ISSUE 34  |  Children's Summer

CSI: Pollen Detective

August 22, 2012 5:00 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

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In his Texas laboratory, Prof. Vaughn Bryant recently analyzed 60 samples of supermarket honey—from jars, jugs, and plastic bears—and came to a disturbing conclusion: Most of it isn’t honey at all.

Prof. Bryant, a professor at Texas A&M University who also happens to be one of the world’s best respected melissopalynologists (that’s a pollen investigator, to us) discovered that all the pollen has been filtered out of most grocery store brands. After honey laundering—which may involve heating, watering down, and then applying high pressure to the honey to remove even the most extremely small particles—the pollen-less result may no longer meet the FDA’s definition of honey. For more details, see “Most Honey Has Pollen Removed.”

Above: Prof. Bryant, who directs the university’s Palynology Research Laboratory, also can tell if a jar of honey labeled “local” truly is; under a microscope, each flower has a uniquely shaped pollen grain. For more about his techniques, see Wired News. Photograph by Jay B Sauceda.

Above: Filtering increases shelf life, but can rob the honey of flavor. Raw, unfiltered honey contains antioxidants, vitamins, and beneficial natural enzymes that ultra filtering removes. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

Above: Most honeybees in the US and Europe belong to the species Apis mellifera, but there are eight other species in Asia. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

Above: Prof. Bryant’s collection of pollen samples. Photograph by Jay B Sauceda.

Above: For more about how to encourage local honey production, see “For the Bees: Gardens with Pollinating Plants.” Image via Centsational.

Above: To make an accurate pollen identification, Prof. Bryant relies on his large collection of reference slides. Photograph by Jay B Sauceda.

(N.B.: For more about local beekeeping, see “The Naked Beekeepers of Hong Kong.”)