What is honey?
The answer may seem obvious: It's the gooey substance that often sweetens a mug of hot tea. It's what Jews dip apple slices into to celebrate the new year. It's a remedy for coughs, an ingredient in some chapsticks, and a path to shinier hair (some believe).
But it turns out that what counts as honey—and what doesn't—is a bit of a sticky mess. Does honey have to contain some pollen? Is it still honey if it's cut with corn syrup? How many microns get through the filters used to process it?
The honey lobby—yes, there's a honey lobby, and it represents the nation's non-ultrafiltered honey producers—has long fought for a definition it likes. In 2011, the FDA denied a petition for a standard of identity for honey. Now, the lobby has turned to the USDA for help. The main thing they say they want is some clarity: The FDA allows anything that's “a thick, sweet, syrupy substance that bees make as food from the nectar of flowers and store in honeycombs” to be labeled honey.
Smuckers, for example, lists the sole ingredient of its honey product as "Grade A Honey," but what exactly does that mean? The USDA currently has a voluntary grading system based on moisture content, defects, flavor, and clarity—but this system is not enforced nor does it get to the heart of the issue: pollen content.