Honey Legislation: Parameters, Criteria & Limits
What you need to know to sell your honey in the local and global market
In order for beekeepers to sell their honey products in the market, they need to comply with specific labelling and quality criteria. This may include providing information about the honey’s weight, origin, and producer, as well as meeting specific quality standards related to moisture content, colour, and flavour. Compliance with food safety regulations and restrictions on the use of certain chemicals in honey production may also be required. By meeting these criteria, beekeepers can ensure that their honey products are safe, authentic, and high-quality and can build trust with their customers.
Legislation regarding honey varies by country but typically involves regulations on labelling, composition, and quality standards.
For example, in the United States, honey must be labelled with its weight, country of origin, and the packer’s or distributor’s name and address. It must also meet specific quality standards, such as having a moisture content of less than 18.6% and not containing any added substances except for honey produced by bees.
The European directive 2001/110/EC and the Codex Alimentarius are laying down the production and parameters of honey within the EU’s Member States.
According to Codex Alimentarius, consumers have the right to receive truthful information about the food they will consume.
It is also mentioned that honey should not:
- have any added ingredients,
- have any foreign matter, flavor, aroma, or taint absorbed from foreign substances during processing and storage,
- have nor any removal of a particular constituent.
- be heated or processed to such an extent that its essential composition is changed and its quality impaired.
Some of the parameters laid down in the legislation are:
- Moisture content: the moisture content should not exceed 20% for the majority of honeys, 23% for heather honey and 18.5% for fir honey. The extra moisture is mainly due to poor storage and ageing of the honey and less frequent adulteration by adding water to increase the weight. Excess water leads to the drying of the honey.
- Content of non-water-soluble substances: Generally, not more than 0.1% and for pressure honey not more than 0.5%. Therefore, beware of producers who leave residues in their honey for various reasons, as the legislation does not allow this.
- Fructose and glucose content: They are the good sugars in honey, so the legislation requires their sum to be greater than 60% for flower honey or 45% for honeydew honey or honeydew-flower mixture. The reason for this difference is that honeydew honey naturally contains fewer sugars.
- Electrical Conductivity: An important parameter for the classification of honey even though there is a lot of confusion with this parameter. There is a special classification depending on the type of honey. Generally, what is true is that honeydew honey should have a conductivity greater than 0.8 mS/cm while flower honey conductivity should be less than 0.8 mS/cm. Exceptions to this rule include honey of heather (Erica), eucalyptus, lily of the valley (Tilia spp.), manuka (Leptospermum), tea plant (Melaleuca spp.) which may have conductivity greater than 0.8 mS/cm. Thus pine honey must have a conductivity >0.9 mS/cm, fir honey >1.0 mS/cm, chestnut honey >1.1 mS/cm, thyme honey <0.6 mS/cm and orange honey <0.45 mS/cm.
- Sucrose content: The sucrose content shall not exceed 5%. Sucrose is at high levels when bee feeds are used, especially when bee feeds are added incorrectly. Due to good practice by beekeepers in Greek honey, sucrose content rarely exceeds 1%.
- HMF content. The maximum value is 40 mg/kg. Honey that has been heated to crystallize has a high HMF value. Also, high HMF values are found in honey where beekeepers have used forage, while increased, but low values are found in aged honey.
- Diastase activity: honey should have a value greater than 8, except orange honey which should have a value >3. The diastasis decreases with heating and ageing. The diastase in combination with the sucrose value and the HMF value can be an indicator of adulteration.
- Free acids: Their value should not exceed 50 meq/kg sample. Increased acidity is found in honeydew honey and aged honey.
- Hygroscopic analysis: This is necessary when the honey is labelled as to its botanical origin (e.g. thyme honey, pine honey, etc.).
- Nutritional labelling: honey is a natural product, so according to EU Regulation 1169/2011, no nutritional labelling is required. However, there are cases where this is required, such as export to the USA and Canada, where the following analyses are also required: Vitamin D, calcium, potassium and iron.
- Additional analyses: Depending on the country of handling or export, you may also be asked for an analysis of pesticides and antibiotics that may have been used to combat varroa and other cases.
Table 1: Compositions Criteria as laid down in the Directive 2001/110 EU
|Directive 2001/110 EU|
|Composition criteria||Blossom Honey||Honeydew honey*|
|Fructose + Glucose (%)||>60||>45|
|Sucrose (%)||<5||Medicago, Eucalyptus, and Citrus sp. <15||<5|
|Water Soluble (%)||<0.1||Pressed honey <0.5||<0.1|
|Electrical conductivity mS/cm||<0.8||Chestnut, Arbutus, Erica, Eucalyptus, Tilia, Calluna, Manuka and Melaleuca||>0.8|
|Free acid meq/kg||<50||Baker’s honey <80||<50|
|Diastase activity DN||>8||baker’s honey and honey with low natural enzyme content: >3 when HMF is less than 15 mg/kg||>8|
|HMF mg.kg/1||<40||baker’s honey, Honeys of tropical climate and blends of these honey <80||<40|
*Honeydew honey and blends of honeydew honey with blossom honey.
The table below (Table 2) presents the minimum percentage of pollen required for the characterization of monofloral honey in four European countries according to their national legislation (provisions, decisions, guidelines).
Table 2: minimum percentage of pollen required for the characterization of monofloral honey in four European countries ( The Toxic Impact of honey adulteration: A review)
|Pollen grains||Greece (%)||Italy (%)||Germany (%)||Serbia (%)|
|Castanea sativa (chestnut honey)||87||–||90||85|
|Citrus spp. (citrus honey)||3||10||20||–|
|Gossypium (cotton honey)||3||–||–||–|
|Erica spp (heather honey)||45||–||45||–|
|Eucalyptus spp. (eucalyptus honey)||–||–||85||–|
|Thymus sp (Thyme honey)||18||15||–||–|
|Trifolium (Clover honey)||–||–||70||–|
|Helianthus (sunflower honey)||20||–||50||40|
Honey Counterfeit and Adulteration
What is Honey Counterfeit and Adulteration and How to Recognise-Detect it
Food adulteration is a major concern for consumers as it reduces food quality and leads to several adverse health effects. It is necessary to evaluate the value of food by conducting authentic testing and toxicology analysis of adulterants, to ensure consumer protection against fraudulent activitiesThis helps to detect and prevent the addition of harmful substances in food products and to maintain their authenticity.
Although honey is considered a premium food item, it is vulnerable to unethical actions such as blending with lower-quality honey, mixing with less expensive sweeteners, and adding other substances, which could lead to adulteration and incorrect labeling. Additionally, sometimes it is common to change the honey’s origin to sell it at higher prices.
The practice of honey adulteration occurs for various reasons, including the desire to improve flavor by adding sugars to meet consumer preferences or to increase profits by blending low-quality, inexpensive honey with premium honey to increase volume.
Direct honey adulteration
The most common form of direct honey adulteration involves the direct addition of a specific quantity of sucrose syrup to the honey. The source of syrup could be sugar beet, fructose corn syrup, maltose syrup, cane sugar syrup, corn sugar syrup, or industrial sugar syrups obtained from heat, enzyme, or acid treatment of starch.
Indirect honey adulteration
During indirect honey adulteration, large amounts of sugar syrup are often fed to bee colonies during the primary nectar flow period. In this process, low-quality honey, industrial sugars, and chemicals can be incorporated into honey as a result of a natural process that takes place in the bees’ digestive system.
It is another method of honey adulteration whereby high-quality and rare honey is mixed with cheaper, lower-quality, less nutritious honey. Adulterating pure honey with synthetic honey has become more common in recent years.
Analysis methods to define honey quality
There are many methods to investigate honey’s identity and quality.
- Physicochemical methods involve analysing honey’s physical and chemical properties such as moisture content, pH, color, sugar content, and enzyme activity (See table).
- Microscopic analysis involves identifying and counting pollen grains present in honey to determine the floral source.
- Sensory analysis involves using human senses to assess the taste, aroma, and texture of honey.
- Molecular analysis involves DNA testing to identify the floral source and verify the authenticity of honey.
- Isotopic analysis involves measuring the stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen to determine the geographic origin of honey and detect any adulteration.
- Protein analysis involves identifying and measuring the major proteins present in honey to distinguish between honey produced by different honeybee species. The protein content is a reliable factor in investigating honey adulteration in samples with less than 30% added sugar.
An example is the determination of the quantity of HMF (hydroxymethyl furfural). When honey is heated at high temperatures or stored under poor conditions for a long period of time, the nutrient values decrease and the amount of HMF (hydroxymethyl furfural) increases. The maximum amount of HMF should be 40mg/kg.
Andreas Thrasyvoulou, Chrysoula Tananaki, Georgios Goras, Emmanuel Karazafiris, Maria Dimou, Vasilis Liolios, Dimitris Kanelis & Sofia Gounari (2018) Legislation of honey criteria and standards, Journal of Apicultural Research, 57:1, 88-96, DOI: 10.1080/00218839.2017.1411181
Fakhlaei R, Selamat J, Khatib A, Razis AFA, Sukor R, Ahmad S, Babadi AA. The Toxic Impact of Honey Adulteration: A Review. Foods. 2020; 9(11):1538. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods9111538
EC. (2001). Council directive 2001/110/EC of 20 December 2001 relating honey. Official Journal of the European Communities 12.1.2002 L10/47-52.
EU. (2005). Explanatory note on the implementation of council directive 2001/110/EC relating to honey. Brussels, D (2005) 9538 Note expl.61913.Oct.2005.
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Honey Legislation: Parameters, Criteria & Limits