA you can have your honey "certified": a NCSBA rep will come to your honey house to make sure your production is as it should be. The honey can be tested through NCSBA at Texas A&M. If a honey is adulterated, the beekeeper is requested (it's not law, so only a request can be made) to cure the problem. If all is as it should be, the beekeeper is issued a certificate that his honey meets the standard. There are also "NCSBA Certified Honey" labels which go on the jars of honey for sale. The best way to get real honey is to know your beekeeper! Any beekeeper worth his honey will be willing to have you come to the honey house to see his operation.

        John Dray, United Kingdom     29/04/2015 @ 06:20:16

In the UK we have reserved words on labelling. If the label says the product is Honey then it must be 100% honey. It is then worth checking the country of origin. If it says 'EU and non-EU countries' that probably means China. Much of their 'honey' is adulterated, but it is filtered to prevent the checking of the pollen content. (Pollen will tell you which flower it came from and give you a geographical origin.) The best way to check for pure honey is to get it from a trusted bee keeper. (I get mine from the bottom of the garden.)

        Lazaro Gonzalez, United States     28/04/2015 @ 15:16:42

I am diabetic and pure unadulterated honey is easy for me. If I eat honey that is pure my blood sugar does not rise. If I eat honey that is loaded with sugar fillers that are sugar related then my blood sugar rises as it is known the molecules of sweetness in pure honey are double chained and the body does not assimilate it as regular sugar. This is a rule for me to find the pure honey.

        Ruth, Benefits of Honey     27/04/2015 @ 23:12:13

Charles, there is no legal regulation in using words such as "pure", "fat-free", etc. on food labels. Could you kindly point me to the specific regulation by FDA stipulating that "pure" must mean "100% honey in content/ingredient" for honey labels? As far as we know, there is no enforcement of honey standards in the United States. As stated by the USDA Rules and Regulations, “… honey does not require official inspection in order to carry official USDA grade marks…there are no existing programs that require the official inspection and certification of honey…” Hence, even if there is a USDA seal on the honey, there are no consequences for making false claims. The best is to buy honey directly from your local beekeeper and get an assurance of the honey quality by asking questions about their beekeeping practices and honey production procedures. Thank you.
Related pages on "pure honey" labels:
Natural Honey, Pure Honey, Raw Honey ~ Making Sense of Honey Labels
Eating Real Honey?

        Charles Wilson, United States     27/04/2015 @ 14:27:18

The following statement is not correct "We all know that a "pure honey" label doesn't guarantee at all that it is not diluted with water and further sweetened with corn syrup; it just promises that there is real pure honey inside, with no suggestion of its amount. The law does not require a "pure honey" label to say how much pure honey is in the bottle." In fact the term "pure honey" by law means 100% honey with nothing added. Meaning not adulterated in any form.

        H H, Canada     11/03/2015 @ 10:11:26

Battling bacterial strep throat that was almost gone. Then I drank some tea with lots of (suppose to be antibacterial) honey in it thinking it would help. Woke up with a major sore throat. The same thing I get when I drink anything with sugar in it. It is the solid type of honey. It's certainly not antibacterial.

        Edwin Obani, Nigeria     25/03/2015 @ 09:40:04

The percentage of water in honey is a pointer to the degree of adulteration. Some people who have used timed-freezing say that the purer the honey, the more difficult to freeze. To be able to use this method, I would like to know the freezing point of pure(natural) honey. What's your view on using the readiness to freeze as a reliable test for pure honey?

        Ruth, Benefits of Honey     26/03/2015 @ 09:47:20

Edwin, in my opinion, the freezing point of real pure honey depends very much on the viscosity of each honey. The amount of moisture present in honey varies depending on numerous factors including the floral varietal/nectar, where the honey is harvested, humidity level, weather, rainfall, etc. The percentage of water in the honey doesn't always tell if the honey is pure or unadulterated. A very runny honey (eg honey produced by stngless bees) can be 100% pure and unadulterated. A thick honey with low moisture level can also be adulterated by other additives, eg starch, etc.

        Edwin Obani, Nigeria     25/03/2015 @ 09:40:04

The percentage of water in honey is a pointer to the degree of adulteration. Some people who have used timed-freezing say that the purer the honey, the more difficult to freeze. To be able to use this method, I would like to know the freezing point of pure(natural) honey. What's your view on using the readiness to freeze as a reliable test for pure honey?

        Steven Ellinikakis, Greece     12/03/2015 @ 09:03:02

From my young days living in South Africa I attented quite a few genuine honey producers and I have learnt the best and efficient way of comparing genuine honey from sugared honey is in the bottle, turn the bottle upside down and the slower the bubble rises the more genuine is the honey. That I have proved myself. Thank you.

        KM Tan, Malaysia     26/01/2015 @ 05:45:21

Crack a raw egg into a glass containing about 1 inch of "honey", stirr and if egg turns to "half boil" stage, it is real honey. In short, honey can "cook" the egg.

        Ruby Ellison, Australia     22/01/2015 @ 21:24:47

Can't believe what I have read here! We are Apiarists, Beekeepers, and we have all types of honey from the clearest white to almost black, it just depends what area we shift our bees to & what flowers are in that area.Most pure honeys will turn pale & crystallize when colder weather affects the honey, depends on the source. In Australia there is a honey that is considered the Best in Table Honey, Yellow Box, a Eucalyptus tree in remote areas, and that honey takes months or even years to crystallize. I will agree that to buy off a beekeeper is your best bet. I have ants trying to climb into my unattended jars of honey, so that is not a viable test of pureness. Just don't buy Chinese or South American Honey, they use Nitrofurens on their bees, and the residue in honey cause cancer. Havagooday!

        Ruth, Benefits of Honey     22/01/2015 @ 14:15:19

Sathish, I can't tell whether your honey is pure or not, but it does sound like your honey has crystallized. Most floral varietals of honey granulate over time. It is a natural behavior of raw honey and it does not harm or reduce the health benefits of the honey in any way. More in: Crystallization of Honey.

        Sathish Varma, India     21/01/2015 @ 01:16:01

My honey has turned to solid, is it pure or not?

        Ruth, Benefits of Honey     20/01/2015 @ 21:15:20

Carlos, as discussed in this page, there is no basic test or any reliable test from home to ascertain the purity of honey. You will require tests done by labs and institutes which will look out for excessive amount of moisture and the presence of other additives such as starch, corn syrup in honey.

        Carlos Ruiz Cox, Puerto Rico     19/01/2015 @ 18:52:06

My cousin has a small shop at the local market catering to the natural food crowd. He has been offered to buy honey directly from the local producers. Since PR is close to other Caribbean countries where honey adulteration is widespread and not closely monitored by authorities he must have some sort of basic test to determine the purity of the honey he buys for re-sale to his customers. Please help.

        Alsharief Hassan, Saudi Arabia     14/01/2015 @ 18:13:53

Glad to have read your article today about testing for pure honey. I like to share my house way of testing as we have learned from our ancestors. We bring a flat bowl and put some sand in middle. We put a drop of honey on top of the sand. If honey is pure it will roll into a crystal ball no sand will go inside the crystal ball but it will otherwise. I wish this piece of information can help as I am a honey lover.

        Moses Okpe, Nigeria     10/01/2015 @ 14:17:25

Pure honey does not wet nor stain white paper.

        Peddireddy Pradeep, India     05/01/2015 @ 09:34:10

I had tested pure honey by keeping a little amount of honey on a paper, place a light exactly below the paper where you had kept honey, if it does not catch fire, then it is pure honey.

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