Sweet, syrupy, and a natural sweetener – honey is a pantry staple for many households. It’s used in baking, as an alternative to sugar, and as an ingredient in many sauces. Not to mention, it’s a great addition to warm drinks and smoothies. But for those of us with gluten allergies, is honey an acceptable substitute? The answer is, it depends. With so many types of honey out there, it’s hard to say whether all types are gluten-free. In this article, we’ll review how honey is made, different types of honey, and which ones are gluten-free.
How Honey Is Made
Honey is the result of bees collecting nectar from flowers and mixing it with enzymes in their stomach. This process helps to break down the nectar and produces the sugary liquid that we know as honey.
The honey is stored in hexagonal wax cells, which bees build in their hive. When enough cells are full of honey, the beekeeper will extract it from the comb and bottle it for sale.
The type of honey that you buy in the store all depends on the beekeeper and what sort of flowers they target for their bees. Depending on the flowers, some honey may be lighter in color with a mild flavor, while others may be darker and more intense.
The process of extracting honey from the hive and bottling it for sale is a form of processing. This means that some honey may pass through treatments like pasteurization, filtration, and adding sugar or other additives.
What processing does a honey have to go through before it can be labeled as gluten-free? Let’s take a look.
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Types Of Honey And Gluten-Free Status
Raw honey is the most natural form of honey, as it has not been processed or heated in any way. This type of honey is the closest to its natural state and, as it has not been altered in any way, it is generally considered gluten-free.
That said, some store-bought honey may not be gluten-free.
Many beekeepers process their honey to give it a better appearance and taste, which may involve adding sugar or other additives. As such, it’s best to check the label to make sure that no gluten-containing ingredients have been added.
The same goes for flavored and colored honey, as these varieties often contain added ingredients that may not be gluten-free.
How To Find Gluten-Free Honey
Finding gluten-free honey can be a tricky task. Fortunately, there are ways to ensure that the honey you buy is gluten-free. Here are a few things you’ll want to consider:
Whether The Honey Was Mass Produced
Cross-contamination is an actual concern for people with gluten sensitivity. Even the smallest amounts (often labeled as “trace”) can cause a reaction. Mass production poses an even greater risk, as it increases the likelihood of cross-contamination.
Honey may be packed in a facility that also handles wheat products, which means there’s a high chance of cross-contamination. Furthermore, it could be processed using the same machinery. As food processing equipment isn’t easy to clean, this poses an even greater risk.
In cases like these, it’s best to opt for honey that is produced and packed on a small-scale. Ask your local beekeeper, look for organic or raw honey, or opt for brands that label their products as gluten-free.
Source Of Honey
Honey is a product of nature and, depending on the flowers that bees visit, it may contain trace amounts of gluten.
Pollination involves the transfer of pollen from one plant to another. This means that, if bees visit wheat fields or other gluten-containing plants, their honey may contain traces of gluten.
If the beehives are in an area with a high wheat or gluten-containing vegetation, even the wind can carry the pollen and contaminate the honey.
As such, it’s important to find out where your honey is sourced from and whether it’s likely to contain traces of gluten. To be sure, opt for honey that is produced and packed on a small-scale in an area where beekeepers have total control over their bee-friendly environment.
Whether It’s Flavored, Colored Or Pasteurized
To improve the appearance and taste of honey, some beekeepers may choose to add ingredients like sugar or flavors.
Common additives that may not be gluten-free include barley malt, bran, wheat germ, and oats. While these additives aren’t added in large amounts, they can still cause a reaction in people with gluten sensitivity.
The same goes for honey that has been flavored, colored, or pasteurized, as these treatments often involve adding ingredients that may contain gluten.
To make sure your honey is safe, check the label for any gluten-containing ingredients. If the label does not list any, then it’s likely gluten-free.
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Are Honey-Based Products Gluten-Free?
Honey-based products, such as honeycomb candy and honey cake, may or may not be gluten-free.
While the honey is likely to be gluten-free, other ingredients may contain gluten. To ensure that a product is safe for those with gluten sensitivity, check the label for any gluten-containing ingredients. If it does not list any, then it’s likely gluten-free.
How To Tell If Honey Is Gluten-Free
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that food labels list all ingredients, so if the honey you’re buying is labeled gluten-free, then it should be safe (4).
Note that the FDA does not require companies to indicate the presence of trace amounts, so even if a product is labeled as gluten-free, it may still contain small amounts that could cause a reaction.
If you can’t find a gluten-free label on the honey you’re buying, it’s best to contact the manufacturer and ask about their manufacturing process. This should give you a good idea of whether their honey is safe for people with gluten sensitivity.
Going local is one of the best ways to make sure your honey is gluten-free. Ask your local beekeeper directly and you can be confident that there won’t be any cross-contamination.
Furthermore, you can find out exactly where the honey is sourced from and whether there are any gluten-containing plants in the area. By doing your research, you can ensure that your honey is safe and gluten-free.
Does Gluten-Free Honey Have Health Benefits?
Yes, gluten-free honey does have health benefits. Honey is rich in nutrients, including enzymes and antioxidants that can offer the following benefits:
Soothing Digestive Issues
Honey contains probiotics that balance friendly bacteria in the gut, helping reduce digestive issues.
For people with gastroenteritis who experience diarrhea, honey can help to reduce symptoms. It can also be part of effective oral rehydration therapy (ORT) to help those with severe dehydration due to excessive diarrhea (2).
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Honey has antiviral and antibacterial properties that can help boost immunity and protect against infections. It soothes sore throats, coughs, and other upper respiratory tract infections (2).
Honey is also believed to help reduce inflammation which is associated with several chronic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma (2).
Relieving Coughs And Sore Throats
The antibacterial properties of honey can help to reduce the number of bacteria in the throat, thus reducing soreness and coughing. It can also be used as a remedy for night-time coughs in children, relieving the symptoms of a common cold (1).
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Honey is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, which can help protect against damage caused by free radicals. This may lead to improved cognitive function, reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (2).
Studies also suggest that honey has antidepressant, anxiolytic, and anticonvulsant properties (3).
Healing Burns And Wounds
Honey can help to speed up the healing process for minor burns and wounds, thanks to its antiseptic properties. It also helps to reduce inflammation and tissue damage, as well as reduce the risk of infection (2).
The Bottom Line
Raw honey that is labeled gluten-free contains a range of nutrients and can offer many health benefits. Before buying, check the label to make sure it is gluten-free and contact the manufacturer for additional information.
Going local is a great way to get access to naturally gluten-free honey that hasn’t been exposed to potential cross contamination.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Got a cold? Try some honey (2020, harvard.edu)
- Honey and Health: A Review of Recent Clinical Research (2017, nih.gov)
- Neurological Effects of Honey: Current and Future Prospects (2014, nih.gov)
- Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives & Colors (2010, fda.gov)