Why honey is expensive

For those making mead and related drinks
Carnot
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Why honey is expensive

Post by Carnot » Thu Oct 12, 2017 9:22 am

My wife and I are bee farmers and I would like to put into perspective why honey is apparently so expensive. We run about 80 hives and have a policy of quality over quantity. In the bee keeping world there are the professional bee farmers and the hobby beekeepers, though the latter is often a bee looser. Apart from having to deal to weather affects, pestilence and disease, there are other legal requirements that a bee keeper must comply with, which only add to costs.

I make no apology for the price of our honey. It is of exceptional quality and sells for around £7.95 a pound. To many that might seem excessive but were any of you to visit our apiary and witness the work that is involved then few of you would wish to follow in our shoes and work for less than the minimum wage. Our honey has been exported to all parts of the world, including South America and Asia.

No bee farmers are wealthy from bee keeping activities and most have to supplement their income in other ways. Paynes have been mentioned on this forum as suppliers of bulk honey, but even Paynes rely on other sources of income and trade honey; usually a pseudonym for importing cheap (and often low quality honey) from other parts of the world. Chinese honey is particularly cheap but would anyone on this forum really wish to risk using Chinese honey?

Like many products, honey is not adverse from being adulterated and there are many ways that beekeepers and honey sellers can boost their profits. Honey traders can add sugar syrup to the honey both legally and illegally, making an inferior cheap product. Beekeepers can boost yields, quite legally, by feeding bees with sugar to boost the apparent yield of honey. A an easy way of establishing if honey has been adulterated is to see it it sets. All honey (save for heather honey) will naturally set over time. Some honey will set rapidly and others more slowly. The faster the setting time then the smaller the honey(sugar) crystals and vice versa. If your honey is perpetually runny then be suspicious.

As for Manuka honey, this is one of the most adulterated foodstuffs on the planet. The estimated production of Manuka honey is about 1800 tonnes per year. The estimated sales in the UK alone are about the same level.

We produce several types of honey on an as and when basis( Rape, Summer Honey and Heather honey). They are very different in their flavour and texture. Heather honey has a pronounced flavour and is more like a gell.

So next time you complain about honey pricing from local bee keepers just bear in mind what is involved. To produce a one pound jar of honey has required the bees to fly the equivalent of twice around the Earth. A typical bee will produce about 0.5g of honey in its lifetime and work damned hard in the process. The bee keeper, will have hopefully practised good husbandry, and left some honey for his/her bees. He will have also invested in enough equipment and resources to ensure his bees are healthy. That does not come cheap. In our case we are still yet to make a profit on our activities in spite of £10's of thousands of investment.

So if you want to make exceptional mead, it helps if you start with exceptional honey. That is what I do, but I guess I have an advantage as the honey is recovered from the cappings. Washings honey from cappings is an acquired art - much easier to say than do. My mead is made in batches of about 22 ltrs ( roughly 7.5 kgs honey) with an OG of around 1.1 and an FG of about 1.0 . That makes it pretty strong, and very warming. It benefits from racking and ageing, and make sure exposure to air is minimised. I rack twice into glass carboys ( kept in the dark), and then in Corny kegs which are lightly pressurised. My yeast is Mangrove Jack's some of which is harvested from previous batches. A yeast starter of 200 g honey, 2 g of Fremaid K, made up to one litre is used to set off fermentation. That perhaps also casts some doubts about Mead pricing. Mead produced from honey is going to be expensive. If it is not expensive then be suspicious.

Bigbud78
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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by Bigbud78 » Thu Oct 12, 2017 9:47 am

Thanks for that, never tried meed but I've always wanted to keep bees. Not something I could practically do in Manchester unfortunatly, we have been lucky to have had bee's living under the floor a couple of times and even had bumble bees last year.

Does you honey get sold online anywhere ? I'll pick a pot up :)

Jim

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john luc
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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by john luc » Thu Oct 12, 2017 10:15 am

So is the Manuka honey sold only a scam. The higher the number the more they cost in the shop.
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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by oldbloke » Thu Oct 12, 2017 3:19 pm

Bigbud - Manchester Museum in the middle of the Uni campus ?used to? keep bees. So it's not impossible in Manc.

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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by demig » Thu Oct 12, 2017 5:13 pm

john luc wrote:So is the Manuka honey sold only a scam. The higher the number the more they cost in the shop.
Not all of it is a scam but lots is and anyway there is good evidence for other types of honey being just as good. All honey is good in general, Manuka also tastes bloody awful imho.

The OP has done an excellent post, I only have 7 hives and agree wholeheartedly.

If you want to try some really nice honey look out for Lime or Linden tree honey, my favourite.

The vast majority of honey in the uk is a mix of sources however with the exception of heather due to the fact you can take your bees onto the moors and they can only produce honey from that one nectar source.

Honey should be seen as a luxury product really as it takes a lot of work to produce and there are few people who make any real money out of it. A lot of the supermarket stuff is basically just fructose and glucose with not a lot else left. This is the basis of all honey but it’s the pollen etc and other trace materials which make it so delicious rather than just sweet.

Great post.
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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by Jambo » Thu Oct 12, 2017 5:30 pm

Carnot wrote:
Thu Oct 12, 2017 9:22 am
My wife and I are bee farmers and I would like to put into perspective why honey is apparently so expensive. We run about 80 hives and have a policy of quality over quantity. In the bee keeping world there are the professional bee farmers and the hobby beekeepers, though the latter is often a bee looser.
As I've said in a previous thread I started keeping bees this year and I take my hat off to anyone who can make ends meet doing it! I'm hoping I can get my costs per lb of honey below £100 next year :) So yes whenever I see honey in the shops I do think it is rather cheap - it's a shame that beekeepers and companies producing a quality product often don't get the price differentiation they deserve vs the 'mix of EU and non-EU' honeys that is sold in Asda for £1.50/lb and can't be differentiated from sugar syrup.

Carnot wrote:
Thu Oct 12, 2017 9:22 am
Beekeepers can boost yields, quite legally, by feeding bees with sugar to boost the apparent yield of honey. A an easy way of establishing if honey has been adulterated is to see it it sets. All honey (save for heather honey) will naturally set over time. Some honey will set rapidly and others more slowly. The faster the setting time then the smaller the honey(sugar) crystals and vice versa. If your honey is perpetually runny then be suspicious.
I had understood that this was only legal up to a point; I believe there are limits to the sucrose content of honey? However I haven't been able to find a way to measure this scientifically at an amateur level (water content is pretty easy).

WalesAles
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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by WalesAles » Thu Oct 12, 2017 8:05 pm

canot,
You said this....If your honey is perpetually runny then be suspicious.
I bought runny Honey fom Lidl to make my Mead, it was pepetually runny.
The Mead tastes great (my first attempt), so what should I look out for in a runny Honey Mead?
Geat Post on Honey Manufacturing! :D
The Bees do all the work! :D

WA

Sent fom my Garden whilst watching the Bees on my Lavender Bush.
Mmmmmmm! I think Lavender Honey would bee nice!

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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by wolfenrook » Thu Oct 12, 2017 9:12 pm

WA, I make cheap honey mead regularly, and yeah it's nice, especially if you use it to make a metheglin or a melomel. However, mead made with really good honey is seriously on another level! I made our raspberry melomel with some rainforest honey that's a little more expensive (apologies to UK apiculturists, it's just what I had to hand at the time..) and trust me it is WAY nicer! Cheap honey mead you tend to taste the acids more strongly I tend to find for one.

It's kinda like the difference between a mead that 2 months old, and one that's a year old. Might taste wonderful at 2 months, but if you taste the 12 month old one you realise it's considerably better (usually).

It all comes down to what you want. Nice mead that you can produce in quantity at a reasonable cost, or amazing mead that you can only produce in smaller quantities that costs more. Or, even better, do both and keep the amazing stuff for special occasions. :wink:

I will say though, I find that even the Lidl honey crystallises if you keep it at room temperature after opening the jar.

Bee keeping is way harder these days, thanks to neonicotinoids, disease etc that's far more prevalent these days. It's no wonder the price of honey keeps going up! We also don't have Africanised bees in the UK (thank the gods!!!), making yields lower too (they're why the rainforest honey was only a little more expensive probably, that and cheap/exploitative labour).

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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by demig » Thu Oct 12, 2017 9:36 pm

WalesAles wrote:canot,
You said this....If your honey is perpetually runny then be suspicious.
I bought runny Honey fom Lidl to make my Mead, it was pepetually runny.
The Mead tastes great (my first attempt), so what should I look out for in a runny Honey Mead?
Geat Post on Honey Manufacturing! :D
The Bees do all the work! :D

WA

Sent fom my Garden whilst watching the Bees on my Lavender Bush.
Mmmmmmm! I think Lavender Honey would bee nice!
Lavender honey is wonderful, borage is amazing as well but hard to get
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john luc
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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by john luc » Fri Oct 13, 2017 4:41 pm

love to buy local honey whenever I can. Here in Ireland we get a lot of Heather produced honey and also rapeseed as well. I know a coupler of serious honey heads in the home brewing world that have plenty of honey but dont brew with it.
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Carnot
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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by Carnot » Fri Oct 13, 2017 6:33 pm

Many thanks of all the positive comments.

Message for Bigbud78. I regret that we do not have any means to accept on-line payments. I refuse to accept Paypal's T&C's and we are too small to use other payment methods. Most of our sales are to locals who either buy direct from us or via some local retailers. Our honey usually gets exported by the locals shipping to family and friends all over the world. If you really would like to try our honey then I regret it would have to be a cheque or bank transfer and we would send the honey by Royal Mail, not the cheapest I know but probably the safest.

If any of you are interested in honey composition it is typically something like (as Wt %)

D -glucose 31%
L- Glucose 38%
Maltose 7.5%
Higher Sugars 1.5%
Sucrose 1.5%
Water < 20%

There are huge variations but sucrose is rarely above 5%. Any honey with more than 5% sucrose is likely to have been adulterated. The high glucose content makes honey a very good source of fermentables. However analysing honey for sucrose is far from easy and beyond the scope of homebrewers. Even making a moisture determination is not easy. Though refractive index is often used, if one carefully reads the methodology then it is clear that the RI- moisture content tables are calibrated against sucrose-water mixtures. They are best indicative rather than absolute. Heather honey always appears to have a higher water content- in reality I think that this is down to the composition of the heather honey. Although there are some internet stories of NIR (near infra red) analysers, I ,and many others, are very sceptical as to whether this technology can do what is suggests. The only definitive method for determining moisture is by Karl Fischer titration and these analysers are well beyond a homebrewers pocket.

If any of you can acquire cappings then the best method I have found is to place the cappings in a filter bag (200 micron is fine available on eBay) and wash the honey with warm water into a stainless steel bucket. Do not use hot water as this will melt the wax and plug the filter bag. It takes a fair bit of manipulation and to acquire 20 lts of 1.1 must is about two hours work. I sterilise everything with sodium percarbonate. The washed cappings can be melted down but that is not as easy as it sounds as there will be a fair amount of propylis to deal with. If anyone is interested I can give some tips another day.

Once again thank you for the positive comments; I was not quite sure what to expect.

By the way if you wonder what i do for a living i am a petroleum chemist. Chemists tend to be fair brewers.

Bigbud78
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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by Bigbud78 » Fri Oct 13, 2017 8:02 pm

I'l pm you :)
Carnot wrote:
Fri Oct 13, 2017 6:33 pm
Many thanks of all the positive comments.

Message for Bigbud78. I regret that we do not have any means to accept on-line payments. I refuse to accept Paypal's T&C's and we are too small to use other payment methods. Most of our sales are to locals who either buy direct from us or via some local retailers. Our honey usually gets exported by the locals shipping to family and friends all over the world. If you really would like to try our honey then I regret it would have to be a cheque or bank transfer and we would send the honey by Royal Mail, not the cheapest I know but probably the safest.

If any of you are interested in honey composition it is typically something like (as Wt %)

D -glucose 31%
L- Glucose 38%
Maltose 7.5%
Higher Sugars 1.5%
Sucrose 1.5%
Water < 20%

There are huge variations but sucrose is rarely above 5%. Any honey with more than 5% sucrose is likely to have been adulterated. The high glucose content makes honey a very good source of fermentables. However analysing honey for sucrose is far from easy and beyond the scope of homebrewers. Even making a moisture determination is not easy. Though refractive index is often used, if one carefully reads the methodology then it is clear that the RI- moisture content tables are calibrated against sucrose-water mixtures. They are best indicative rather than absolute. Heather honey always appears to have a higher water content- in reality I think that this is down to the composition of the heather honey. Although there are some internet stories of NIR (near infra red) analysers, I ,and many others, are very sceptical as to whether this technology can do what is suggests. The only definitive method for determining moisture is by Karl Fischer titration and these analysers are well beyond a homebrewers pocket.

If any of you can acquire cappings then the best method I have found is to place the cappings in a filter bag (200 micron is fine available on eBay) and wash the honey with warm water into a stainless steel bucket. Do not use hot water as this will melt the wax and plug the filter bag. It takes a fair bit of manipulation and to acquire 20 lts of 1.1 must is about two hours work. I sterilise everything with sodium percarbonate. The washed cappings can be melted down but that is not as easy as it sounds as there will be a fair amount of propylis to deal with. If anyone is interested I can give some tips another day.

Once again thank you for the positive comments; I was not quite sure what to expect.

By the way if you wonder what i do for a living i am a petroleum chemist. Chemists tend to be fair brewers.

McMullan
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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by McMullan » Fri Oct 13, 2017 8:29 pm

£7.95 for a pound of quality honey produced locally sounds like a very good deal to me. I have about 4kg of heather honey. It tastes great to me. The plan was to make some Gosnells type 'mead', but I read that heather honey wasn't that great for mead. It's not something I know much about, so I'd be interested in your view, Carnot.

Jambo
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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by Jambo » Fri Oct 13, 2017 9:34 pm

According to what I have read heather honey makes superb mead but needs 5 yrs ageing to reach that point.

McMullan
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Re: Why honey is expensive

Post by McMullan » Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:20 pm

Jambo wrote:
Fri Oct 13, 2017 9:34 pm
According to what I have read heather honey makes superb mead but needs 5 yrs ageing to reach that point.
Thanks, Jambo. 5 years is an age :? I'm tempted to get some more honey to prove you right. A worthwhile investment, I'm sure. In the mean time, what are your views (or anyone else's) on a lower gravity Gosnells type 'mead' using heather honey? Has anyone tried this?

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