So, what’s the scoop on organic honey in the U.S. anyway?! Why do we see USDA Organic honey labels, but hear reports that there’s no such thing? Here’s what I learned about organic honey, more on the benefits of raw honey and, SERIOUSLY, the best homemade honey caramel recipe ever! This recipe is so uncomplicated that your kids can help you with it for some quality family kitchen time.
If, after you’ve made your own caramels, you’re curious about what else you might do to healthify your kitchen and make more of your own pantry items, we have just the book for you! The Do It Yourself Homestead has a whole chapter on the homestead kitchen and make-your-own skills. If you’d like a sample of that chapter, just send me an email at Tessa@homesteadlady.com. For more details, visit our shop.
I’ve seen it everywhere, and so has any foodie – honey with the USDA organic label on it. I didn’t think anything of it until…well, I’m a bee keeper, for goodness sake! Of course there’s going to be something fishy about organic honey.
Bees Forage Everywhere
Bees will forage in a 2 mile, yes TWO MILE, radius – and that’s just the lazy ones. There are so few “organic” places left in the continental U.S. for bees to only access pollen and nectar that could be labeled organic.
From commercial farmers and backyard gardeners using GMO seeds, to pesticides and herbicides, and even chemically produced soil amendments, nature is riddled with landmines for bees these days. Besides the danger or picking up non-organic pollen and nectar, there’s no way to track a bee’s movement and, therefore, no way to know whether the honey they’re making is organic or not.
The USDA’s Honey Standards
There are some domestic honey producers that strive for that organic standard, and some private entities that test by them. However, the main problem for U.S. honey producers is that there are no standards for honey in the U.S. The USDA doesn’t even really define what honey is.
Here’s a list of USDA authorized certifying agents, if you’d like to see who they are – please click here.
I scoured the USDA’s site trying to find information on honey, and kept going around in circles. In short, honey is a very confusing commodity for the USDA.
The best article I’ve read that explains succinctly the confusing realm of organic honey is by World of Honey – please click here to read the article. The author references another article, by SF Gate, where Arthur Harvey of the International Association of Organic Inspectors talks about the bogus nature of any honey labeled USDA organic. The author doesn’t give a link, so I tracked it down so if you’d like to read the article yourself, please click here.
No Such Certified Thing
If someone has new information on organic honey in the U.S., please feel free to share it in the comments. However, until something changes, it appears that any domestic honey labeled USDA organic is entirely mislabeled – there’s no such, certified thing.
As far as foreign “organic” honey, the nicest thing I can say is, try it at your own risk. Most foreign “organic” standards would NOT satisfy an educated consumer’s expectations of what organic honey should be. Some of it isn’t even pure honey, but honey cut with other fluids and sugars.
How Do You Get “Organic” or Clean Honey?
So, what’s a foodie to do? I can tell you what we do, and hope that helps.
- The most obvious choice is to learn to keep bees yourself. While you can’t guarantee your honey will be organic, or even free of toxins, you can at least ensure that it’s actual honey. Your garden and homestead will certainly appreciate the presence of the bees, and you may find that these little ladies (and a few good men) more than earn their keep by pollinating everything in sight. I’ve kept bees on and off for over twenty years (how did I get to be so old?). I love having them on the homestead. To learn how to get started with bees, please click here.
- If keeping bees is not an options for you this year, you can purchase raw, local honey in bulk from a apiarist near you. We found a family-run, small company near us and asked about their methods of care. After talking with them, we became comfortable enough with how the honey is produced and processed to purchase it for food and medicine. Raw is the most important thing to us; being “organic” enough is good enough for us.
- In the interest of full disclosure, we’re also big on prayer. We pray over all our the food that comes into our home, even if it’s pulled from our own soil, and ask God to remove harmful elements and infuse it with healing. That may sound like Christian voodoo to you if you’re not used to thinking of prayer that way but, there you go.
The Benefits of Raw Honey
So much has been published in recent years about the benefits of raw honey, and with good reason – it’s like a magic potion.
What is raw honey?
Raw honey has not been heated, processed or filtered. Bee Raw Honey has a great blog on their website called The Buzz, and it has a lot of quality information about raw honey. Here is what they have to say about the properties of raw honey:
For at least 2700 years, honey has been used to treat a variety of ailments through topical application, but only recently have the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey been chemically explained. Why? Honey contains copper, iron, silica, vitamin B, manganese, chlorine, calcium, potassium, sodium, phosphorous, aluminum and magnesium. Depending on the part of the country our honey comes from it will vary in mineral content, but one thing is for sure, all are rich in nature’s gift to the only thing that matters at the end of the day: your health.
- To learn more about raw honey, please visit this link.
- For Five Fabulous Reasons to Use Raw Honey from Fabulous Farm Girl, please click here.
- If you want to learn how to replace sugar with honey, please visit this link by Better Hens and Gardens by clicking here.
Here’s what Bee Raw has to say about organic honey in their FAQs section: “Bee Raw Honey is 100% natural, unprocessed and unfiltered. It is raw, and by its very nature is organic, but it is not certified “organic.” There are no certified organic honeys in the continental United States. Even though we do not use any pesticides, bees are living things with free will. Theoretically some of them can travel to a neighboring field and sample someone else’s flowers…”
Vanilla Honey Caramels – Kids Can Help!
Though you should always supervise when heating sugar, this recipe is simple enough for your older children to make. Because sugar takes a bit of time to heat, you have a chance to chat with your kids about kitchen-y things. For example, you can explain all the cool stuff you just learned about organic honey in the U.S. and why raw honey is good for your health.
It takes time and energy to train your children in the kitchen but it bears sweet (literally!) rewards as they age. Besides, eating healthy can feel like a battle for parents sometimes. Involve your kids in the kitchen as often as possible and you’ll find that they fight you less and less on eating the way they should.
Treats are an especially good place to start. If you can reduce the processed sugar consumption in your home, everyone will be happier and healthier!
A perfectly sweet treat that's much healthier than its corn-syrup counter part. Using fresh vanilla, cream and butter, these honey caramels are rich with ingredients from the homestead.
- 2 cups vanilla honey* or plain, fresh honey - we use raw, though it doesn't stay raw because of the high cooking temp
- 1 1/2 cups fresh cream - you can also use coconut cream
- pinch sea salt
- 1 tblsp vanilla extract if not using vanilla honey
- 1-2 tblsp butter
Get set up before you begin cooking the caramels. Generously butter an 11x9 baking dish. You can use a smaller dish if you'd like thicker caramels. Don't skimp on butter or you'll have a hard time getting the caramels out.
Combine the honey, cream and salt in a medium, heavy saucepan. Make it your best pan because you need even temperature distribution when heating any kind of sugar. Heat to around firm ball stage on a candy thermometer - 245F/118C. Make sure your candy thermometer is working well and accurate. Stir this mixture often as it heats to prevent scorching. If you want a much firmer caramel, heat to hard ball stage of 255F/124C. We prefer caramels softer to prevent stress on our teeth.
Once the mixture reaches temperature, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the vanilla (if you need it) and butter until thoroughly mixed.
Pour mixture into the greased pan and allow to cool on the counter or in the fridge/freezer. In the winter I can let my pan cool on the counter and expect the caramel to be firm enough to cut in about 40 minutes, give or take. In the summer, with my heat and humidity, they'd never set up! To cool quicker, you can place your pan in the freezer for about a half hour and then cut the caramels into squares.
Once cut you can wrap the individual caramels in wax or parchment paper trimmed to fit. I usually keep these refrigerated until we give them away or eat them so they hold their shape well.
See below for notes on vanilla honey, should you care to make some. Otherwise, using regular honey and vanilla extract will be tasty, too.
We use raw cream, but you can also use store bought cream.
You may sprinkle coarse sea salt on your finished caramels before wrapping.
To make Apple Cider Honey Caramels, please visit this article from Nerdy Farm Wife.
Then, of course, you’re going to need to know how to make apple cider so visit this article from Grow, Forage, Cook, Ferment for how to do it with a DIY press.
To Make Vanilla Honey
The vanilla honey called for in this recipe is simple to make yourself if you’re already making your own vanilla. It adds a richness to the flavor that isn’t quite as developed when just using vanilla extract.
Click here to learn to make your own Vanilla click here.
To learn how to make your own Vanilla Honey, please click here.
However, you can make this recipe for vanilla honey caramels with plain honey and it will still taste fabulous.
Gift your Vanilla Honey Caramels
There is no limit to what you can do with this caramel:
- dipped apples in the fall
- hot chocolate additive in the winter
- individually wrapped caramels in your Easter and May Day baskets!
For fun Easter basket ideas, click here.
For other ideas for your May Day baskets, and to learn a bit more about the celebration of May Day in spring, click here. If you need a little note to enclose in your baskets, feel free to copy and print the graphic below.
To get more ideas on foodie gifts for any occasion, please check out Homemade Gifts From the Kitchen. Here’s our review of that book – click here. Or click on the ad below to learn more.