What honey should I buy?

Whenever you mention to anyone that you keep bees, their first question is usually "'can I buy some honey?", swiftly followed (when you have none available) by "what honey should I buy?"

There's actually a lot behind this relatively simple question, and I thought I'd try today to talk through some of the aspects, issues and pitfalls of buying honey to help answer this question in as much detail as I can!

Country of Origin

There are 3 choices here:

  • British/Scottish honey
  • Other named country honey
  • Blended honey (often labelled as 'a blend of EC honeys' or 'a blend of EC and non-EC honeys').

I'd always recommend starting at the top and working down the list. British or Scottish honey will have lower food miles, supports the local economy and helps encourage pollination within the UK. Traceability is also higher. Obviously there are specific honeys which, if you want that particular flavour, you will need to buy from a different country (for example Greek Thyme Honey, or Italian Orange Blossom honey) but for general blossom or set honey, there's no reason to buy outside the UK.

Non UK Blended honeys are a bit of a gamble. There have been many reports of 'fake' honey on the international market - with other sugars being blended with honey to make a cheaper, inferior product. Countries like China have seen a massive increase in honey production, with no corresponding increase in the number of hives, which is suspicious in itself (https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/honey-gate-how-eu...). Australia is currently facing the issue of wide-scale adulteration in some of it's largest imported brands (https://www.smh.com.au/business/consumer-affairs/new-purity-test-on-the-...).


Here you have 3 routes to sourcing honey:

  • Direct from a beekeeper or local association
  • From a local shop
  • From a supermarket

Again, I'd recommend sourcing down this list. Buying direct from beekeepers ensures the maximum investment into the bees and beekeepers, and offer the lowest food miles. Local shops are good, since they are dealing as agents for local beekeepers, and offer the convenience of not having to hunt around for a beekeeper if you can't easily find one local to you. However either you are paying a shop markup, or the beekeeper is selling at a slight discount so that the shop can make a profit. Supermarkets are potentially the worst option - they are more likely to stock large brands than local suppliers. Both of these are likely to mean a lower income for the beekeepers, and reduce both the 'localness' of the honey, and it's traceability. Even for respectable brands in supermarkets, there is price haggling going on to keep it cheap, and the product has been shipped to a central location for processing, then all the way back to the local shop.

Pure, Raw, Natural Honey

There's a growing trend at the moment to add words like these to the labels for honey. However the issue is that they don't really mean anything and don't tell you anything about the honey you are buying.

All honey must be 'pure' - if anything is added it can't be labelled as honey, so this is a meaningless word. Natural is just the same - honey is obviously natural - if it's got anything else added, then it isn't honey!

Raw also has no specific legal meaning. Often it is used as a bye-word for unheated, unfiltered, unprocessed honey. However honey processing in the EU is very strict anyway. Honey can only be warmed to help with flow and jarring - it cannot be pasteurised or overheated, or it can only be sold as 'bakers honey'. Again, honey is almost always coarsely strained (to remove wax, bits of bee etc) but if honey is finely filtered (so that all the pollen etc is removed) it must be labelled as such. Trading Standards has advised against using the word 'raw' on labels in the UK, since it is both meaningless, and confusing for the customer. Most other raw foods like meat or eggs must be cooked, washed or processed in some way, so it's confusing to use this term for honey.

That's not to say these words are indicators of a bad product - just that they should be eyed with suspicion. Pure raw honey made from blended Chinese honey may be a far inferior product to plain 'Honey' from the beekeeper who lives near to you, whose honey will definitely not have been heat treated, pasteurised, filtered or adulterated in any way!

If in doubt, ask the beekeeper, retailer or manufacturer about the ir actual process to get the real details of where your honey has come from and how it has been treated along the way.


There are many different types of honey available, the main ones being:

  • Liquid
  • Soft Set
  • Chunk
  • Cut Comb
  • Sections

These are really methods of preparing and presenting the honey, and really come down to how you like your honey, rather than any indication of quality. Everyone is familiar with liquid honey, and many people often think that soft set is an inferior product to liquid honey. However all honey tends to crystallise after a time, some varieties more rapidly than others, so soft set is a method to ensure that the crystals are small and the honey is smooth, rather than becoming grainy. Chunk honey, cut comb and sections are different ways of presenting honey still in the wax comb, which is one way to ensure noone has 'fiddled' with it.

There are also a wide range of floral varieties - some of the most well-known in the UK being heather (ling), lime, borage, oilseed rape (always soft set), clover and chestnut. These varieties are like the 'single malt' of honeys - with their own unique flavour, aroma and style. Here, try a few different varieties to see what you like - everyone has their own preferred tastes, and single source honeys make an interesting variation from the usual spring or summer blossom honey, which has been mixed up by the bees from a wide variety of sources.


Hopefully this has given some more information on what's involved in choosing what honey to buy, and hopefully it's not too daunting a task. If in doubt, try to find honey from a local beekeeper or a shop that sells local honey - this will almost always give you all the benefits of local honey, being environmentally friendly, the highest quality product the least 'tampering' and risk of fake honey, and the opportunity to try particular types of honey as the seasons go by.

To find a local beekeeper, you can contact your local beekeeping association - the SBA in Scotland, the BBKA in England, the WBKA in Wales and the INIB in Northern Ireland.