Searching for pure raw wilderness honey?
- Real honey that is as it was in the hive. Nothing added or taken away.
20 years ago I started on a mission to find the rawest, purest honey on Earth. A journey I began with my wife Karen and now walk alone.
You can join me in my raw honey adventure and discover some of these honeys right now.
Dear Honey Lover
Want to know the story behind the purest, rawest honey that you can buy - and how you can experience it?
It began with a pure accident.
Let me take you back to the Summer of '98.
It was baking hot and we were in my ‘74 Saab, my first car. Ancient. (They only produced the model for one year before they discovered a design fault, which would make it stall at tick over, like when you tried to move off from traffic lights!) It was a tank. Body was absolutely rigid. The back seat was covered in mildew.
Karen and I were driving around the south of France in this tank. One day the heat was just too much. We had to cool off.
Karen was looking at the map and spotted a large lake. ‘Let’s drive there’ she said ‘ It’s only ‘just’ over the border in Spain'.
So I started driving. She said ‘We’ll be there cooling off in the water in a couple of hours..'
Four hours later, we were lost high in the mountains (the Pyrenees, that divide France and Spain). It was getting dark and we were REALLY tired and crabby.
Fortunately, I spotted a little campsite. We pulled in, put the tent up, crawled into it and fell into a deep sleep.
Ten hours later I awoke with the heat beating down on the tent. I crawled out and found myself staring at what I could only describe as the most beautiful place I had ever seen.
The light revealed that the campsite was perched on a little terrace on the side of a mountain.
Looking down I could see tree tops peeping out from the morning mist in a valley below us.
Around my knees (yes I hadn’t stood up yet) were scores of bees working the flowers that covered the ground! The ground was humming!
Looking up I could see a forest blanketing the mountainside, rising right up to
the foot of some cliffs - a thousand or more metres
Higher still giant birds were circling the cliffs.
Eagles I thought….
'Karen, you've got to look at this' I said.
She emerged from the tent with a grumpy look on her face but then her expression changed to one of wonder.
I cannot tell you how overwhelmed we were with the magnificence of the mountain wilderness.
Thus began our love affair with this haven for nature, little touched by man with the odd bear, marmots, chamois, even a few wolves - and many birds.
We relished our beautiful few days in the Pyrenees, trekking through mountains, exploring ancient villages and eavesdropping on a world music festival in a medieval citadel called Ainsa.
But time was so short, and we had to leave all to quickly as we had a return ferry booked from France.
As we wound our way up the mountains towards the border with France we stopped in the square of a little mountain town and went into a shop full of cheeses from the local shepherds, local wines in barrels, giant tomatoes stacked up and all sorts of mountain arts and crafts.
I was drawn to a selection of local honey.
These were kinds of honey I just wasn’t familiar with - with names like Oak (whenever did you see Oak honey in Sainsburys?), Wild Lavender, Thyme and Rosemary.
I thought honey was well just honey, a sweet thick liquid. Nice but nothing special.
Was I ever wrong?
I bought a selection of these honeys as gifts for friends – and some for ourselves - and packed it away in the boot.
Didn’t think about it again until I got to properly unpacking the boot a few weeks later.
Then it sat in the corner of the kitchen for a few more days.
Then we tried it.
As I said, I had believed honey was just a pleasant sweet liquid.
This was completely different from any honey I had ever bought in the supermarket.
Yes, it was thicker, but it was the flavours that amazed us.
I didn’t realise that there were radically different types of honey. These had flavours that were like colours you’ve never seen before. I felt like a colorblind man seeing red and green for the first time - colors that used to be gray.
The Oak was rich, deep and strong – and not as sweet as the supermarket honey I had been used to.
The Orange, on the other hand was much lighter in flavour, and it had a beautiful citric zing to it.
These honeys had complex flavours, like fine wines or special coffee blends.
True connoisseurs call these flavours “notes.” Some of them linger. If you sample a world class honey, you’ll notice that the flavours go on and on - with a complexity of different flavours that delight the tongue.
You’ll find that, like with wines, certain honeys go with certain foods.
I began to feel as though my previous honey experience was that of a complete Philistine. Literally something came to life that had lain dormant.
I began to inquire. I had never known, until this point, that the plant or tree the bees went to affected the flavour of the honey. The flavor of a spoonful of forest honey can be nuanced by the mere presence of a patch of blackberries growing a quarter mile from the hive.
And a person whose tastes are sensitive can notice that difference. (Even on toast.)
(The beekeeper puts the hives close to a plant or tree species that is in flower – so for instance, in a Chestnut forest in June and with Oak trees in July.)
The soil also has a big effect - the French call it Terroir (pronouned Terwa).
Two of the same types of honey from different regions will taste utterly different. This is even influenced by the biota in the soil. The bacteria that grow in the soil form a rich ecosystem. The symbiotic bacteria next to the roots of a plant will protect it from predators and disease.
Those bacteria, in turn, influence the nutrients in the honey itself and lend to support of your own immune system.
The initial flavour hits your tongue but then a series of other complex flavours come through and then other flavours follow on. With a really good honey the flavour trail will keep on coming.
Take the Mountain….
Alvaro's Raw Mountain Honey starts with a dark, black tea tannin-like foretaste, easing into a very sweet and delicious main taste. It has caramel notes coming in around an essence of deep, black raisins and prunes, leaving a slightly ferrous tingle on the tongue.
The strong overall flavour makes it perfect for those who love dark, strong honeys.
Next time you eat Greek yogurt (plain, not that stuff loaded with sugar that they sell in Asda) or a good spanish cheese like Manchego, pour a spoonful of Alvaro’s Raw Mountain Honey and ordinary yogurt or cheese will come alive in your mouth.
You’ll still be relishing the memory at your 10:30am coffee break. When you get home you’ll want to have some more.
This was the start of a deep dive into honey and more importantly the world of raw honey.
I began reading everything I could about honey.
I discovered that the honey you buy in the supermarket bears little resemblance to the stuff that comes out of the hive.
Most honey is highly processed – pasteurised and fine filtered and then blended. (Like really cheap tea.)
Which destroys the original character of the substance the bees worked so hard to produce.
This is how it happens.
If you examine the label of a honey on the shelf at your local supermarket, you will often see the following phrase: “A blend of EU & non EU honeys.”
Its sourced by the supermarket buyers from places China, Argentina, Ukraine, India and Turkey.
Then it is blended, heated and fine filtered to produce a uniform product that changes little year by year. This takes out a lot of the pollen, propolis and other bits that give honey its character.
You know virtually nothing about this honey. Ask yourself these questions.
- How could you know anything about the source of the honey if it came from so many different places?
- Was it produced close to pollution sources?
- Was it produced in a place where crops are sprayed with lethal poisons? (Yes, sure of course it will have been tested and safe to eat but with the quantities of honey the supermarkets need there is no way they will have checked all the beekeepers.)
- Did the beekeeper treat his bees well and leave them enough honey ?
- Which flowers was it from?
The result is a bland honey which has no real character. It’s like a cheap instant coffee compared to real coffee from carefully roasted beans.
I also learnt that there were some appalling practices in the production of ‘industrial’ honey – like killing the bees when the honey is harvested; taking all the honey and replacing it all with sugar syrup and giving the bees all kinds of chemical treatments, which undoubtedly compromise future honey.
So it became clear to me that the production of industrial honey was completely different to a more traditional style of beekeeping by artisan beekeepers – guys with no more than a few hundred hives, who really care for their bees.
(The bees also care about them. Bees are smart. They are very sensitive to their environment, and their brains, though tiny, have ten times the neuron density as a human brain.)
So began my personal raw honey obsession.
I became enraptured with the importance of bees to our entire ecosystem.
And the fact that they are so under threat. (The University of Reading found honey bee numbers had dropped by 54% between 1985 and 2010.)
The mountain wilderness in the Pyrenees became our regular holiday destination. Each year we would return to Brighton with more and more honey – as gifts for family and friends and to last us until the next trip.
By about 2006 we were supplying a large circle of friends and family with honey.
Karen said: 'Maybe we should try and set up a business selling raw honey. There just don't seem to be any honeys like these available in Britain'.
So, early 2008 we decided we would try and go and see Ramon,, the guy whose honey we bought in the shop on the Spanish/French border. The plan was to talk to him about wholesaling the honey.
Karen, who spoke fluent Spanish tried to call Ramon
He didn't have a website and we got no response to repeated phone calls and text messages.
But we were determined to go and see Ramon.
I bought ferry tickets.
The day for departure got closer and closer. Still no response from Ramon.
Perhaps he just wasn’t interested in selling honey to us?
More messages to his phone. But nothing.
We became despondent. Was our trip going to be wasted?
There was no address on his honey labels, just a phone number and email address - so I didn’t know how we were going to find him.
Eventually, the night before we were due to get the ferry Ramon finally called.
The next day we drove down through France with lighter hearts anticipating meeting Ramon.
Finding his house was a mission - you have to remember that this was in the days before satnav was common. We couldn’t find his house on the map.
In the end we got completely lost and he came to find us.
Ramon said 15 minutes but it was an hour and a half later when he turned up - just as we were about to head off and find a hotel for the night.
I suppose we were expecting a little old man dressed in a beekeepers suit but that wasn’t Ramon. There in front of us was a hip looking dude, but not in the least bit pretentious and very very earnest about his honey.
So we got to meet Ramon, his wife Begona and their three sons Jonathon, Mario and Alessandro. They were involved in the family's honey business and running a small holding that provided almost all their food.
Begona had prepared a feast for us.
It was a cold day and we sat in front of a roaring fire waiting for the meal whilst Ramon told us about his philosophy of beekeeping and we tried different types of honey on bread that Begona had just baked.
This was heaven.
What we heard was pleasing and reassuring. Ramon was very committed to raw honey and to a traditional style of beekeeping.
He told us that he never pasteurises his honey because that would damage the properties and how it is only run through a coarse filter so that pollen, propolis and other bits remains in the honey – ensuing it is completely raw.
He said he wanted to produce 'a honey, like the honey of old'. That he doesn't give his bees antibiotics or any chemical medicines.
Ramon doesn't add anything to his honey or take anything away.
So that evening we loaded up my van with 8 boxes containing 96 jars of eight varieties. (By the way the Saab was long gone, I had just bought an ex AA van with the idea of picking honey up from beekeepers across Europe).
Back in England I got someone to build a simple website and then we placed a few adverts on google.
Sales started coming in and shops and co-ops began calling up wanting to stock the honey.
From that beginning in early 2008 began Pyrenees Honey, which we later renamed The Raw Honey Shop.
And the obsession with raw honey just kept growing.
Soon we were visiting other beekeepers, seeking out more kinds of honeyNext was Antonio Simon - he truly looked the part. A short man with curly grey hair whose organic hives were in a Biosphere Reserve in the mountains north of Madrid.
(His Wild Lavender is fabulous and his Eucalyptus just won in the Great Taste Awards.)
Then there was Luisa, our first female beekeeper. She produces a few varieties of dark creamed honeys in Asturias, a green and forested region in northern Spain- along with her daughter Olaya.
(Her dark, dark Forest has deep, full bodied, slightly smoky, earthy tones, that deliver a more savoury taste than most other honeys. It has a slightly bitter taste.)
Now there are maybe eight or nine artisan beekeepers who we regularly get honey from - like Thomas and his amazing beekeeping family in Greece.
They craft mainly thick dark honeys with a very low moisture content- like his thick Mountain Oak, that gradually eases off the spoon, like a slow-moving lava flow.
And there’s Plamen in Bulgaria, who has a little stone and wood house in a meadow, facing his beehives.
Through these beekeepers our commitment is to raw artisan honey, mainly organic.
Soon we will have some of our own hives in Greece.
Why should you trust our honey?
These are some of the steps we take.
- Monitor the beekeepers: I visit all our beekeepers regularly and spend time with them, observing their practices and helping them.
- Wilderness honey: The honey comes from wild out of the way places, away from sprayed crops, industrial pollution and major roads
- Test the honey: We regularly test samples of the honey for contamination by pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics (as well as pollution).
- Organic: We are organically certified for many of our honeys, which means the beekeepers are monitored by the organic authorities (who make unannounced visits to the beekeepers to check they are following organic principles).
- Superior flavour: We are especially in terested in gourment honeys. Many of our honey types wins awards. From our current range there are 12 honeys that have been selected because of the superb complexity of their flavours.
I spend a lot of time visiting the beekeepers, spending time with them and observing their practices - as well as seeking out new honeys from new beekeepers.
Right now you can buy more than 30 different types of raw honey from us - more than any other honey company we know of.
However, I should point out that raw unprocessed honey is not for everyone because of the following:
If you still want to try some raw honey then we suggest that you start with some of the most popular honeys from this selection.
And if you have any questions please feel free to and we will do our best to provide an answer.
There are three of us at The Raw Honey Shop office in Brighton - Ombeline who answers most of the calls is on +44 (0) 1273 682109. You may also get Claire or myself. Depends on who is around.
Or you can email me via [email protected] if you want to ask anything about the honeys - or about the 'honey journey' I've been on.
Our orders are packed in a small warehouse in Uckfield.
Your honey can be delivered to you within 48 hours if you order before 1pm Monday to Friday.
Happy honey tasting.
Tim - Owner, The Raw Honey Shop.
Postscript: I founded the company with my wife Karen. I’m sad to say she became very ill and despite fighting the illness for three years passed away. She wanted me to carry on after her passing and that is what I am now doing.
How soon will I receive my order?
If you order before 1pm Monday to Friday, your honey should be delivered within 48 hours but more often than not 24 hours.
How do you flavour your honeys?
We don't! The bees flavour them. The flavour comes from the nectar from the flower types the bees make the honey from. If the honey type is Wild Lavender then this means the beekeeper has put the hives amidst the Wild Lavender when it was flowering. The bees will mainly collect from what is near to the hive.
What does ‘raw’ mean?
When we say our honey is raw, we mean a few things.
First and foremost is that it has not been pasteurised or fine filtered. We want the honey in our jars to be just as natural as it is when the bees produce it in their hives. Pasteurisation is done using high temperatures (often 63 degrees C or more), and fine-filtering removes much of the pollen and other small bits naturally found in honey. These processes significantly damage the flavour and beneficial properties of the honey, and we want to make sure our products are as healthy, natural, and tasty as possible. Any honey you see without the word 'raw' on the label will have been processed in these ways and possibly others.
We also only use honey from individual beekeepers. Most of the honeys you see in the supermarkets will have been produced by many different beekeepers in many different places (EU and non-EU), then blended together in a facility to ensure a very consistent end product. All our honeys are unblended and come from individual beekeepers with their own hives and bees.
To ensure the best quality honey possible, we will only ever carry completely unpasteurised, only coarse-filtered, completely raw honey - the way honey should be.
Why are some products labeled 'organic' and others are not? What is the difference between 'organic' and 'raw'?
While all of our honeys are raw, some are also 'organic'. This means the beekeeper has had a third-party certifier inspect their hives, processes, and the land around the hives for sources of contamination. The process can take three years to go through and is quite expensive, which means not all of our beekeepers have gone through the certification. That said, all our beekeepers use natural, traditional processes without the use of harmful pesticides, and all place their hives in remote areas far from sources of pollution. They also all have periodic testing of their honeys done to be sure there are no problems.
We consider all our products to be pure and completely natural.
Do your beekeepers feed sugar to their bees?
We do not purchase or sell any honeys that have been produced by bees while they have been fed any type of sugar solution or fondant. Our beekeepers leave enough honey and pollen in the hives for the bees to keep themselves fed through the leaner parts of the year. The hives are designed such that there is a compartment for the queen and her bees to keep their brood and store enough honey and pollen for themselves and there are separate compartments, which keep the queen (and the baby bees) out, where the worker bees will store extra honey and pollen. With years of experience in beekeeping in their regions, the beekeepers only take honey from the non-brood rearing areas of the hive, where the honey is excess to the needs of the bees.
The only circumstance under which our beekeepers would feed their bees is when the winter is particularly long and then is perhaps followed by a wet Spring. This is a situation where the bees would die if they were in the wild. This is uncommon, but if the bees might die without extra help, we'd prefer the beekeepers keep their bees alive with some supplementary feeding. The bees would not be producing any harvestable honey during these periods as they would need it all for themselves, but that being said, even if there were some extra honey produced, we would not sell it.
Why has my honey crystalised? Is something wrong with it?
No, nothing is wrong with your honey. All honey crystalises. Some types of honey (eg: acacia) take much longer than other types, but this is a completely natural process that will happen to all honeys sooner or later. Honey which has been processed (pasteurised and fine-filtered) will generally take longer than raw honey to crystalise, but even this honey will crystalise eventually.
We only supply completely raw honey, which has the good bits still in it - the pollen and sometimes larger bits of propolis, beeswax and royal jelly. So, don't worry if you notice small bits in your honey, but likewise, don't worry if you don't see them - individual grains of pollen are very, very small and may not be easy to see with the naked eye. These bits give the natural sugars in honey 'seeds' from which to start crystalising, which means our honey will often set more quickly than other less raw honey.
The amount of time it takes for a particular honey to crystalise depends on numerous factors, including the temperature at which the honey is stored, the amount of pollen and other bits in the honey, the proportion of natural glucose, the moisture content, the size of the container, etc ... All these factors together make it impossible to predict exactly when a particular honey will crystalise, but we update the state of each of our honeys every two weeks, so do check the product descriptions to see the current state of the honey you are interested in purchasing.
How can I test my honey?
Everyone wants to know their honey is pure and natural, especially these days where stories of fraud, contamination, and deception are constantly appearing. This is why you'll find lots of home testing methods demonstrated online or being passed around by word of mouth. Do not trust these! It'd be great to think there are simple, at-home methods to accurately test your honey, but the truth is none of these methods will tell you much of anything about the honey's quality, purity, production, or anything else. Burning your honey, dropping it in water or on your nail, shaking it up, looking for honeycomb patterns, etc ... They're all fake tests.
So how do you test honey? Basically, it has to be tested in a lab. There are a variety of tests than can be done, testing for the honey's general physical characteristics, the honey's pollen content, sugar content, pesticide amounts, etc ... These can cost anywhere from £50 to £2000. We work with our beekeepers to have some of these tests done periodically on different batches to be sure the quality is kept high. So far, we have never found any sign of contamination or alteration among our beekeepers. If we ever found one of our beekeepers to have engaged in deceptive practices, we would cut off our business relationship with them immediately and notify anyone affected.
We make sure to work directly with the beekeepers instead of going through lots of middle men. This includes regular visit to the hives and locations where the honey is produced. We also take part in beekeeping training to make sure we know exactly what to look for on our visits. This ensures we know exactly where the honey has been produced, how it has been produced, and who has produced it. We build long-term relationships with our beekeepers over the course of many years, establishing strong levels of trust. You can find out more about our trips to visit the beekeepers by signing up for our email list and by checking out our blog.
We will only ever sell the highest quality, pure and natural honey - always raw, just as it comes from the hives.
Does honey expire or go off?
No! Honey never expires or goes off so long as it is kept in its container with the lid on (this prevents too much moisture from getting in, which may allow the yeasts in the honey to begin fermentation). It is unique amongst foods in this ability to stay good forever. Honey from hundreds and even thousands of years of ago has been recovered from archeological sites, and it is still perfectly fine to eat.
All honeys are required to have a Best Before End (different from expiry) date, but this date is mostly to signify how long the beekeepers think it will be before the honeys will almost certainly be fully crystalised (some will crystalise far more quickly of course). The best before date also takes into account possible temperature variations and the repeated opening of the jars, which may, over time, degrade the colour and flavour of the honey, but this date is set very conservatively just to be sure. In general, though, so long as it has been stored properly, honey past this date will still be perfectly safe and delicious no matter if it's runny, fully crystalised, or somewhere in between.
How do I store and use my Honey/Royal Jelly/Pollen/Propolis?
Honey, honeycomb and dried pollen are best stored with the lid fully closed and out of direct sunlight. If you can keep it somewhere that stays a bit warm (but not too hot), then the honey will generally stay runny a bit longer as well.
For chilled products such as our fresh pollen and fresh royal jelly, you should store the products in the refrigerator if you are going to be using them right away. Otherwise, they can be stored in the freezer for future use.
There are no specific dosage amounts for any of these products, but we would remind everyone that honey is a solution of natural sugars in water, and so care should be taken when consuming large amounts of honey. For royal jelly, we suggest a pea-sized amount each day. For pollen, we recommend a teaspoon per day. Finally, for propolis tincture, we suggest a few drops each day.
As with any products you haven't tried before, start with a small amount and see how you feel before increasing the quantity.
Why don’t you carry more UK honey?
For better or worse, we love honey here in the UK, and people consume far more honey than is produced locally! This makes the supply we can access quite small most of the time, which causes us a few added difficulties. The UK also only produces a few varieties due to the mostly mixed environment, with very few areas in which there are large expanses where single types of nectar-producing plants dominate. Because of these reasons, the UK honey supply is often too limited for our shop.
Additionally, because the UK tends to have quite a lot of conventional agriculture and other built up areas, there are very few places where we would trust the honey not to be contaminated at least at a low level by pesticides or pollution. This affects the bees and the honey.
We love to provide lots of interesting and exciting varieties of pure and natural raw honey to our customers, and for this, we need to look slightly further afield. That said, do support your local beekeepers where possible, and if you find a particularly delicious UK honey, please let us know!