Chances are, that stuff sittng in the plastic bear in your pantry doesn't technically qualify as honey. The FDA requires honey to have microscopic particles of pollen, which allow the honey to be traced to its source so regulators can be sure it comes from safe origins. But nearly all of the honey that's sold commercially in the U.S. has been filtered to get rid of that pollen. It could basically come from anywhere. And that means it's not honey, according to the FDA's definition.
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that's been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn't honey. However, the FDA isn't checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.
Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey — some containing illegal antibiotics — on the U.S. market for years.
Food Safety News had a pollen expert analyze 60 samples of honey sourced from 10 states and the District. Their findings: More than two-thirds of honey from grocery stores and big box stores was ultra-filtered, i.e. not-honey of mysterious origin. And ALL of the honey from convenience stores and individual restaurant packets was pollen-free. On the plus side, farmers markets, food co-ops, and Trader Joe's all had real honey!
One honey packer told Food Safety News that the filtration was the result of demand: "It was filtered in processing because North American shoppers want their honey crystal clear." But ultra-filtration is … well, ultra. It's not regular filtration to remove visible impurities — it's an extra step that only removes microscopic pollen. That's like saying you sanded off your fingerprints because people like smooth hands.
U.S. honey producers have been agitating for the FDA to pay more attention to honey shipments coming in from outside the country. But, if you'll excuse us, the honey badgered don't care.