The campaign against the adulteration of honey during any part of its production is being run by three Mexicans who, in an interview for Tec Review, comment on the strategies they have in mind to ensure the purity of this substance produced by bees.
One of them is Liborio Carrillo Miranda, head of the Beekeeping Area at the Center for Agricultural Education of the Cuautitlán Faculty of Advanced Studies (FES), which is part of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). He affirms that adulteration begins with feeding bees at inappropriate times.
“When beekeepers feed the bees with sucrose during nectar flow, they’re adulterating the honey, because it’s food that the bees aren’t going to put into the breeding chamber but are going to send to the cells (destined for the accumulation of honey), where they will produce lots of it. However, this is only as a result of the sugar that the beekeeper gave them,” says Carrillo Miranda.
Glucose or fructose, obtained from corn flour, are sugars which some beekeepers inappropriately feed to bees. There are also merchants who proffer liquids made of these substances as if they were pure honey.
“There are others who sell glucose and fructose with a honey color and flavor; it is what one often sees in street markets. It’s called corn syrup. For example, the so-called Karo honey is not honey, but rather an artificial syrup,” shared the 60-year-old expert.
To help solve the problem, Carrillo and other scientists from FES Cuautitlán have undertaken field tests aimed at national producers so that they can do an initial analysis of their honeys, when they are removed from the hives, so they can check their quality.
“We also give training courses to producers; we invite them here not only to analyze honey, but to also carry out the industrialization process of their bee-related products. This means that their wares can reach the final consumer not only with a primary product but also with a transformed product that meets the standards,” says the academic born in Acuitzio del Canje, Michoacán.
Towards a culture of honey
On the business side of the issue is Iris Corona, beekeeper and general manager of Miel Oro, a Mexican company founded in 1974. She says that China is the main source of adulterated honey around the world; this is unfair competition which has greatly affected the producers of pure honey.
“Globally, there is a huge amount of piracy within the honey industry. As consumers, we have to be very careful about where we buy our honey. We should also demand that the label on the packaging tells the truth,” says this 72-year-old businesswoman.
Corona also promotes educational projects about the benefits that honey provides to the body and the importance of bees, as these insects are essential for sustaining the ecosystem in which we live.
“At Miel Oro, we want to promote a culture of caring for both bees and the environment. That’s why we give talks, workshops, and courses, in which children learn about the life of bees and how to care for them. We believe that environmental education is a key strategy for bringing new generations closer to nature and for responsible consumption,” says the Miel Oro web page.
This businesswoman, born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, also says that, just as beekeepers managed to overcome the onslaught of the African plague that ravaged Mexico 40 years ago, they can also triumph in the battle against the adulteration of honey.
“We survived African bees in the 80s, which caused 70% of beekeeping to disappear in Mexico; we were able to recover, and here we are again. I’m also very confident that more and more Mexicans are now aware of the types of sweeteners they consume,” says Corona.
On course for a honey control board
In terms of learning about the properties of honey as a complete food and not only as a sweetener, Antonio Miranda Miranda, sales director of Organismos Integrados de Apicultores de México (Oriamex), says that honey contains vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
“Honey is a nutraceutical food, which means that it is a substance with both nutritional and therapeutic properties,” shares the 58-year-old leader of beekeepers.
Miranda Miranda also believes that in order to attack the problem of adulteration, it is necessary to form a honey control board, very similar to those created to regulate other products such as tequila or mezcal.
“They are organizations dedicated to verifying and certifying that products are authentic for the benefit of the consumer,” explains the honey expert, born in Jilotepec, State of Mexico.
“We’re in the process of forming a honey control board for the first time in Mexico. We’re working on it. Hopefully, it will be ready by the end of this year,” he adds.
It would also permit even closer collaboration with university laboratories specialized in honey certification; this would mean the gap between academic and commercial sectors would be closed, again benefiting consumers.
Until strict regulations can be put in place in the Mexican honey market, Oriamex’s commercial manager provides a suggestion on how to easily discern which honey is the real thing.
“One unique characteristic tells you at a glance if there is no adulteration: if the honey is crystallized, then it is pure. In general parlance, they say that the honey has turned to sugar. Syrups don’t crystallize,” he concludes.