The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Columns The Curious Beekeeper

Infused Honey: Is it Safe to Eat?

- June 1, 2024 - Rusty Burlew - (excerpt)

Perhaps I’m old school about food. I like apples to taste like apples, trout like trout, and honey like honey. But other people are more complex, preferring foods that taste like others. We now have Oreos redolent of strawberries, coffee that reeks of chicory, and banana-flavored doughnuts without a banana in sight. Yes, I sometimes spread honey on cinnamon toast, but that’s different from cinnamon-infused honey on regular toast. Or so I think.

Today you can buy honey spiked with an entire pantry of flavors. A quick internet search finds honey dressed with elderberries, hot peppers, garlic, vanilla, espresso, lavender, and thyme. You can also find honey infused with bourbon, chocolate, and hibiscus flowers. And you can buy honey laden with orange slices and other floaters.

The jars I’ve seen at farmers markets and fruit stands rarely explain these additives on the label. Instead, they often say something like 100% pure honey infused with elderberries, a confusing statement about something that’s no longer 100% pure honey.

Purple honey and faddish infusions
Even more puzzling are the jars labeled “100% pure elderberry honey.” Aside from the fact that elderberry is a pollen-only plant, how does one know precisely where their bees have foraged? I can only assume these products are more like 100% not elderberry honey, although a handful of beekeepers claim their bees drain the fruit juices to use in place of nectar.
Since the publication of “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd in 2001, there’s been a manic demand for purple honey. Because genuine purple honey is difficult to find, beekeepers continue to seek creative ways to answer the call, making honey infused with purple juice ubiquitous and the claims of authenticity murky.

The spectrum of infusions
The definition of “infusion” varies with who’s doing it. Infusions come in many forms from simple to radical; some barely alter the honey while others completely transform it. Infusions display a spectrum of variables, but most fall into three distinct groups…