Do you get a little overwhelmed by the extensive selection of honey available in the store? Do you go for the dark or the light, the raw or the organic? You just want honey that tastes like honey, so it’s easy to wonder why there are so many different kinds available and why, if they’re all produced by busy bees, are they not all the same?
Honey is graded into four sections, Grade A, Grade B, Grade C, and anything below a Grade C is classified as Substandard while Grade A is of superior quality. The grading is not dependent on the nutritional value of the honey, but is determined by other factors such as clarity and flavor.
While there are no official regulations in place for honey grading, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a guideline to grading honey based on a scoring system that rates the quality of the honey against multiple factors. Curious to know more about honey grading? Read on bee-low to find out what you need to know about the multiple grades of honey.
Why is Honey Graded?
Honey is graded so that only good quality honey makes it to the shelves in your local supermarket. Without the grading system guidelines mentioned above, you might find all sorts of undesirable kinds of honey for sale that should probably never have made it to the shelf.
Would you enjoy eating honey that you find has actual bees in it? Me neither.
What Grade is Best for Honey
Just like the grading system in most schools, gaining an A for the quality of the honey is the best score for honey to achieve.
There are four grades concerning grading honey and each grade is based on standards measured to achieve the desired outcome in honey quality before the honey is used for any purposes, including commercial sale.
Here are the achievable grades and what each grade means for the honey:
Grade A – Darker Amber Honey
Grade A honey is the finer quality of honey out of the four levels of the grading system and is generally the only honey grade you will find in commercial shopping centers.
Amber-colored honey might look more appealing than dark honey, but when it comes to superior honey, the darker it is, the better it is.
Grade B – Amber Honey
The second-best honey on the market.
Although Grade B honey is suitable for consumption, you will mostly find B graded honey in smaller, local stores such as health food shops, natural food stores, and fresh food and Sunday markets.
The kind of honey you might see Winnie the Pooh eating from his beloved honey jar is Grade B Amber honey. There is a fine line between the quality of Grade B and Grade A and some grade B kinds of honey will make it on the shelf because the quality scores high enough based on the guidelines provided by the USDA.
Grade C – Light Honey
While C Grade honey is of fairly reasonable quality it doesn’t meet the consumer standards required to be sold commercially as it would not be able to make any or much profit due to the consistency, color, and fermentation of the honey being undesirable to patrons.
Substandard – White Honey
Anything less than a Grade C, again much like schooling grades, is basically a fail. You won’t see substandard honey on shopping shelves, in markets, in smaller stores, or anywhere other than the trash.
Substandard honey comes with too many imperfections and
How are Honey Grades Determined?
You might think that honey is graded by its nutritional or dietary value, but if that’s what you were thinking, you’d be wrong.
Honey is graded based on scores for meeting certain requirements that have nothing to do with nutrition and everything to do with the way the honey looks, tastes, and smells.
Here’s how the scores work:
- If the honey is scored with a total of 90 points or above, it registers as a Grade A honey.
- If the honey is scored with a minimum of 80 up to 89 points, it registers as a Grade B honey.
- If the honey is scored with 70 – 79 points, it registers as a Grade C honey.
- Anything below a score of 70 points is deemed substandard honey and is not suitable for sale or consumption.
To reach these scores, there is a set of requirements or unofficial guidelines that the honey has to go through to be scored accurately and fairly against. There are three scoring parts to the grading system, and they are for clarity, flavor and aroma, and absence of defects.
Find out more about each honey grade and how the scores are determined by the following factors below:
The clarity of the honey is based on whether it’s clear, reasonably clear, or fairly clear. Based on the number of bubbles, granules, and crystals in the honey is how the clarity is ranked. Essentially, the clearer the honey is, the higher score it will get.
Grades A, B, and C, may have air bubbles, but the appearance of the bubbles does not affect the product.
Grades A and B will have minimal bubbles while Grade C will generally have more bubbles and will also have more visible pollen grains than Grades A and B.
The clarity score will also be affected by the cloudiness of the honey, crystallization, and granulation.
The higher the score, the higher the grade, and the lower the score, the lower the grade. Anything below 4 points would lead to the substandard category where honey becomes useless.
Flavor and aroma
The flavor and aroma rating of the honey is based on how good it tastes and smells. Again, this is based on good, reasonable, and fair ratings based on possible included chemicals, the floral source of the nectar, a smoke taste from smoking the bees, the fermentation process, and if the honey has been blended.
|Flavor & Aroma||Points Awarded||Grade|
|Reasonably good||40-44||Grade B|
|Fairly good||35-39||Grade C|
The nicer the blend and the aroma, the higher points the honey will score.
Blended honey is the combination of two or more types of honey amalgamated into one batch. Most jars of honey sold in bulk amounts for commercial purposes is blended honey.
Absence of imperfections
In terms of honey and quality, imperfections can include comb particles, pollen grains, propolis from various plants and trees, and any other defects that may have made their way into the honey.
Other defects can also include parts of the bee, dirt, and other particles not classified as pure honey.
|Absence of Imperfections||Points Awarded||Grade|
|Practically free||37-40||Grade A|
|Reasonably Free||34-36||Grade B|
|Fairly Free||31-33||Grade C|
Anything less than a score of 30 will result in substandard honey.
This will also be referred to as moisture content and this part of the grading process is based on how much moisture is in the honey.
Just like the color of the honey, the moisture content is not based on a numbered score but has its own system based on what percentage of the honey is water content.
Both Grades A and B will have no more than 18.6% moisture content while Grade C has a maximum of 20%. Anything above 20% is substandard.
Is the Color of Honey Important?
The color of the honey is not included in the grading system of honey but still plays an important part, nonetheless. Once honey has been given a designated grade, a familiar color usually accompanies the grade.
|Grade A||Dark Amber|
|Grade C||Light Amber|
|Substandard||Light or white|
Typical honey colors vary from:
- water white or transparent
- extra white
- extra light amber
- light amber
- dark amber
The way that honey color is determined is measured by something called a Pfund scale.
What is a Pfund scale?
In short, the Pfund scale is a color chart that runs from water white to dark amber to compare and determine the color of honey.
While the color is important, does it matter?
Although the color of honey is not part of the grading system it is still a very huge factor in what appeals to consumers and what makes larger-scale operations decide is the right honey for selling. If consumers suddenly become more interested in white honey for its very subtle and light flavors, we’ll see more white honey on the shelves than amber.
Did you know that the color, as well as the flavor of honey, can differ depending on where the bees have sourced their nectar from? Different flowers have different minerals, and this will add components to their honey that will result in different consistencies and colors.
Some plants that bees get their nectar from are only found in certain parts of the world and as such, this means that while honey is produced in almost every country, some types of honey are only produced in specific countries.
Manuka honey for example is only produced in New Zealand.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing which color honey is the right honey for you:
- Usually, darker colored honey has a bold and strong flavor, while lighter colored honey is milder in taste
- Blended honey is also made to make a more consistent color for larger manufacturing of quality-looking honey
- Blended honey can also come from multiple obtained honey production sites
- Darker colored honey is usually higher in antioxidants
- Honey is a good substitute for sugar
- Lighter colored honey can work well in baking
Honey can change color over time, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it has gone “bad” but you may find it tastes different from when you originally bought or tried it.
Once manufactured, the color of honey will change depending on its age and how you store it. You may find over time that your honey has solidified or crystallized. Usually, it’s still fine to eat if you put it in a warm bowl of water to let the honey liquidize until it is smooth or goopy again.
What Does Choice-Grade Honey Mean?
You may have heard of the term ‘choice-grade honey’ and wondered what it means. Is it the best-graded honey like a Grade A honey? or is it a more popular choice among consumers because of its taste?
Choice-grade honey is also referred to as natural or raw honey and it’s considered ‘choice-grade’, because of its multiple and nutritious benefits. Confusingly enough, choice-grade honey is not Grade A honey and is more often Grade B honey because it has less clarity than Grade A.
Natural honey is honey that doesn’t have any added colors or the addition of another honey to make a certain color, artificial flavorings, and man-made synthetic compounds. Another reason they call it choice-grade honey is because it doesn’t go through a ‘pasteurization’ process like other honey types.
Natural honey still goes through a heating process, but the heating is mild compared to the heating that pasteurized honey goes through. As such, natural honey keeps most of its nutrients and this is why it will come with a ‘choice-grade’ label which doesn’t really have anything to do with the best graded honey.
What is pasteurization?
Pasteurization processes wipe out most of the good bacteria and minerals usually found in natural foods and drinks through extreme heating temperatures that destroy sugar-tolerant yeasts.
- Grade A honey is actually only made through pasteurization to get its clarity and clearness.
- Grade A honey is not raw, natural, or organic honey because it goes through the pasteurization process
Honey Types and Their Grades
Another confusing factor when trying to choose the right honey to buy, is the numerous varieties that come with each new label. Forget about the color and consistency, what’s the difference between raw, natural, organic, and all the other labels you see printed on store-bought honey.
Here are the different types of honey you might find at your local store:
- Raw honey
- Organic honey
- Pure honey
- Acacia honey
- Buckwheat honey
- Clover honey
- Wildflower honey
Ok, there are over 300 varieties of honey so we’re not going to list all of them, but you can take a look at this Honey Floral Source Guide for a few more varieties.
We will, however, explain the differences in the types of honey you can purchase:
Natural, Raw, and Choice-Grade Honey – Grade B
These types of honey are basically the same because they go through a similar process in their production stage, and are completely unfiltered.
Raw honey is unpasteurized honey which means it still contains its nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and natural enzymes that are great for our insides, in limited amounts.
Producing raw honey is typically better for the environment.
Organic Honey – Grade B
Unfortunately, when it comes to organic honey it’s hard to determine if it is in fact organic. Organic typically means that there have been no chemicals or pesticides, used in the honey-making process.
controlling organic environments is not an easy feat, especially when bays natural way of collecting pollen and nectar is to collect from 100 different flowers a day within a 2-mile radius. This means beekeepers need to ensure that the land within a 2-mile radius or more, is completely chemical and pesticide-free to be able to label their honey as organic.
Pure Honey – Grade B
This is 100% pure honey, meaning there are no other substances mixed with the honey. No syrup, no sweeteners or additives.
Pure honey gets its taste 100% from the floral the bees have foraged and collected their nectar from.
A great way to test if your ‘pure’ honey is indeed pure is to put a small spoonful in a glass of water and see if it dissolves. If it does dissolve, like sugar would, then you know it’s not pure honey.
Regular Honey – Grade A
Regular honey is the type of Grade A pasteurized honey you’ll find at larger-scale supermarkets. It ranges in color but will always be clear in clarity, filtered, and free of all defects and impurities. Unfortunately, this also means that regular honey isn’t the best honey for sorting out that common cold.
The shelf-life is increased through the pasteurization process, it’s also a much cheaper option, and this makes regular honey popular honey among commercial brands and consumers alike.
Wildflower and Blended Honey – Grade A and Grade B
Wildflower honey is exactly that, honey derived from the nectar that comes from wildflowers.
There are numerous types of blended and floral-infused types of honey on the market today and they are a very popular choice among market stalls.
Wildflower and blended honey can be both Grade A and Grade B listed honey.
Honey is confusing there’s no denying that. The honey you end up making or purchasing is completely up to you and your preferred taste and method of honey making. A more environmentally friendly honey is generally anything less than a Grade A but it’s always best to check the labels and do your research first.
While Grade A might sound like the best-graded honey for you because of color and taste preferences, Grade B might be more appealing to others that prefer to keep the nutrients and mineral benefits in the honey for health reasons. Now get busy like a bee and good luck choosing your favorite honey!
Honey Grading | Journal of Economic Entomology | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
How Is Honey Graded? – School Of Bees