Tips to help test the quality of honey in Kenyan markets

Some unscrupulous traders mix honey with water, or molasses for profit – usually at the expense of unsuspecting customers who cannot tell real from fake honey

By Zablon Oyugi

Since the news that honey mixed with garlic, ginger and lemon not only boost one’s immune system but also effective against common cold, flu and dry coughs, there has been a surge in demand for the sweetener.

Honey is also a great antioxidant which ensures a smooth moisturised, healthy skin.

As a result of this high demand, greed-motivated sellers have emerged peddling a mixture of molasses (sukari nguru) camouflaged as genuine honey.

And they do the mixture so well that most of the time it is hard for consumers to tell the difference between real and fake honey just by observing.

Newton Kariuki, top honey expert at the National Beekeeping Institute in Nairobi says random samples taken from time to time from honey retailers countrywide for tests confirms that quality of the product is highly compromised.

“We have noticed, through random checks from time to time, that 50 per cent of honey sold to Kenyans is adulterated but further inquiries are being conducted to ascertain the situation and know the cause,” said the head of training at the institute.

And while misinformation also contributes to people buying substandard honey, here is how to tell fake from genuine or pure honey.

Simple ways to tell fake from pure honey

As a common consumer looking for honey in the market, there might be no time to take the product to the laboratory for tests to prove it before you buy.

However, here are some simple testing methods, yet very effective.

Water test

Here, you will need a teaspoon of honey. Put the honey in a glass full of water.

Take note that fake or adulterated honey will dissolve in the water while pure honey, which has a denser texture, will settle right at the bottom of the glass as lumps.

The same is the case with blotting paper or a white cloth. If you pour pure honey on either, it will not get absorbed or leave stains, but fake honey will.

Thumb test

This can be done by a small amount of honey on your thumb and check if it spills or spreads around like any other liquid.

Pure natural honey has good density and stickiness, so when applied to any surface it does not drip or run down. If it does, it may not be pure.

Pure honey is thick while impure honey will be runny. Pure honey sticks to the surface it is applied to and doesn’t drip off. Moreover, the taste of impure honey may linger due to the presence of added sugar.

Vinegar test

It is proven that vinegar and honey mixed can be an easy hack to spot fake honey from pure honey.

To perform this test, try mixing a few drops of honey into a solution of water and vinegar.

If the mixture starts to foam, it might be a sign that the quality of your honey has been contaminated and you are not having the real, pure one.


Paper test

If pure honey is placed on a paper towel or a napkin, it will remain solid and do not get absorbed if it is pure or else it will get absorbed and wet the paper.

Flame test

A dry matchstick dipped in honey and again stricken against the matchbox will light if the honey is pure.

If it does not light, it may be adulterated and may also contain some amount of moisture added during contamination.

Take note, but pure honey is inflammable. Therefore, this test should be carried out by utmost caution as performing it poses much risk.

Bread test

If some honey samples are spread on a slice of bread and the bread becomes crispy or crunchy on the top of the bread slice within a few minutes, then it is pure.

However, if the honey is impure, it will make the bread soggy because of additives.

When spread on a slice of bread, the slice of bread hardens in minutes, meanwhile with impure honey the bread gets wet due to moisture in the honey.

Heat test

Heated pure honey caramelizes quickly and not become foamy. But, in case of impure honey, it may not caramelize and become bubbly on heating.

Egg yolk test

If pure honey is poured into a container with yolk alone and the mixture stirred together the yolk appears like it is cooked.

On the other hand, fake honey has no effect on the yolk.

More other simple methods

While the methods above are effective, other methods to test pure from fake honey exist, such as:

Taste: The taste of pure honey vanishes in a matter of minutes, though heating and cooling many times may alter the taste. On the flip side, the taste of fake honey remains longer because of the presence of sugar.

Stickiness: Pure honey is not sticky if rubbed between fingers, but fake honey may be sticky due to additional sweeteners.

Thickness: Pure honey is thick and takes time to move from one surface or jar to another while fake honey is very light and runny.

Refining honey

To make it look clear and attractive to customers, some companies engage in the honey refining process by use of heat followed by ultrafiltration.

The resulting product is a very clean looking honey that can stay for months or years without going bad. However, the downside is that heat destroys honey.

“Heat dentures the enzymes present in the honey, kills the vitamins and minerals and after filtration, the beneficial traces of propolis and pollen are all removed leaving only sucrose and fructose, maltose and glucose,” said Charles Mokua, Sales Lead at Buzz Honey Enterprises.

He adds, raw honey which has not been heated or filtered crystallizes naturally and automatically even though some varieties are more resistant to crystallization than others.

Because of that, some tend to take several days to crystallize while others, such as Eucalyptus honey would take several months. But raw honey is the best to consume whether crystallized or not.


Types of honey

There are more than 300 different types of honey and each one has distinctive taste, consistency, flavor, and uses.

Furthermore, each variety has specific nutrients and can offer different health benefits when consumed regularly.

Some of the commonly known types include acacia honey, buckwheat honey, sage honey, eucalyptus honey, Manuka honey and Clover honey among others.


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