What is Raw Honey
Our honey is raw and unfiltered. This means it is literally sold to you in the exact form as when it left the hive. Unheated, untreated, non pasteurized, and not "processed." This ensures our honey preserves as much of the nutritional value and flavor as possible. Raw honey tends to crystallize due to the natural particles in the honey. Store bought honey is heated and then passed through fine filters to prevent crystallization, as many people have grown up with a preference for liquid and brilliant, shelf stable honey. This additional processing changes the honey's flavor as well as removes many of the components that raw proponents love and which gives raw honey its delicate flavor.
Is Your Honey Organic? Why not?
Let's get this out of the way: there is NO organic honey produced in the United States. Bees are free to fly to whatever nectar sources they choose and they can fly up to 3-5 miles in any direction from their hive. This would require 28,000 to 50,000 continuous acres of land to be certified organic PER bee yard. This is just not practical.
So where does that Certified Organic honey in your favorite upscale grocer come from? Well, its comes from outside the US where the USDA will trust but NOT VERIFY another countries Organic certifications. Its unclear how other countries are ensuring that the entire foraging area of their bees meet the organic requirements for such vast swaths of continuous land. Sure, maybe they compared notes on their regulations but no one is going out to the fields and inspecting thousands of acres per producer to ensure the entire land in the bee's flight radius is actually organic.
"But wait, I swear I have seen Organic honey being sold by a local bee keeper or at a local market. What is up with this?" They are being deceitful. Producers that make less than $5000 of product can self attest that their product is organic albeit they do face an unlikely risk of a $10K fine. Since the USDA has no guidelines on what constitutes organic honey and its impractical for most anyone to profitably undergo what would be a difficult certification process, there has been little effort by the USDA to develop a certification process. Anyone that has labeled their honey as organic, inquire as how they were able to ensure that the entire land that their bees foraged from had no pesticides. What about the hive equipment? Did any part of the wax or hive parts ever spend time in a non organic apiary. Was the wax used in their foundation only from other organic hives? What methods for varroa mite control were used? The list could go on.
What are "Honey" Vintages
Vintage, by definition, is the period in which something was made. We sell our honey according to the year that it was produced by the bees and harvested by us. Each year has seasonal differences that causes differences in color, aroma, and taste largely caused by the yearly differences in nectar production of the various plants that the bees forage from. Unlike many honey producers, we do not ever blend honey from one year to another. There is nothing inherently wrong with this but we like to celebrate the changes year over year.
Why Does Raw Honey Crystallize
ALL HONEY CRYSTALLIZES. Honey is primarily composed of fructose and glucose as well as other sugars. These sugars are in high concentration as the moisture content of honey is around 18% water. This is known as a supersaturation and explains why it's such a thick syrup. Sugar in a supersaturated solution wants to settle out by crystallizing but requires a catalyst such as a pollen particle, small pieces of wax, or other crystals on which to grow. This process occurs very rapidly once a few crystals form, especially if the honey is between 50F and 65F. Store bought honey is processed by heating the honey to 145F or warmer and then passing it through fine filters to remove any trapped pollen, wax, air, or other components that can cause crystallization. This is why it appears brilliant (clear) and liquid. Crystallization does not affect the honey in any way other than temporarily changing the texture and appearance. Some even prefer the rich, spreadable texture of crystallized honey.
How do I liquefy my honey
There are several options but all of them fall into one of two categories: reversible and non-reversible. Using reversible methods, the honey will liquefy and remain largely undamaged, but it will quickly recrystallize once it cools back down. Non-reversible methods involving heating will significantly reduce the tendency of the honey to recrystallize, however it will alter the honey by denaturing enzymes, risking caramelization, and volatilizing delicate aromatic compounds. The sous vide method is ideal as there is no risk of over heating your honey, restores the general aroma and taste, and can be done to the entire container resulting in months of liquified honey in the right circumstances. Its also repeatable. You can use an old fashioned crock pot with a cheap temp controller, get one of those cheap but decent quality sous vide sticks, or use one of those fancy pressurizable electric pots. The key is precise temperature control.
Sous Vide Method (Best Method - Recommended!)
This is a variation of the Reversible water bath method below but takes advantage of the proliferation of cheap sous vide or crock/insta pots with temperature regulation. This temperature control (many have PID controlled feedback circuits to maintain very tight regulation) helps to ensure your honey does not overheat and thus you can liquify your ENTIRE container without destroying the lovely floral aromatics. Once fully liquified, it will remain liquid typically for months. Cutting the process short while there are traces of crystals will greatly reduce the time the honey will remain liquid
Set your water bath temp to 110F/43C and set the water level to be at the same level as the honey. Scoop the honey into a taller/skinnier jar if the height is impractical.
Keep a loose fitting lid on such that any air pressure can escape. This will help keep the delicate florals in the honey instead of them escaping and filling your home with its lovely bouquet. If you can smell it, it has left the honey for good! Make sure no water can enter the container. The lid should not be submerged in the water!
We recommend avoiding stirring the honey and instead just roll the jar to distribute the crystals as they start liquifying. This is a lot less messy and avoids introducing any contaminants.
Leave in water bath until ALL crystals have dissolved. Note some suspended pollen might settle to the bottom and will not dissolve. This can take 24-48 hrs depending on the size of the container. If a little does accidently gets in, just drain it off, or leave it if its too little or too dissolved to drain off. If the honey ends up getting a significant amount of water dissolved in it, it could risk molding or fermenting and should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed promptly.
This process can be repeated as needed.
Reversible Basic Water Bath Method (OK Method - Hard to control, overtemp risk)
This method will allow you to liquefy crystallized honey without altering it, however it will recrystallize once the temperature falls back down below 77F.
Create a water bath of 104F. We recommend a double boiler or a large pot. Use an ordinary thermometer to maintain temperature. Note that this temp is lower than sous vide method as overshoots are inevitable. With precise temp control method above, you don't need the safety headroom. A little above or below 104F will still yield good results.
Place the amount of honey you intend to use into a container (metal is best for even heat conduction) or a pot that will fit inside of your larger pot above. We do not recommend processing the entire container using this method as you could risk overheating the honey and instead of damaging a small portion, you could damage the entire batch. Also since this method requires constant supervision, it lends itself towards lower quantities.
Stir until all crystals dissolve.
Nonreversible Method (Not recommended! - Honey will end up with generic store bought taste and loose most floral aromatics)
*Only use this method if you prefer honey in a shelf stable liquid form or want to use up old honey in a cooking project*
Create a water bath between 150 and 170F. Do not exceed 180F.
Place your honey into this bath by either placing the entire container into the water bath or removing a portion. If you remove a portion, transfer that portion to a new clean container prior to heating.
Monitor the temperature of the honey. Once it reaches 150F, hold it at that temperature for 30mins.
Allow the honey to cool back down to room temperature. Note that the color and flavor of the honey might change.
Examples of Honey After Various Liquefaction Methods
Examples of Heat Treatment on Honey. Same source/vintage of honey.
(LEFT) Honey that has been microwaved repeatedly to liquefy will darken over time but since its not held at temp, it will end up recrystallizing leaving you with the worst of both options. Notice it is also the darkest of the three examples.
(MIDDLE) This honey was brought up to 170F in a water bath and held for 30mins. The taste is much closer to that of store honey and it has lost a lot of its delicate floral complexity. Its slightly hazy because it was not filtered but it's been in a liquid form at a room temp of around 62F for several months.
(RIGHT) This honey has only been gently heated whenever we have needed it. It's still very light in color and maintains the original flavor.
Store bought honey has origins that are often difficult to trace. Producers purchase honey from multiple apiaries or other producers and blend them together and process for bulk sale. Packagers then buy bulk honey from multiple producers blending together what are now blends of blends. Some of these producers might originate honey from foreign sources and the trail gets even more murky. By purchasing honey directly from the beekeeper, you can be sure you know exactly where your honey came from.
Although we make no specific health claims with regards to raw honey, we acknowledge and respect the fact that many folks do believe raw honey obtained from local sources improves their seasonal allergies. We are told the thought process is that the incidental pollen contained in raw honey can provide micro-exposure which can desensitize the body, similarly to how allergy shots work. Many seek out local honey obtained from the local environment as the pollen sources would likely best reflect what someone would be exposed to during their daily life.
Taste and Quality
Honey is amazingly complex. The various nectar sources directly impact the taste of the honey. Honey sourced from specific apiaries or even specific hives can vary in color and flavor significantly. Even year to year, the tasting notes for a given vintage will be different based on the weather's effect on the various nectar sources. For much the same reasons why people drink single origin coffee, single origin, unblended honey is amazingly complex and provides for an exciting culinary adventure.
Why So Much $$
Sloanstead is a hobby business... that is we don't depend on beekeeping for a roof over our heads or food on our table however we do seek to have honey sales merely cover the costs of keeping the bees. Starting a new hive is often upwards of $500 - $600... per hive! This is a large outlay and doesn't even cover the time of the beekeeper or cost of honey extraction or packaging or other tools. If the colony doesn't survive the winter, that's another $150 to replace the colony with a fresh queen and requisite number of bee workers. We strive to provide well for the bees and the pollinator community and in return for your hard earned cash we strive to provide you a unique and raw product truly representative of the local community. In return, not only are you getting to experience a truly unique and hyper local product but you are also helping natural pollinators and responsible beekeeping within the city. In addition, for the honey aficionados, Sloanstead honey has been well regarded as a light, floral, and slightly minty sage honey. Truly a unique and delicate honey that represents the biosphere of the northwest side.