How to Shop for Honey + Best Brands in Canada
As a natural sweetener, honey has several uses. It tastes great on toast, English muffins, crumpets, and other baked goods. Honey is also used in cooking, whether it be in glaze or as a sauce. Lastly, adding a bit off honey to your tea provides numerous health benefits. But not all honey is created equal. Trying to find high quality honey can be difficult. Before writing this guide, I put little thought into shopping for honey. I usually bought the cheapest brands available. I also had next to no preference on the type of honey (e.g., acacia, buckwheat etc.) After doing some research, I’ve discovered that there are several things to look for and consider when buying honey.
In this guide, I’ll go over some of the things you should know and do when shopping for honey. I’ll also list some of the best honey brands in Canada.
When you think of honey, a golden, clear, liquid substance probably comes to mind. This generic image of honey is the version commonly found in grocery stores. But honey is a diverse substance. It comes in many different forms and types. Each variety can have different flavours and textures.
Here are some common forms of honey:
- Raw honey: The original liquid produced by honeybees in the beehive. Raw honey is obtained by extraction, settling, or straining without the use of heat. This means it undergoes little to no processing. Like other forms of honey, taste, texture, and appearance of raw honey varies. The colour can either be light or dark, while the taste can be sweet, bitter, or sour.
- Creamed honey: Contains a significant number of small crystals, which prevents larger crystals from forming. This also keeps crystallization in check. Creamed honey has a smooth texture that makes it easy to spread. It is a popular alternative to liquid since it’s not as messy.
- Crystalized honey: Occurs when molecules in liquid honey escapes, causing crystals to form. The crystals quickly multiply, turning the honey into a solid mass. As a result, the texture is thicker. Crystallization is a natural process and does not mean the honey is spoiled. You can turn crystalized honey to its liquid form by slowly warming the jar/bottle.
- Comb honey: Honey that’s taken directly from the beeswax comb. Since there are no additives or preservative, comb honey is the purest form of honey. The comb can be eaten like a piece of candy. Comb honey is harder to find in stores. You’ll probably have to purchase a container either from a farm or an online retailer, usually for a high price.
There are five types of honey made in Canada:
- Clover honey: One of the most popular honey types in Canada. It is also one of the easiest to produce. Honeybees love the nectar from clover flowers. As a result, they harvest the nectar in large quantities. Clover honey has a clear and amber colour with a floral aroma. Its sweet taste works well as a sweetener, spread, or as an ingredient in a sauce. Lastly, clover honey contains antioxidants, anti-inflammatory phenolic acid, and flavanols; all support your body’s nervous system.
- Alfalfa honey: This type of honey is harder to find in stores. Honeybees have a harder time pollinating alfalfa flowers, which means the total yield is smaller. The flavour has notes of vanilla with a mild sweetness. Due to its flavour, Alfalfa honey is used more in baking rather than as a spread. Its considered one of the healthiest honeys thanks to its high levels of flavonoids, antibacterial, and prebiotic components.
- Buckwheat honey: Unlike other Canadian honeys, buckwheat honey has an intense and rich flavour. Some people even say buckwheat honey is spicy. Its strong flavour makes it useful in marinades, desert glazes, and as an ingredient in beer or mead. Buckwheat honey is also an excellent source of minerals, antioxidants, and macronutrients.
- Honeydew honey: This type of honey does not come from honeybees. Instead, it comes from aphids and other plant-sucking insects. As a result, the taste and texture of the honey reflects the plant the insect was eating. The flavour of Honeydew honey is described as woody, savory, and earthy.
- Fireweed honey: Out of the five Canadian types, fireweed honey is the hardest to find. That’s because bees pollinate fireweed flowers with other wildflowers. Beekeepers have difficulty separating fireweed honey from the rest of the pack.
Choosing a honey variety comes down to your preferences. If you prefer sweeter honey that’s easily spreadable, go for creamed honey sourced from clover blooms. For thicker honey with a robust taste, go with raw or crystalized honey made from buckwheat blooms. And if you’re looking for a unique flavour, try out honeydew honey.
Read the label
Reading the label on a container of honey can tell you many things, including its nutrition/health benefits, taste, texture, and purity. Here’s what to look for when reading the label:
Grades + colour
In Canada, honey is regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The CFIA has three grades for honey: Canada No.1, Canada No.2, and Canada No.3. These grades do not necessarily indicate that the honey was made in Canada. They are the standards set by the CFIA for honey sold in Canada. Each grade has a set of required characteristics, mainly colour, moisture, and filtration. For example, for a honey to be labelled Canada No.2:
- If liquid, have a colour that can be dull, cloudy, or turbid. It should have next to no signs of crystallization.
- If creamed, have a slightly coarse or gritty texture.
- If pasteurized, have no more than 20% moisture. If non-pasteurized, have no more than 18.6% moisture.
Canada No.1 is the grade with the highest quality. Grocery stores typically sell Canada No.1 honey exclusively while the lower grades are mostly used in commercial food processing. There are some issues with the honey grading system. Some brands meet most of a grade’s requirements but fall short in one category. As a result, the honey is demoted to a lower grade. Gramma Bee’s Honey is an example of this scenario. Their honey meets Canada No.1 standards for colour and moisture. However, the company does not filter their honey. Therefore, the honey is automatically graded as Canada No.3. In this case, the grading does not accurately reflect the quality of the honey. While these situations are rare, grading is not always an accurate indicator of a honey’s quality.
In addition to grades, the CFIA classifies honey according to colour. The four colours are white, golden, amber, and dark. There are also six colour classes for non-consumer prepackaged honey (e.g., honey used in the food industry): extra white, white, golden, light amber, dark amber, and dark.
As you can see, the grades and colour classes affect the taste, texture, and quality of a honey. For example, a liquid honey labelled as Canada No.1 Golden would have a smooth texture with a sweet flavour. Compare those characteristics to a Canada No.1 dark raw honey, which would have a spicier/stronger flavour and a thicker consistency.
For more information on honey grades and colour classes, click here for the CFIA compendium.
Pasteurized vs unpasteurized
When processed, honey can either be pasteurized or unpasteurized. The key difference is the addition of heat. Pasteurized honey is exposed to heat. It kills off the yeast present in the honey, giving it a smooth texture. Impurities are removed so that the honey maintains a clear appearance. Pasteurization also helps kill bacteria and extend the honey’s shelf life. However, the extreme heat destroys most of the nutrition. This means pasteurized honey contains few vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. Unpasteurized honey is exposed to far less heat. Therefore, most of the honey’s nutritional value is preserved. Lastly, you can find some honey labelled as raw. As mentioned earlier, raw honey does not undergo heating or filtration; it’s kept in its natural state. Raw honey is one of the purest forms you can buy.
Nutrition + ingredients
The last thing to check on the label is the honey’s ingredients and nutritional value. Per one tbsp. (20g), most honey has:
- 60 calories
- 16-17g carbs
- 16g sugar
- 0-0.5g protein
Honey also contains trace amounts of other nutrients like riboflavin, copper, and polyphenols.
Honey is mostly made up of various sugars, including fructose, glucose, maltose, and sucrose. Water is added in varying amounts. But there is only one true ingredient in pure honey: honey. Some brands add other sugars, syrups or compounds into their honey to change its taste and viscosity, prevent crystallization, and to reduce cost. This process is called adulteration (secretly mixing one ingredient with another). This is different from flavoured honey, which has additional ingredients like chilis or ginger. The Hot Honey from Drizzle is an example of this.
While you may not realize it, where you buy honey from is important. According to an article by Prevention, most of the honey sold at major grocery store are not as pure as those sold at farmers’ markets or natural grocery stores. Grocery store honey can have sweeteners like corn syrup added. Most of the honey you find at a farmers’ market have no additional sweeteners, only the natural components. This doesn’t mean that every honey brand sold in grocery stores is impure. But if you want a greater selection of pure honey, visit your local farmers’ market or natural foods store.
Now that you’ve learned some of the things to consider when buying honey, here are some of the top brands in Canada:
Best honey brands in Canada
Shopping for honey may seem like a simple process, but there are several factors to consider. There’s nothing wrong with picking the first container you see off the shelf. But of you want to buy a nutritious and high-quality honey, you’ll have to be more diligent. The factors discussed above impact the flavour, texture, and nutrition of honey. Before writing this article, I had never taken anything into consideration when shopping for honey. But I now know that honey is a complex sweet substance. From now on, I plan to follow the above tips when I buy honey. If you want to find a tasty and nutritious honey, make sure to follow the tips as well.
Frequently asked questions about honey
Where can I find honey in grocery stores?
Most grocery stores stock honey in the syrups and spreads aisle. The name of the aisle may differ between stores. Some stores may have certain honey brands in the natural foods aisle.
Why does honey become crystalized, and how do I fix it?
As mentioned earlier, crystallization occurs when molecules in the honey escape from the liquid. This cause small crystal to form and spread rapidly. The honey eventually turns from a liquid substance into a solid mass. Cold temperatures are the main driver of crystallization. If you store honey in a cool part of the kitchen, crystallization happens rapidly.
You can easily prevent and reverse crystallization. To start, store honey in a warm area. To decrystalize honey, place the container in a hot water bath. Make sure the water temperature is between 130-140°F. According to Club House, warm tap water doesn’t melt the crystals, while boiling water can overheat the honey and possibly change the quality. After a few minutes, remove the container from the bath and give the honey a quick stir.
Does honey go bad?
If stored properly, honey does not spoil. The liquid will gradually darken and crystallize, but it will be safe to eat. In fact, jars of honey from ancient Egypt have been found that have not spoiled. If the honey smells fermented or has visible mold, then the honey is spoiled.
How is honey made?
The process begins with honeybees visiting flowers and extracting the nectar. The nectar is then broken down into simple sugars and stored in the bees’ honeycomb. The honeycomb’s design combined with the fanning of the bees’ wings turns the sugar into a thick substance. Next, beekeepers extract the honey from the honeycomb by scraping off the wax caps used by the bees to seal honey in the cells. Once the caps are removed, the honeycomb is placed in an extractor which forces the honey out of the cells. Beekeepers leave some honey behind as the bees need it for food. The extracted honey is strained to remove particles like wax or pollen. Heat is sometimes used during this step, which results in pasteurized honey. After straining, the honey is packaged in either a plastic or glass container.
For a detailed look at the honey making process, check out this video.
What are the health benefits of honey?
Honey has numerous health benefits. For starters, honey is a good source of antioxidants like flavonoids and phenolic acids. Antioxidants help reduce reactive oxygen species (ROS) in your body; they can build up in your body and cause heart disease, premature aging, and type 2 diabetes. Consuming honey in moderation can improve blood sugar regulation, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and improve heart health. Honey is also used to heal wounds and burns. Researchers found that honey is most effective at healing partial-thickness wounds and burns. Honey is also used to treat diabetes-related foot ulcers. Honey’s healing properties are attributed to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds. Keep in mind that honey should not be used for serious wounds or burns. In those cases, seek medical attention.
How do I spot fake honey?
I had no idea that fake honey existed, but I’ve learned that the issue is quite common. Fake honey contains foreign sugars like corn syrup, rice syrup, and cane sugar syrup. Most come from other countries including India, Pakistan, China, and Greece. Companies make fake honey to increase production and lower costs. Fake honey affects both beekeepers and consumers. Beekeepers lose customers to fake honey brands. Fake honey also lowers the price for real honey, turning honey production into an unprofitable business, and consumers pay for an inferior product. While it’s hard to spot fake honey just by looking at it, there are other giveaways. If the price is extremely cheap, chances are the honey is fake. Containers with the maker’s name on the label is a good sign that the honey is authentic. Lastly, try shopping at local stores and farmers’ markets; there’s a higher chance of finding real honey at these spots.
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