Where does honey come from?

14.09.2020. 09:00

Did you know? 60,000 bees have to fly 88,513 kilometers and visit more than two million flowers to collect enough nectar to make just 500 grams of honey!

Bees are one of the most important and beneficial insects for humankind. They pollinate fruits and vegetables and produce their primary food source, honey. 

Honey comes from bees and plants and their incredibly symbiotic relationship. Although honey production is attributed to the bee colony's work, it should be known that the raw material, which is nectar, comes from plants.

In addition to honey, there are also other bee products such as propolis, royal jelly, bee venom, beeswax and pollen.

But, do you know the origin of the honey you buy and the country it comes from? 

The origin of honey

The demand for honey and other bee products increases as more people develop healthy eating habits. 

Compared to other animal sectors, the honey industry is relatively small, both globally and domestically. Although it is challenging to meet the higher market demand, consumers have a right to know the honey's origin and its quality.

The top 3 honey producers in the world are China, the European Union and Turkey. Every year about 600 thousand beekeepers and 17 million hives in the EU produce about 250 thousand tons of honey (237,549 tons in 2018).

With its 7 million bee colonies, China produces more than twice the amount of honey per year, 502,614 tons (2016). Turkey, as the third-largest producer in the world, annually produces 105,532 tons of honey.

Although the numbers are quite large, production is unable to meet demand. In 2016, about 200,000 tons of honey was imported into the EU. Honey is mostly imported from China, which is responsible for roughly 40 percent of EU imports.

According to reports, there is a suspicion that imported honey from China is mixed with corn syrup, leading to the questionable quality of honey we consume.

Honey ranks in the top 10 products susceptible to food fraud, which raises the question of the authenticity of honey consumed in the world’s largest honey-consuming countries, such as Germany and the United States.

Although the productivity per beehive around the world is dropping, the question to ask is, how can the Chinese bees deliver such a high yield? 

The answer hides in China’s production method. Unripened honey is harvested when it is still a watery soup with high water contents. Then it is dried artificially, resin residues are removed by filtration, pollen is removed or added to mask country of origin and syrups are added to meet the different market prices.

Europeans consume an average of 1.54lb (0.7kg) of honey per capita on year level. Greece and Austria lead with 3.75Ib (1.7kg) each. Europe consumes more honey than it produces itself. It, therefore, turns to China, where 50% of honey imports come from.

The beekeeping sector is small but extremely important for agriculture, food safety and biodiversity. Animal diseases, intensive agriculture, exposure to chemicals, habitat loss and deteriorating climatic conditions threaten hives and bees' productivity. 

All of the above also affects the production of honey.

Find out more in the infographic which countries produce the most honey, which import and export honey.

Largest honey exporters

Global honey consumption increased over the past decades. The main reasons for this are the increase in the world population and the preference toward more natural food sources by a growing number of consumers.

Since the demand for natural and healthy products increases, many countries cannot meet their honey demand with domestic production and need to import increasing volumes from export countries. 

The largest exporter of honey in the world is the European Union, led by Hungary, Belgium and Spain.

In 2018, 137,000 tons of honey was traded among EU member states. In the same year, Hungary exported 20,000 tons of honey to other EU member states, 14% of total honey exports to the EU.

As a result, Hungary is the largest exporter to the EU, followed by Belgium (19,000 tons, 14%) and Spain (18,000 tons, 13%), which is ahead of Germany (16,000 tons, 12%) and Poland (15,000 tons, 11%).

The largest honey importers 

The United States was the largest importer of honey worldwide in 2019, with imports amounting to about 430.08 million U.S. dollars, according to Statista.

In 2018, 60,000 tons of honey was imported to Germany from non-EU countries, 29% of total honey imports outside the EU.

As a result, Germany is the largest importer of honey from non-EU countries. The second one is the United Kingdom (45,000 tons, 22%), followed by Belgium (22,000 tons, 11%), Poland (21,000 tons, 10%). and Spain (17,000 tons, 8%).

Imports of honey from non-EU countries came mainly from China (80,000 tons, or 39% of total non-EU honey imports), Ukraine (41,000 tons, 20%), Argentina (25,000 tons, 12) %), Mexico (21,000 tons, 10%) and Chile (8,000 tons, 4%).

Here are the 15 countries that spent the most on imported natural honey during 2019:

  1. United States: US$430.1 million (21.4% of total imported natural honey)

  2. Germany: $249.6 million (12.4%)

  3. Japan: $144.5 million (7.2%)

  4. France: $118.4 million (5.9%)

  5. United Kingdom: $110.1 million (5.5%)

  6. China: $84.9 million (4.2%)

  7. Italy: $82.7 million (4.1%)

  8. Saudi Arabia: $73 million (3.6%)

  9. Belgium: $65.1 million (3.2%)

  10. Poland: $61.8 million (3.1%)

  11. Spain: $58.4 million (2.9%)

  12. Netherlands: $53.9 million (2.7%)

  13. Australia: $36.1 million (1.8%)

  14. Switzerland: $36.1 million (1.8%)

  15. Canada: $34.2 million (1.7%)

Increasing production costs, declining honey yield per hive due to the growth of industrial agriculture and decreasing prices lead to a reduction in honey production.

The environment, honey consumers and beekeepers deserve protection and favorable market conditions to continue producing quality, pure honey and other bee products. 

If you want to be sure that the honey you buy is of good quality, buy locally. When purchasing honey straight from a beekeeper, you can be pretty sure the honey is raw and unprocessed.

Do you know how to test the purity of honey at home? Find out everything you need to know about pure, fake, impure or adulterated honey and learn how to differentiate each one. 

*In the meantime, a new EU report has been released and you can read here.