Honey is a thick, sweet syrup made by honey bees.

It’s loaded with healthy plant compounds and has been linked to several health benefits.

However, there’s controversy surrounding which type of honey — raw or regular — is healthiest.

Some people believe that the raw variety of honey is better for optimal health, while others claim there is no difference between the two.

What Is Raw Honey?

Raw honey is best described as honey “as it exists in the beehive” (1).

It is made by extracting honey from the honeycombs of the hive and pouring it over a mesh or nylon cloth to separate the honey from impurities like beeswax and dead bees (2).

Once strained, raw honey is bottled and ready to be enjoyed.

On the other hand, the production of regular honey involves several more steps before it is bottled — such as pasteurization and filtration (1).

Pasteurization is a process that destroys the yeast found in honey by applying high heat. This helps extend the shelf life and makes it smoother (2).

Also, filtration further removes impurities like debris and air bubbles so that the honey stays as a clear liquid for longer. This is aesthetically appealing to many consumers (2).

Some commercial honeys are additionally processed by undergoing ultrafiltration. This process further refines it to make it more transparent and smooth, but it can also remove beneficial nutrients like pollen, enzymes and antioxidants (234).

Moreover, some manufacturers may add sugar or sweeteners to honey to reduce costs.

Summary Raw honey is best
described as honey “as it exists in the beehive.” It is extracted from the
beehive, strained and poured straight into the bottle, bypassing commercial
processing methods.

What Are the Main Differences Between Raw and Regular Honey?

Raw and regular honey are processed quite differently.

This can lead to a variety of distinctions between the two, especially in quality.

Here are the main differences between raw and regular honey.

Raw Honey Is More Nutritious

Raw honey contains a wide variety of nutrients.

It has approximately 22 amino acids, 31 different minerals and a wide range of vitamins and enzymes. However, the nutrients are only present in trace amounts (5Trusted Source6Trusted Source7).

What’s most impressive about raw honey is that it contains nearly 30 types of bioactive plant compounds. These are called polyphenols, and they act as antioxidants (38Trusted Source9).

Many studies have linked these antioxidants with impressive health benefits, including reduced inflammation and a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers (6Trusted Source10Trusted Source11Trusted Source).

Conversely, commercial honeys may contain fewer antioxidants due to processing methods.

For example, one study compared the antioxidants in raw and processed honey from a local market. They found that the raw honey contained up to 4.3 times more antioxidants than the processed variety (3).

Interestingly, one unofficial study by the US-based National Honey Board found that minimally processed honey contains levels of antioxidants and minerals that are similar to those of raw honey.

However, there are very few studies comparing the two types. More research in this area can help shed light on the impact of processing on the antioxidants in honey.

Most Regular Honey Doesn’t Contain Any Pollen

Bees travel from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen.

The nectar and pollen are taken back to the beehive, where they are packed into the honeycomb and eventually become a food source for the bees (12Trusted Source).

Bee pollen is surprisingly nutritious and contains over 250 substances, including vitamins, amino acids, essential fatty acids, micronutrients and antioxidants (13Trusted Source).

In fact, the German Federal Ministry of Health recognizes bee pollen as a medicine (14).

Bee pollen has been linked to many impressive health benefits. Studies have found that it may help fight inflammation and improve liver function. It also has properties that may help fight against heart disease and stroke (15Trusted Source).

Unfortunately, processing methods like heat treatment and ultrafiltration can remove bee pollen (2).

For example, one unofficial study analyzed 60 samples of commercial honey brands in the US and discovered that over 75% of all samples contained no pollen.

Regular Honey May Have Hidden Sugars or Sweeteners

Approximately 400 million pounds of honey are consumed in the US each year (16).

Because honey is so popular, it’s hard to meet this high demand from local suppliers alone. This is why approximately 70% of the honey consumed in the US is imported (17).

However, there is serious concern worldwide about regular honey being contaminated with sugar or other sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup (1819Trusted Source20).

Summary Raw and regular
honey differ mainly in how they are processed. Raw honey contains pollen, may be more nutritious and does not
have any added sugars or sweeteners, both of which may be present in commercial honeys.

Most Health Benefits Are Attributed to Raw Honey

Honey has been linked to some impressive health benefits.

Studies have found that it may help reduce risk factors for heart disease like blood pressure and cholesterol, improve wound healing and even treat coughs (21Trusted Source22Trusted Source23Trusted Source).

However, it’s likely these health benefits are mostly related to raw honey, because it is higher in antioxidants and other beneficial components.

One of these components is an enzyme called glucose oxidase. This enzyme helps produce molecules that give honey its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties (24).

Unfortunately, this enzyme can be destroyed by processes like heating and filtering (2).

Also, it’s not entirely clear if minimally processed honeys have similar levels of antioxidants as raw honey. For example, an unofficial study found that minimally processed honeys had similar levels of antioxidants to raw honey, but significantly fewer enzymes.

If you want to be sure to get all the health benefits, then you should choose raw honey.

Summary Most of the health
benefits of honey can be attributed to its antioxidants and enzymes. Because
commercial honeys are processed, they may have lower levels of antioxidants.