Raw vs. Regular Honey

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2013

How does raw honey differ from regular honey?

When we compared six samples of raw honey with conventional supermarket honey, we noticed that, first and foremost, the texture of raw honey ranged widely—from smooth and creamy to rough and almost crunchy—while the supermarket specimens were uniformly clear and free-flowing. The opaque appearance of raw honey is due to crystallization, which is the natural state for most kinds of honey, with the size and shape of the crystals dependent on the balance of sugars in the honey.

As the name suggests, raw honey is never heated, but conventional supermarket honey is heated to about 155 degrees for three reasons: to kill any yeasts that might initiate fermentation and cause undesirable flavors; to make it easier to pass the honey through a very fine filter, removing all particles of wax, pollen, and even air bubbles (these particles are considered desirable features in many raw honeys); and to dissolve every last crystal, rendering the honey fluid and transparent. That clarity is not permanent, though, and even supermarket honey is eventually vulnerable to crystallization.

Raw honey differs in flavor as well. Supermarket honey is often blended for a characteristic (if generic) “honey” flavor, but raw honey is a hyper-local product that varies greatly and reflects its region of origin. Some of the raw honeys we tasted were minty, some were as floral as hand soap, and some had a tart citrus edge.

Supermarket honey is reliable and familiar, and we like it for cooking and everyday applications, but the terroirlike properties of raw honey were a revelation.

RAW STATE: Unpasteurized honey is often thick with lots of crystallization.